When Tenoch Huerta joined the cast of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, he was thrilled at the chance to play Namor, the iconic Marvel antihero known for his quick temper and his ability to breathe underwater. There was only one problem: Despite playing the leader of an advanced aquatic kingdom, the actor himself didn't know how to swim.
EW recently spoke to Huerta and his Wakanda Forever castmates for our cover story on the highly anticipated movie, and Huerta explained that when director Ryan Coogler offered him the role, he asked about his swimming skills. At the time, Huerta simply replied: "I've never drowned before."
"I never lie!" the Mexican actor says now with a laugh. "I never drowned before, so that's not a lie."
Huerta stars in the film as the powerful leader of Talocan, a gorgeous civilization hidden under the sea. (In the comics Namor rules over Atlantis, but Coogler and Marvel invented Talocan for the film, a new kingdom inspired by Mexican culture and ancient Mayan history.) Huerta says he ultimately did take swimming lessons to prepare for the role. Several of his costars later joined him in the pool, brushing up on their swim skills regardless of whether their characters hailed from Wakanda or Talocan.
Marvel Studios Tenoch Huerta as Namor in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'
Much of the cast went through rigorous swim training, learning to free-dive and hold their breath underwater for minutes at a time. Several cast members now brag about their record breath-holds: Winston Duke, who plays M'Baku, says he reached a record of five minutes, while Huerta says he eventually hit six. Mabel Cadena, the Mexican actress who plays Namora, also blew them away with how long she could remain underwater.
"Everybody got that training," explains Dominique Thorne, who joins the cast as teenage inventor Riri Williams. "I was required to pass a swim test to graduate from college, but outside of that, I definitely did not have the confidence that I felt like I needed to walk into Wakanda with my swimming. So that is something I'm personally proud of: I'm way more confident and comfortable in the water after this."
At least one cast member had extensive swimming experience: Danai Gurira swam competitively growing up and was thrilled to get back in the water for Wakanda Forever, studying with a trainer and perfecting her breathing techniques. "I maybe went overboard with how much I started to learn," the Walking Dead actress admits with a laugh. "But it was really fun to reconnect with the sport."
Gurira also notes that she's particularly passionate about swim education, and she hopes Wakanda Forever might encourage a new generation of children to take up swim lessons — especially young Black children.
"I want to see more and more Black kids learn how to swim," she says. "During this time, I found out that Black kids are five times more likely to drown than white kids. That really got me. I was like, 'Maybe we can bring some awareness,' because it's a life skill I think we all need. We're losing our kids needlessly, and I don't want that to happen. So that was something I got really passionate about while shooting this film, figuring out how to connect with more opportunities for kids to learn how to swim."
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will hit theaters Nov. 11. For more on the film, read EW's in-depth Wakanda Forever cover story.