In the last decade, Danai Gurira went from a relative newcomer to a Hollywood star.
The actress first rose to fame following her breakout role as Michonne in the hit AMC series The Walking Dead. Since then, Gurira has gone on to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), most recently reprising her role as Okoye in the current box office hit, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Before she even made a splash in Hollywood though, Gurira had already been a star in her own right. For years, she had been involved in theater, even scoring a Tony nomination for a Broadway play that stars Black Panther co-star Lupita Nyong’o.
While Gurira was interested in performing early on, she was more drawn to theater than anything else. “My theater life began pretty early on. I was born in the United States but raised in Zimbabwe. I actually spent a lot of time in theater there as a child,” the actress said. “I was part of a children’s performing arts workshop, which really introduced me to the dramatic arts.”
Gurira also credits the head of that workshop for encouraging her to pursue it. “He indoctrinated me into theater back then and got me very interested in the craft,” she recalled.
And when she started to look for material to perform, Gurira could find “enough stories about contemporary African people,” which is why she decided to write them herself. “My playwriting became a “necessity being the mother of invention” type thing.” And while one might say that Gurira’s background as an actress herself helped her promote her work.
But that wasn’t exactly the case in the beginning.
“My first play, which was a two-hander that I co-created and co-performed, snowballed into this hit. But this was back in 2005, and initially the theaters we wanted were like, ‘Ha ha ha. Oh no. Okay,’” she recalled.
“And we could have given up and been like, ‘Oh, let’s change it to make them happy.’ But there were so many people who did love it that some of those people brought other people to see it, who then gave us our shot.”