Namor actor Tenoch Huerta doesn't take playing the 'bad guy who destroys' Wakanda lightly

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, is a movie that will grapple with the death of T’Challa, the Black Panther — and in the process, attempt to help fans in the real world process the untimely death of Chadwick Boseman, who made the character iconic in the first film. Wakanda Forever is also, however, a movie where Namor, the leader of an undersea nation, wages war on Wakanda, flooding the fictional African nation and wreaking havoc. Tenoch Huerta, who plays Namor in the upcoming film, is well aware of the challenges that come when playing a character who stands in opposition to something as beloved as Wakanda. He also says there’s more to Namor than just petty villainy, though.

“It is tricky, when you have a character like this, because you are the antagonist,” Huerta said at a press conference SYFY WIRE attended ahead of the film’s premiere. “You’re gonna destroy something that is valuable, not just in the story, but to people, you know? The people outside. A lot of people feel identification with Wakanda, and I'm including myself in that. The narrative and representation and everything. So, now I have to play the bad guy who destroys — or tries to destroy — that legacy.”

Namor, who is one of Marvel Comics’ oldest characters, has had a rivalry with Black Panther ever since the 2012 comic series Avengers vs. X-Men, where Namor (who is a Mutant in the comics and might be one in the MCU, it’s unclear) devastates Wakanda while under the influence of the Phoenix Force. T’Challa and Namor don’t exactly have a great relationship after that, for understandable reasons. The exact cause of Namor’s enmity with Wakanda in the new MCU movie differs, but Huerta says director and co-writer Ryan Coogler found a way to make Namor’s actions “human” and to “justify why people do that kind of thing.”

Just as Shuri and the rest of Wakanda are grieving in the movie, Huerta says Namor has his own kind of grief of a different sort that’s partially motivating him, giving the two sides of this war a certain symmetry. “That's beautiful," he says. "That balance in a movie.”

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Huerta, a Mexican actor of native descent, also praises Coogler and the MCU’s decision to model Namor and his people after native Mesoamerican culture. (In the comics, he’s a more generic sort of white.)

“It was a fantastic move and I think now is the perfect moment to speak about it,” Huerta says, adding that people in Mexico tend to take indigenous roots for granted. “Almost everybody in Mexico has indigenous or African roots. It's about culture, you know. So embracing those roots and honoring these two sources — the main sources in Latin America which are African and indigenous roots — is really important.”

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Photo: Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever | Official Trailer / Marvel Entertainment YouTube

In addition to offering a chance to celebrate indigenous culture on such a blockbuster scale, Wakanda Forever afforded Huerta one other benefit. Prior to filming the movie, Huerta admits he didn’t know how to swim — which seems like a bit of an issue if you’re playing a water-breathing superhuman who is the king of an undersea nation.

“Now I can hold my breath for five minutes,” he said, though Mabel Cadena, who plays one of Namor’s top commanders, Namora, holds the cast record at eight minutes on her first submersion.

“It's so competitive,” Huerta said with a laugh.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens in theaters on Nov. 11.

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