In a lengthy, emotional tribute to Chadwick Boseman, "Black Panther" director Ryan Coogler said the late actor was a man of faith and dignity, and someone who lived a beautiful life while making great art.
Boseman, who attained global stardom as T'Challa of fictitious African country Wakanda aka superhero Black Panther in the MCU films such as "Captain America: Civil War", "Black Panther", "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame", died Friday of colon cancer at his residence in Los Angeles with his wife and family by his side. He was 43.
The actor fought a secret battle with the disease for four years, Boseman's family said in a statement posted on his official Twitter handle on Saturday.
Coogler revealed he "wasn't privy to the details of his illness", adding Boseman was "living with his illness the entire time I knew him".
"Chad deeply valued his privacy, and I wasn't privy to the details of his illness... Because he was a caretaker, a leader, and a man of faith, dignity and pride, he shielded his collaborators from his suffering. He lived a beautiful life. And he made great art.
"Day after day, year after year. That was who he was. He was an epic firework display. I will tell stories about being there for some of the brilliant sparks till the end of my days. What an indelible mark he's left for us," the filmmaker said in a statement on Sunday obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.
Coogler said he hasn't grieved "a loss this acute before". The director, who is set to helm the sequel to 2018's "Black Panther" due to be released in 2022, said he spent the last year preparing and writing words for Boseman to say, that "we weren't destined to see".
"It leaves me broken knowing that I won't be able to watch another close-up of him in the monitor again or walk up to him and ask for another take," he added.
The director recalled how he "inherited" the actor, who was first cast in "Captain America: Civil War" by the Russo Brothers, and was in two minds about directing the "Black Panther" stand-alone.
"His first (scene) with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, then, with the South African cinema titan, John Kani as T'Challa's father, King T'Chaka. It was at that moment I knew I wanted to make this movie. After Scarlett's character leaves them, Chad and John began conversing in a language I had never heard before.
"It sounded familiar, full of the same clicks and smacks that young black children would make in the (United) States. The same clicks that we would often be chided for being disrespectful or improper. But, it had a musicality to it that felt ancient, powerful, and African."
After he watched "Civil War", Coogler asked Nate Moore, one of the producers on the film, about the language.
"Did you guys make it up?" he asked, to which Moore replied, "That's Xhosa, John Kani's native language. He and Chad decided to do the scene like that on set, and we rolled with it."
Collaborating with Kani, Boseman learnt Xhosa to make the African language the character's native tongue, and memorised his lines on the spot.
"I couldn't conceive how difficult that must have been, and even though I hadn't met Chad, I was already in awe of his capacity as actor," Coogler added.
The director-actor duo finally met in early 2016, when Boseman snuck in for a sitdown during Coogler's media junket for "Creed" .
"I noticed then that Chad was an anomaly. He was calm. Assured. Constantly studying. But also kind, comforting, had the warmest laugh in the world, and eyes that seen much beyond his years, but could still sparkle like a child seeing something for the first time," he recalled his first meeting with the late actor.
From discussions over heritage, what it means to be African, dialogues, costumes, military practices in the film to doing his own stunts, Coogler said Boseman was brimming with ideas that would help them realise their collective vision of Wakanda.
"I had no idea if the film would work. I wasn't sure I knew what I was doing. But I look back and realize that Chad knew something we all didn't. He was playing the long game. All while putting in the work. And work he did."
During the coronavirus pandemic, the director said, they would often connect via FaceTime or text message.
"He would send vegetarian recipes and eating regimens for my family and me to follow during the pandemic. He would check in on me and my loved ones, even as he dealt with the scourge of cancer."
In African cultures, Coogler said, loved ones that have passed on are often referred to as ancestors.
"... it is with a heavy heart and a sense of deep gratitude to have ever been in his presence, that I have to reckon with the fact that Chad is an ancestor now. And I know that he will watch over us, until we meet again," he concluded.
Before "Black Panther", Boseman made a name for himself by playing iconic black historical figures like baseball star Jackie Robinson in "42" (2013), singer-songwriter James Brown in "Get on Up" (2014) and the first African-American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in "Marshall" (2017).
Coincidentally, the actor died on a day that Major League Baseball was celebrating Jackie Robinson Day.
Boseman was last seen in Spike Lee's "Da 5 Bloods", an urgent film about a group of ageing Vietnam War veterans who return to the country in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader.
His last film will be "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom".