The Woman King recently had its world premiere on the 9th of September where leading stars Viola Davis, John Boyega, Thuso Mbedu, and Lashana Lynch walked the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Based on the history of the Agojie army, an all-female unit of warriors whose skills helped to protect the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s from colonizers and rival tribes. In fact, The Dora Milaje featured in the Black Panther films are based on the Agojie warriors. Ahead of the South African premiere, we spoke to South African actress Thuso Mbedu, who plays Nawi, one of the warriors. The actress opened up about her training regime for the film. She also touched on how she takes care of her mental and physical health.
Thuso Mbedu: My Health Journey For The Woman King
Tackling the role of a young warrior part of a famed African army is no easy feat. However, it was a challenge that Thuso Mbedu was ready to take. The 31-year-old told Longevity in an exclusive interview that she initially wasn’t intimidated by the physicality that came with the role. After all, she had to display her physical prowess during the audition process;
“Part of my audition required me to do a physical and fitness test, and our stunt coordinator Danny Hernandez felt confident in whatever it was that I showed in that moment.
I fully trusted that he would get what he needed from me because I saw and loved The Old Guard, and he was part of that, and he’s been involved with John Wick. He knows what he’s doing. So if he felt like there was hope for me, then I could lean on that.”
Training like a warrior
In addition to the assistance from Danny Hernandez, Mbedu made sure to take it upon herself when it came to training.
To prepare her body for pre-production training, Mbedu made the decision to go into Muay Thai training and private sessions. Once the cast went into pre-production training, Mbedu found herself doing martial arts, running, and strength training, which she was not particularly fond of,
“Strength training was the hardest. I’ve never had any upper body strength. It’s not the first, but maybe like the second session with Gabriela Mclain, our strength trainer, I cried because it was really hard, but I had to push through it.”
Despite how hard the strength training was, Mbedu later emailed the director of The Woman King, Gina Prince-Bythewood, sharing that she realized that the tough training sessions were nothing compared to what her character would have gone through,
“So I was able to take what I was going through emotionally, physically, mentally, from training and applied it to my character.”
Fitness drives me
While the intense training routine helped prepare her body for the film, the impact it had on Thuso Mbedu’s mind should not be understated,
“There’s a discipline to it”, says Mbedu, “Even with the martial arts, we had 2-3 hours scheduled for training, but I would always want to do an extra hour for myself. It changed me mentally. It increased my drive. I wanted to be better. I wanted to do better”
She adds that she absolutely fell in love with it. So much so that she still continues with it even months after they’ve wrapped filming on the movie.
Getting fuel for a fight
It’s one thing to train your body. However, if you’re not feeding it the necessary fuel, then all that training will be done in vain. That said, to complement their intense training regimen, Thuso and her cast mates were each placed on a strict eating plan, which was recommended by their strength trainer. In fact, their strength trainer had the cast undergo a DNA test before they started training to determine which course of action would achieve the necessary results.
According to Thuso’s DNA results, thanks to her genetics, her body cannot process saturated fat, so that’s something that she had to remove from her diet. As much of an adjustment that changing her diet was, the biggest adjustment was when filming wrapped. Thuso realized, upon getting home, that she was now responsible for feeding herself again. Unfortunately, she’s not a fan of cooking.
So, to ensure healthy eating habits, Thuso decided to put herself on another meal plan, which serves to keep her healthy and fit.
Mental resilience matters – even in a fight
“You can’t just take care of your mental, and not take care of your physical and emotional, because your physical and emotional affect your mental.”
So, how does Thuso Mbedu take care of her mental health? For one, she relies on her incredible support structure, filled with people who are very aware of who she is, intimately. “So when they feel like I’m acting out of character, they check in with me” she adds.
Mbedu is also a strong advocate for work-life balance, making sure to not do things unnecessarily. As for her number one self-care hack?
“I prioritize napping” she quips, “My team knows this. I have a set time in the day, oh, my God, I’m going to take a nap.”
THE WOMAN KING TRAILER
The Woman King will debut in South Africa on Friday, September 30, but it is already in theaters worldwide. Watch the trailer below.
MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: © 2022 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.