“I’m excited for this new chapter, I’m excited for what I have to offer. It’s been such a long time of working and building my career outside of not just America, but globally in Europe, in Africa. And now I get to introduce myself on such a big stage. The film means so much to so many people.”
And she’s right — Coming to America is an important Black film for a lot of people. It established careers, defined Eddie Murphy’s position as a superstar, and gave us cultural references for a lifetime. The film is so beloved, Real Housewives of Atlanta‘s Kandi Burruss had a Coming to America-themed wedding.
“You’re surrounded by Hollywood royalty, people who shifted cultures across the world and gave us such a classic that to this day still resonates and means something,” Mbatha reflected. Being on set with her A-list co-stars was at times a masterclass in acting: “There were moments where you’re fangirling inside. I remember the first few days I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m dying. What’s going on?’ And then I’d be like, ‘yo, okay, relax. These are your colleagues.'”
Of course, a gig like this one draws up all kinds of feelings. The actor shares that she had to find a way to balance her excitement, humility, and worrying about imposter syndrome. “You’re thinking to yourself, ‘there must be other girls who are more deserving, who are prettier, who are more talented, so why me? How dare something so grand and so beautiful happen to me?’ There was a lot of learning and unlearning that I went through as I was shooting.”
It took a conversation with the Queen of Zamunda herself, Shari Headley, for Mbatha to make sense of it all. “She said, ‘this is your moment. I’ve been where you are, and I wanted to shy away. I want you to know that I don’t want that for you, don’t you dare. Show up for this moment.’ And I was like, gotcha. When Shari Headley tells me to do something, you do it.”
About playing Mirembe, the royal groomer
“What I loved about my character was that she’s calming, she’s witty, she’s quick with her words, she’s got the smarts,” Mbatha shares. “She’s there to make people look good and feel proud about their look.” For Mbatha, it was deeply important that this character be wholly African and have the “essence of an African woman,” approaching it with little nuances. “We were very specific about her simplicity as well, we didn’t want to put too much on her because the beauty of her was truly skin-deep — that draws you into who this woman is. I had to borrow a lot from myself [thinking about] what it is that gives a woman that kind of alluring feeling.” For her, it was about portraying a character who is both beautiful and puts a lot of energy into making others feel beautiful.