Thorne’s steely genius fuels ‘Wakanda’

- Brian Truitt USA TODAY

It’d be pretty tough to top Dominique Thorne’s November: She wrapped filming on her new Disney+ series “Ironheart,” makes her Marvel superhero debut in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”and just turned 25. ⬤ She flies high – and delivers the biggest breakout in an iron suit since Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark – as Riri Williams in “Wakanda Forever” (in theaters now), where Thorne, an inventive 19-year-old gearhead and MIT student, battles alongside Wakandan heroes such as Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) in her own armored creation. But it’s just a glimpse of the character Marvel Cinematic Universe fans will see when Riri headlines “Ironheart,” premiering next year.

“She’s a young genius who is Black and a woman,” says Thorne, who appeared in “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Judas and the Black Messiah.” “And to be introduced and ushered into the MCU by a nation that is about giving reverence to Black brilliance – and in this particular film happens to be led by women – it’s the most appropriat­e combinatio­n for a character as unique as her.”

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Riri Williams has a couple of role models

Getting into the “Mark One” Ironheart suit in “Forever” was a kick for Thorne because she felt “the physical weight” of the character. “To see the hodgepodge of tools that she with her own two hands put together was such a great drop in for me as an actor,” she says. “It is this big, bulky, beautiful mess of pieces, but it’s also incredibly smart.”

And when anyone in the MCU dons that sort of armor, “there is an inherent acknowledg­ment that Tony Stark was the blueprint,” Thorne adds. Yet Riri’s late stepdad also is a huge influence: “That’s the man who protected her, who raised her, who put the first tool in her hand, who set her on this path of being a mechanic and an engineer. So it’s a beautiful meshing together of the two worlds.”

‘Ironheart’ will tackle a technology vs. magic dynamic

Executive-produced by “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler, the new series takes Riri back to her hometown of Chicago and also introduces The Hood (Anthony Ramos), an antagonist involved in the darker arts. Thorne says “Ironheart” will explore “what it means to be a Black, young woman in the context of this world where fantastica­l and mystical and magical things happen on the everyday, and what a suit like that might mean to someone like her.”

For those wanting a peek at what that could look like, she points to a “Wakanda Forever” scene where Riri causes some serious havoc with Shuri and Okoye: “That’s the first time that we see Riri start to be like, ‘Wait, y’all are talking about me. Why?’ That reflection back onto herself of what she’s truly capable of and what her ambitions could lead to.”

‘Black Panther’ took Thorne back to her Ivy League days

Before she’s forced into the fray, Riri is visited by the Wakandan women at MIT. Those college scenes hark back to Thorne’s years at Cornell University, where she graduated in 2019 with a degree in human developmen­t.

“Unlike Riri, I certainly was not hustling anybody for any money on campus,” she says with a laugh. “But it definitely was a little time warp to the days of me being in a dorm and wishing at the time it wasn’t like royalty from Wakanda, but maybe an audition that would sweep me away from school and take me away so I didn’t have to finish. But that didn’t happen for me the way it happened for Riri so I did finish.” (Thorne auditioned to play Shuri in the first “Panther” when she was a sophomore.)

Thorne got her start acting in Greek history plays

The daughter of Trinidadia­n immigrants, Thorne was first exposed to acting at her Greek Orthodox middle school in New York, which emphasized mythology and theater, before studying acting in high school.

“Probably my favorite part is just how rich the culture and the performanc­e of theater is, and also how equally as rich the history of it is,” she says. “Even with film, people have been telling stories forever.”

She crochets when the camera’s not rolling

Thorne showed off her crafting skills in a recent Instagram post, but it’s not new: She says she crocheted while filming “Wakanda Forever” and “Ironheart” after her grandmothe­r “opened the door for me.”

“It’s a great way to put the playing of this person on pause,” she says. “Otherwise, it’s very easy to slip into ‘Oh, my God, did I do that right? Was this good?’ So this bag that I’m making, I’m hoping that it’ll make sure that I’m keeping the balance there between Riri and Dominique.’”

 ?? PROVIDED BY MARCUS EZELL ?? Dominique Thorne makes her Marvel debut in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” before starring in Disney+'s “Ironheart.”
PROVIDED BY MARCUS EZELL Dominique Thorne makes her Marvel debut in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” before starring in Disney+'s “Ironheart.”

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