Struggling actor shares inspiring story of landing Jabari warrior role in ‘Black Panther’ with kids

Mark Willis as Jabari Warrior in Black Panther

Black Panther not only has fans around the globe captivated, but also an actor who secured a role in the groundbreaking movie.

Mark Willis, a Chicago native, is reaching out to the Chicago public schools to share his inspiring story about how he landed his coveted role in Marvel’s latest blockbuster, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

And apparently it’s still a surreal experience the 27-year-old actor still can’t shake.

“The magnitude of this movie still blows my mind,” said Mark Willis. “The fact that it’s a movie that shows us in such a positive light, as kings and warriors, no drug dealers, no drug addicts. Just pulling up to the set every day was an experience.”

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Before Mark Willis entered the world of Wakanda, he graduated from the University of Wyoming and earned a bachelor’s degree in communications. He said he first got bit by the acting bug as an extra on TV shows like Chicago Fire in 2014 and soon snagged roles on Sirens, Empire and Chicago P.D.

But he never expected to land a big break-through in Black Panther.

“Fast-forward to October 2017. I’m looking through a casting site for work. I see a listing for a movie called ‘Motherland.’ It said, ‘We’re looking for an African-American male who’s tall, muscular, athletic and handsome.’” Mark Willis said. “I figured I was at least one of those,” he joked.

While Mark Willis thought he ultimately missed out on the “Motherland” opportunity, a casting team member called back with an offer to audition for Black Panther.

“I get back to Chicago. There’s a different message, this time from ‘Motherland/Black Panther,’” Willis said. “They said, ‘Hey, we have an audition set up for you tomorrow. Are you available?’”

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“At first, I didn’t believe it was Black Panther, because everyone thought they were all done filming. I texted him back, and they needed me in Atlanta by 10 a.m.”

“I searched and searched and finally found the last seat on one of the last flights out that morning. I arrive in Atlanta, sprint through the airport, and blow all speed limits to get there at 9:58 a.m.”

Willis made it to Atlanta, aced his audition. Then he got the best callback of all.

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“They said, ‘This is Black Panther casting. We love your audition, and we want to hire you. Can you be here tomorrow at 9 a.m.?’ I said, ‘I’m in New York.’ They said, ‘If you can’t get here, we’ll go on to the next guy.’ Of course I said I would be there,” Willis said.

“Again, I snagged the last seat on the last flight out, leaving at 9 p.m. It was 6:30 p.m. I made it to the gate just as they announced the last call for the flight,” Willis said.

Wipes sweat.

And as for what the actor is looking forward to now, it sounds like it’s the same thing as all of us!

“I’m praying for a sequel, and that they bring the Jabari’s back.”

Well, due to the success of the now billion-dollar, record-breaking movie, it should come as no surprise that Marvel has confirmed a Black Panther sequel.

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Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige announced in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that part two of King T’Challa’s reign is already in the early stages of planning.

“We absolutely will do that,” Feige said when asked about the Black Panther sequel.

He did say, however, that the Black Panther sequel will basically begin right where it ended.

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“One of the favorite pastimes at Marvel Studios is sitting around on a part one and talking and dreaming about what we would do in a part two,” Feige said. “There have been plenty of those conversations as we were putting together the first Black Panther. We have ideas and a pretty solid direction on where we want to head with the second one.”

And as for questions about whether Ryan Coogler will return to helm the Black Panther sequel?

“I hope so,” Feige said before saying he “absolutely” wants the director to come back for another film.

Jabaris Forever!