Before filming The Woman King, Lashana Lynch didn’t think that she could “jump off a man’s back wielding a machete.” Yet, the actress, 34, pulls it off seamlessly in the new feature film, which hits theaters next week. In fact, she did all of her own stunts.

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Woman King tells the true story of the Agojie, an all-female band of warriors who protected the African kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s. Lynch plays Izogie, a fearless lieutenant trained by General Nanisca (played by Viola Davis).

Lynch (left) and Thuso Mbedu in The Woman King.

The shoot required intense training for the epic fight scenes, which was made more complicated for Lynch because she was also filming Matilda the Musical, Netflix’s movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story. In that project, she plays Miss Honey, a kindhearted and cooing teacher—the opposite of a warrior. Executives wondered if Miss Honey was becoming too “muscly,” and Lynch had to relearn how to control her voice as her chest grew tighter and tenser from training.

But intense physical preparation wasn’t entirely new to Lynch. In her big break, Noel Clarke’s upbeat 2012 film Fast Girls, she was cast as an Olympic runner. Last year, she played a spy in No Time to Die, the latest Bond film.

When Lynch was starting out, she worked temp jobs—such as manning a reception desk at a doctor’s office and organizing courtesy cars for customers at an auto-repair shop—between acting roles. It was a challenging period. “I literally had about 2p [$.02] in my bank,” she explains.

Lynch in the 2012 film Fast Girls, in which she played an Olympic runner.

Even so, Lynch never considered giving up, and she never had a plan B. She credits this resilience to growing up working-class in London with two older brothers.

As a kid, Lynch had a natural aptitude for performing, not just acting but also singing and ballet. Per her godmother’s suggestion, she enrolled in Sylvia Young, a lauded London-based drama program with a financial-aid program. She played Pinocchio in a school production.

“I’m not sure if there’s been many Black-girl Pinocchios in the world,” Lynch says with a laugh. “It was actually pretty radical, but why did it have to be?”

In the 2019 film Captain Marvel, Lynch played an air-force pilot.

Lynch credits the role for “the start of me questioning why the world is so backwards,” she says. “That’s what makes me question why color-blind casting is so radical. Why would you do anything else? Why? Why aren’t people as experimental as they were when I was seven years old?”

Lynch didn’t sit back and wait for the movie industry to change. “My upbringing was that I can do absolutely anything, and if anyone tries to question me, they can move to the side.”

The Woman King hits theaters September 16

Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for AIR MAIL