Lupita Nyong’o is the Hollywood fresh face with a breakout role in the critically acclaimed film, “12 Years a Slave.”
The Kenyan-bred talent was fresh out of the Yale School of Drama when she landed the part of Patsey in the Steve McQueen-produced film, but her work in the movie is already garnering her Oscar buzz.
The 30-year-old actress worked closely with Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave,” and Fassbender said he had to get his “s–t together” working with the young starlet.
AlwaysAList.com said down with Nyong’o at the posh Conrad Hotel in New York City to talk about her big screen debut.
Was it hard for you to leave Patsey on set after a days work?
Yes. I never fully succeeded in leaving her on set. I tried. I couldn’t sleep throughout the shoot. It was very, very difficult to sleep, not only because of the dark place I had to go but also because of the light it was bringing into me, like working with these amazing people who were so exhilarated. It was a very vibrant time in my life in every respect. I also recognized that I owed it to Patsey’s spirit and everybody else who enjoys their freedom.
How did you mentally prepare for the role?
It was very difficult to play Patsey but I had to remind myself that that was what I had trained to do and this was the kind of role I was preparing for, the kind of role that I dreamed of with that kind of complexity and importance. This was a real exercise in the things I had trained to do and I had to come to terms with the fact that I had been given the responsibility to bring this real woman back to life and to light. So I had to be humble to that spirit because she existed, you know. I had to be humble and available to be guided by that spirit. I wanted to make her three-dimensional and move beyond just what was in the script.
This film is emotional and Patsey’s story gut-wrenching. How do you think audiences will receive it?
I know it’s mind-boggling when you see it. You go, ‘I cannot believe this,’ but it’s true and we only know of her because she left her an indelible mark on Solomon. But there are so many other stories we will never hear because the people did not have a Solomon in their lives to tell their stories. So it’s hard to believe but you have to accept it because it’s true. That was a big part in playing her that I couldn’t approach it with a reverence. She was a simple woman trying to get by. And in that simplicity she did something so great. But I couldn’t sentimentalize Patsey.
You were born in Mexico but your family moved back to Kenya. Tell me about that?
My father was a professor of political science and at the time he was also a young politician and he was fighting for democracy in Kenya. After a series of events that included the disappearance of his brother, he fled to Mexico to lay low for a few years and to take on a job as a professor of political science there and I was born there. Then he went back to continue his work in politics and tried to achieve democracy in Kenya.
The critical response and the Oscar buzz, are you shocked by the response to this movie?
We hoped for it. When I read the script I felt that this was big. It felt so vital, so necessary, and so powerful. It felt larger than life and it did feel like it was something that was groundbreaking. So in the end I’m relieved that people are receiving it as such.
“12 Years of Slave” is in theaters now in limited release. You can see the film nationwide as the amount of theaters increase moving towards Thanksgiving.