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Dominique Thorne, who plays Riri in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Ironheart. Photo: Reuters

5 things to know about new Marvel superhero Riri Williams, and Dominique Thorne who plays her in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Ironheart

  • Thorne appears as Riri Williams, an MIT student who makes her own armoured suit, in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and Marvel/Disney series Ironheart
  • She talks about playing a young black genius, fighting alongside Wakandan heroes, and why she crochets between takes

It would be difficult 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 has just turned 25.

The rising star delivers the biggest breakout in an iron suit since Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark, as Riri Williams in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, in which the inventive 19-year-old gear head and MIT student battles in her own armoured creation alongside Wakandan heroes such as Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye (Danai Gurira).

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 previously appeared in If Beale Street Could Talk and Judas and the Black Messiah.

Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams/Ironheart in the teaser trailer for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”.

“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 Black Panther: Wakanda 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 armour, “there is an inherent acknowledgement that Tony Stark was the blueprint”, Thorne says.

But Riri’s late stepdad, Gary, is also 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.”

Director Ryan Coogler at the premiere of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, in Naucalpan, Mexico state, Mexico. Photo: AP/Marco Ugarte

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 scene in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever 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.”

Thorne auditioned for Shuri (played above by Letitia Wright in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”) in the first Black Panther film. Photo: Marvel Studios via AP

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 recall Thorne’s own 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 for the role of Shuri in the first Black Panther film when she was in her second year at Cornell.

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Thorne got her acting start in Greek history plays

The daughter of Trinidadian immigrants, Thorne was first exposed to acting when she attended a Greek Orthodox middle school in New York, which put an emphasis on mythology and the importance of theatre, before actually studying the craft of acting in high school.

“Probably my favourite part is just how rich the culture and the performance of theatre is, and also how equally rich the history 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 a new hobby: she says she crocheted between takes filming Black Panther: 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 explains. “Otherwise it’s very easy to slip into ‘Oh, my God, did I do that right? Was this good?’ It definitely helps to be like, ‘OK, well, hope that was 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.”