March 27, 2014 5:00am PT by Lesley Goldberg
Lupita Nyong'o: How ABC's Diversity Casting Program First Spotted Her
This story first appeared in the April 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Lupita Nyong'o rocketed to fame with 12 Years a Slave, but the actress was discovered as part of ABC's diversity casting program. ABC has produced 32 talent showcases in New York and Los Angeles since the program -- spearheaded by executive vp casting Keli Lee -- launched in 2001. In 2007, aspiring actress Nyong'o, who then had no agent or manager, became one of the 600 who auditioned for the showcase and was one of 11 actors selected.
"We saw the potential of an extraordinary talent. She possessed a raw and elegant quality with an unlimited depth that clearly developed into what we saw in her incredible performance in 12 Years a Slave," Lee tells THR. She's now among the program's most recent success stories.
Other notable alums to pop out of the showcases include Chadwick Boseman (2004), who played Jackie Robinson in the biopic 42 and stars as James Brown in the upcoming Get on Up; Grey's Anatomy castmember Jesse Williams (2005); Mixology and The Following breakout Adan Canto (2011); True Blood's Kevin Alejandro (2002); Parenthood alum Rosa Salazar (2013); and Henri Esteve (2013), who has a recurring role on Revenge. While ABC casting executives wanted to work with Nyong'o, the actress at the time had her eye on the Yale School of Drama and other film work.
The other networks all host similar talent showcases: NBC has its DiverseCity Casting initiative, CBS has its Diversity Institute and Fox has its Audience Strategy unit. ABC's biannual program, first held in 2001, received 7,500 submissions last year. Of those, 20 actors for the L.A. showcase and 12 for New York were selected to perform vignettes in a one-night show for industry professionals. Says Lee, "It's important to us to develop a fresh pipeline of talent."