Hounsou Brings ‘Grace and Power’ to Tarzan

As the story of “The Legend of Tarzan,” opens, it has been years since the man once known as Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) left the jungles of Africa behind for a gentrified life as John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, with his beloved wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), at his side. Now, he has been invited back to the Congo to serve as a trade emissary of Parliament, unaware that he is a pawn in a deadly convergence of greed and revenge, masterminded by the King of Belgium’s envoy, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz).


The bargain that Rom strikes is with an old enemy of Tarzan’s: Mbonga, the Chief of the Mbolonga tribe, the guardians of the Opar region, which is rich in minerals…including diamonds.


Cast in the role, Djimon Hounsou notes, “Mbonga knows the wealth his country has but perhaps doesn’t understand that it can also be a serious liability in the wrong hands. He is a powerful character but emotionally scarred by something that happened in the past with Tarzan. After so many years, his anger has grown, and it’s gotten the best of him. He makes a deal with Leon Rom to lure Tarzan back to Africa, but he is blinded by revenge and doesn’t realize he’s making a deal with the devil.”


A native of Africa, Hounsou goes on to reflect, “I have always loved the beauty of Africa, but unfortunately, it is a continent that was voiceless and still is in many respects. So although the story is entirely fictional, some of its themes are still relevant in an organic way.”


“Djimon is magnificent,” director David Yates says. “I desperately wanted him for the role of Mbonga and was thrilled when he said yes. I needed an actor who has real substance, grace and power, with a genuine emotional quality, and Djimon possesses all of that.”


Plus, he looks amazing on the big screen. Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth Myers especially enjoyed getting creative with the tribal clothes worn in the movie, primarily the leopard warrior costume worn by Hounsou, which obviously contained no actual leopard parts. “It was a major undertaking,” Myers says. “We took a huge amount of time on his headdress and claws. David Yates and I spent hours going over all sorts of prototypes before we came up with the final look. The costume itself was very imposing with massive shoulders and the headdress, which is meant to be frightening.”


Hounsou attests that the costume had the desired effect. “From a cultural perspective for Africans, if you’re trying to emulate an animal, you must become that animal, so Mbonga is wearing the claws, skin and skull of a leopard to literally embody a leopard. I must say, the look is quite impressive; everything about it indicates he’s a force to be reckoned with. When I put the costume on, I felt like a warrior…I really felt as if I could move like a leopard.”