“Okoye is the head of the Dora Milaje which is from the 'Black Panther' comics. It’s a force of women who are securers or guardians of the throne,” said Gurira. “They’re almost like the marines, the special forces of the nation. And Okoye is the general of the armed forces.”
Gurira told Travers she was stunned when she received the call offering her the role.
"I thought I was being April fooled in March," Gurira said. "It was actually the day my play 'Eclipse' had opened on Broadway, and I was leaving the after party. And my manager pulls out his phone and says, 'you have an offer here from Marvel.' And I'm like, 'OK, real funny, I know you think I'm drunk enough for me to believe you.' But, yeah, he was actually telling the truth and I couldn't believe it."
Gurira, 40, was raised in Zimbabwe, and she told Travers it wasn’t important to her for the movie to properly represent people from Africa. She went on to add that when she first met with director Ryan Coogler that she was impressed with what he planned for the film.
“I write plays about the continent. I consider myself an Africanist. I'm a little snobby about it all. So when I sat down with him I was so amazed by what his plans were and his vision for it and his vision for my character and how complex she was," Gurira explained.
Gurira is already well known for her role as the warrior Michonne on the AMC series “The Walking Dead." She told Travers there’s a distinct difference in the two very fierce characters.
“Michonne does her own thing. She makes up her own rules,” Gurira said. “Whereas Okoye is a traditionalist who believes and is loyal to the rank and rule of where she’s come up from over hundreds and hundreds of years as a way we do things."
Gurira added that training to use the sword for "Black Panther" was a grueling process and joked about annoying a neighbor one day while practicing her sword use in her Atlanta home.
“You know, dropping the staff fifteen thousand times, I’m in my condo in Atlanta, this lady finally knocks on my door. And she’s like, ‘there’s something you’re dropping? It’s like hitting my ceiling.' And I was just like, ‘I’m just walking. No, I’m reading. I have no idea,’" Gurira said. "And finally, I said, ‘OK, maybe it’s this thing. But really it’s my job. But what I’ll tell you is I don’t want it to hit the floor. So I’m really working hard to make sure you don’t hear it.'"
“Black Panther” is in theaters nationwide.
Be sure to watch the full interview with Peter Travers and Danai Gurira in the video above.
Disney is the parent company of both Marvel and ABC News.