Home » Chukwudi Iwuji on How Shakespeare Helped Him Bring the High Evolutionary to Life

Chukwudi Iwuji on How Shakespeare Helped Him Bring the High Evolutionary to Life

by Andrew J. Salazar
Chukwudi Iwuji in full costume and makeup as the evil High Evolutionary in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is introducing a new cosmic threat to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just like he did with Ronan the Accuser and Ego the Living the Planet in the previous two films, writer-director James Gunn is reaching into decades-old Marvel Comics lore to tell a deeply personal story with his iteration of the Guardians team with the High Evolutionary. Played by Peacemaker star Chukwudi Iwuji, the High Evolutionary makes his way into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 through Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper). The Guardians films have only briefly touched upon Rocket’s traumatizing origins, but now everyone’s favorite trash panda must reconcile with his cruel past when his original creator comes knocking to “rightfully” reclaim the genetic codes in his system.

From Comic Panels to the Big Screen

Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the High Evolutionary made his comic-book debut in The Mighty Thor #134 in 1966. He was first introduced as a brilliant yet single-minded scientist named Herbert Edgar Wyndham who let his obsessions with genetics drive him off the face of the earth, literally. When he learned how to evolve himself and his first wave of experiments, he traveled to space and eventually set his sights on building the perfect society to let his creations run free: Counter-Earth. In the comics, the villain has come across and shared ties with the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Mister Sinister, Spider-Woman, and even Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. His movie counterpart isn’t so different, wearing a similar costume that gives him the powers of telekinesis. In the MCU, Counter-Earth was also the utopia originally meant for Rocket Raccoon.

The High Evolutionary has more creations under his belt than Rocket Raccoon though. In fact, the egotistical maniac is responsible for birthing entire alien civilizations, including the Sovereign led by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) as introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. With the highly super-powered Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) and an army of wild mutant experiments at his disposal, nothing can get in the way of the High Revolutionary from getting what he needs out of Rocket Raccoon’s system – which the film humorously refers to as intellectual property or “IP.” The High Evolutionary comes across as a Doctor Moreau-type mad scientist with a sociopathic god complex… mixed in with the business savvy of a Hollywood executive. It’s a comical yet fascinating take on the classic Marvel villain to say the least.

A Playlist for a Marvel Villain

Star Chukwudi Iwuji gave some insight into his portrayal of the High Evolutionary at the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 global press conference. He reiterated that James Gunn offered to cast him in the role while they were shooting Peacemaker for HBO Max in Vancouver. “Between James telling me he wanted me to play the role and doing the screen test, I had a lot of downtime,” Iwuji says. Gunn was filming an episode of Peacemaker that the actor wasn’t in, so he wasted no time in kicking off his preparation to play the High Evolutionary in the MCU.

“The first thing that’s written in the script when you meet [The High Evolutionary] is him listening to Space Opera,” Chukwudi Iwuji explains. “So, immediately, I knew classical music was going to be a big part of this character.” The actor admits that it was still really early in the process, too early to have a solid idea of how he was going to bring him to life on screen. There was too much excitement to stop him though; “I thought I would just listen to a lot of my favorite operas and classical music and send them to James, and one or two of them actually made it onto the film!”

Chukwudi Iwuji stars as the High Evolutionary with two of his enhanced cyborg recorder servants standing at his sides in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3
Miriam Shor, Chukwudi Iwuji, & Nico Santos in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ courtesy of Disney

Fans are going to have to do some deeper diving to figure out which of those songs Iwuji is referring to. The actor states that “a lot of finding this guy, for me, was saying… if he’s listening to opera and he’s in a space opera and he’s this mad scientist sort of person, I just thought of someone that doesn’t sleep.” In truth, when more and more people see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 it’s going to be hard to argue that the MCU has seen a mustache-twirling, purely insane mad scientist villain like the High Evolutionary before. 

Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown

Not many fans might know that Chukwudi Iwuji boasts a rich career in theatre, which is one of the main reasons why James Gunn asked him to play the High Evolutionary in the first place. Having joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2001, the Nigerian actor has gone on to star in high-scale productions of Julius Caesar, Hamlet, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Antony and Cleopatra, King Lear, and more. More notably, he took on the titular role in the Henry IV trilogy in 2006. When discussing the cosmic Marvel villain in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Iwuji went on to give an interesting comparison to another King, Henry IV to be exact.

“He needs the music as he wanders through his castle at night, and I thought very deeply about Henry IV. He has a great speech about, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown. ‘How many thousands of my poorest subjects that at this moment, are asleep,’  and I sent that to James.” With this special Shakespearean touch, James Gunn and Chukwudi Iwuji create what is arguably the latest top-tier MCU villain – one that holds his own unique spot next to other great Marvel antagonists. The star explains that it wasn’t really about reading what’s only in the script; “I knew that would be taken care of in the script, the motivations and the moments and stuff are impeccably written…  so it was about, who is this guy before he turns up on the set, you know?” 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 sees Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Groot (Vin Diesel) put their lives on the line for one of their own. With the additional help of Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and Cosmo (Maria Bakalova), the team must travel into the most bizarre corners of Marvel space to save Rocket Raccoon. It’s a true finale that bookends a cinematic journey that started nearly a decade ago. Not only does James Gunn walk away from this franchise as one of the few filmmakers to complete a whole trilogy, but also one that got to use an exciting Marvel villain in each installment. If you’re going to go out with a bang, then getting a proficient actor like Chukwudi Iwuji to play the High Evolutionary is the way to go.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 hits theaters May 5!

Follow Managing Editor Andrew J. Salazar on Twitter: @AndrewJ626

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