The Marvel Cinematic Universe is always introducing new characters to its already enormous slate. After many of the franchise’s central superheroes died or retired in Avengers: Endgame, Phase Four of the Marvel release schedule was dedicated to seeing how other heroes and the general population dealt with the loss of these figures. Phase Five will see the formation of a new superhero team, the Young Avengers. So far, audiences have met Kid Loki in Loki, Kate Bishop in Hawkeye, Miss America in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, and Skaar in She-Hulk. And viewers tuning in to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, out Friday in theaters, will meet Ironheart, played by Dominique Thorne.
Thorne, 25, has starred in movies like Barry Jenkin’s 2018 tearjerker If Beale Street Could Talk and 2021’s Judas and the Black Messiah. With Wakanda Forever, Thorne makes her Marvel debut as Riri Williams, the genius MIT student who is able to replicate Iron Man’s suit and becomes a hero on her own, known as Ironheart. She’ll get her own TV show on Disney+ late next year.
Below, Thorne speaks with TIME to talk about her experience joining Marvel and her excitement for audiences to discover her character.
Congratulations on making your Marvel debut! What’s going through your mind as people are introduced to Riri in Wakanda Forever?
This is one of the first times I can feel genuine excitement about seeing how I can get to interact with the film and interact with the person I played. Once we’re done filming, I usually try to sort of pay my respects, have a moment of like gratitude with God, and forget about it. But this time was different, and I feel really good.
What was it like to join a cast that was still mourning the death of Chadwick Boseman?
I knew the cast was tasked with an incredible job that no one ever doubted would be completed. I imagined what it must feel like to go through a journey that is already so taxing, and then drop the mystery of grief on top of that, and I was hopeful that I could just offer support to them in a real way.
You infuse a lot of heart into the character of Riri, especially when it comes to family and taking care of your own. With Ironheart coming out next year, what can we expect from the show?
If you can extract those themes from seeing Riri in Wakanda then you might have a great time stepping over to Riri’s world in Ironheart. It’s definitely an emphasis on her core, which relates a lot to family and the affairs of her heart.
You’ve spoken recently about being sort of a comic book nerd and growing up with comic books all your life. What are some of your favorite things about reading comics?
With Marvel comics, I was most interested to see what the movie would be like… It’s like always just incredible to me to see the source material because I think we almost always assume there is a healthy bit of space that I feel like most people give to like film adaptations, even if there’s a pre-existing comic… But I think with Marvel when the comic books are translated, it’s always nice to see some of the core qualities of this character that you love be maintained. I think the main thing that’s different that makes [movie adaptations] exciting is that they’re on this entirely new journey. Instead of it being this wicked thing to read off the page, it’s become this wholly sensory experience.
You’ve also been in other award-winning movies like If Beale Street Could Talk and Judas and the Black Messiah. Was there anything that you learned from working on those movies that you brought to prepare you for your role as Riri?
The primary thing would just be a healthy level of openness. Keeping an open mind as you go through like the film process is the healthiest way, because you never know what’s going to happen.
You should be open to defending the truth and making sure that when you step onto the screen that you’re using that time, that space to tell the story that means something to somebody. I’m fortunate enough now to get to tell stories that not only mean something to me but also mean a lot to a lot of other people.
There’s a lot of debate over whether superhero movies, and Marvel movies in particular, are “real cinema.” How did you think about this going into a Marvel movie?
Ultimately, Marvel movies are character stories. They are stories about, well, not real people, but people with very real problems, questions, and experiences. To be a fan of that and then to think that I could participate in that was a challenge I had to accept.