On a scorching Louisiana Friday in June, Lashana Lynch has her flight suit peeled halfway down to her waist, letting the arms flap at her sides like a bird at rest. A short-sleeved striped top and construction boots round out an outfit that is crowned with a very short Salt-N-Pepa like bob. The 31-year-old British starlet is taking a break from filming Captain Marvel, where she plays Maria Rambeau, best friend to Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers and mother to young Monica Rambeau, who is destined to become Captain Marvel herself in the future. After appearing in TV series like Bulletproof and Star-Crossed as well as films like Brotherhood and Fast Girls, Lynch is fulfilling a dream of being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Previous auditions for Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming didn’t pan out, but she landed this part just days after a test with Brie.
“I’m in a restaurant with my two friends, we’re chilling, having some food and then my manager calls me at like 9 p.m.,” she recalls of the moment she found out she’d landed the part. “That’s not normal, but I don’t think anything of it. My friends straight away are like, 'That’s the call!' and they start filming me. But I’m like, ‘I’m sure she’s just calling to see how I am.’ Even though it’s 9 p.m. Then she said, ‘Yeah, congratulations!’ and I just dropped on the ground. My two friends are going crazy. They were like, 'Your life has literally just changed.'”
The first person she called when she found out was her Jamaican mother, even though it was 5 a.m where she was and the phone signal was not strong.
“I screamed, ‘I got the part!’ and she said, ‘Ya cut out, ya cut out, what ya saying?’ That was THE moment because she’s been praying for this for years. She’s the reason why this is all happening. So it was important for me to connect with her. Then I went to bed.”
Lashana was told at an early age that she looked and sounded like Mahalia Jackson and was encouraged to communicate through song. That led to drama school and landing an agent. Captain Marvel will mark the first time that she is performing with an American accent since drama school, and she wanted to make sure she got Maria’s Louisiana speech just right. With some gentle prodding she even gives a sneak preview.
“[Maria] traveled a lot, she’s in the military but she’s from Louisiana,” she explains as she switches out of her British accent into her slight Nawlins lilt. “So I have this twang kind of thing, but it wouldn’t be that strong. I have someone wonderful named Tom Jones who coached me. I say “baby” in the film but I don’t say it [like Lil Wayne]. I wanted to find a balance between general [accent] and Southern sounds.”
Lashana is prepared to make the most of her moment, being acutely aware that this role did not have to be.
“Just being a Black character right after Black Panther, they have so much scope that they could have done anything, Maria didn’t necessarily have to be there. They could have put Monica in down the line. I had a conversation with the directors at the beginning about the [Black community]. Marvel had a great opportunity to bring the Black community here. And showing a Black single mother raising a queen was important.”
To prepare for her part as a fighter pilot, Lynch trained at the Luke Air Force base in Phoenix.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’ll never forget and hope to do again,” she says. “I spent two days with these brilliant female fighter pilots, and they gave me the best two-day crash course in being a fighter pilot. They allowed me to fly in their F-16. It felt like I was flying on my own in the sky, like a bit of a bird. And pulling 6.9 Gs is a real unique experience on your eyeballs. My eyeballs were falling way into my back pocket, and I can’t liken it to anything else. That’s why I feel like I need to do it again. It was fantastic.”
Back on the ground, Maria is the loving but strict mother to Monica, played by rising star Akira Akbar, who stole TV viewers' hearts as young Beth on ABC’s This Is Us.
“She is absolutely brilliant. She is such a beautiful soul. She brings such balance and maturity to the role and an emotional intelligence that really helped me to realize the kind of child that I have in this movie,” says Lynch. “She’s grown up seeing her mom fly and fix planes and allows her to be her authentic self at any time of her life. It’s beautiful. With Monica having a mother from the military, she had to grow up quickly. She matured quickly and I think that’s really shown here, and it sets Monica up nicely for her future as well.”
Lashana drew upon her own experience being raised in a single-parent household and feels that Maria is very much a hero for that, despite not having “superpowers.”
“To play a single mother in the MCU, I think, is really special for audiences both young and old who don’t see that extended on screen. Couple that with bing a fighter pilot, they are also superheroes. She’s able to live her best life both emotionally and physically in the movie, and I think that the creators have made a nice balance for someone who doesn’t have the typical superpowers in that she is injected with power from within and is able to use that and pass that down to her daughter, Monica.”
To stay in her '90s zone on set, Lashana listened to a steady diet of Aaliyah, 702, SWV, Jade, Monica (of course), Lauryn Hill, Mos Def and Mob Deep. If she could go back and be in any music video from that era she says, “Anything by Missy Elliot. Or any girl group. There was something about girl groups back then that was the truth.”
Just weeks before Captain Marvel's release, I can hear the relief in Lashana’s voice on the phone. Marvel is notorious for their secrecy, and talent is very careful about not giving spoilers out before a film is released. Pre-sales for Captain Marvel have already surpassed $100 million, so celebration is definitely in order.
“It feels glorious to be able to talk about it finally. It’s great that people are already connecting with it. Those who have seen it already are seeing what I knew I was bringing to the movie. The themes that we know should have been in every movie that existed but haven’t, and we have it in abundance. Full female empowerment, female support and the loving in the movie is genuinely sisterly love. We just had a great time and I know everyone will have a whale of a time watching it."
When the trailer for the film dropped, Lashana was home in London chilling in bed and her phone started blowing up again, but this time with messages from friends.
“It was almost like I made up the experience of filming the movie, so when the photos came out it was REAL real. Now I can actually tell people about this adventure I’d been on. People thought I’d just been away auditioning or something.” Of course, the first person she sent the link to was her mom. “Because this is all for her, really.”
Catch Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel, in theaters March 8!
Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Disney/ Marvel