Oscars: Lupita Nyong'o's Journey to the Podium
The 2014 Oscars undoubtedly belonged to Lupita Nyong'o, Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto and Cate Blanchett.
Each taking home wins in their categories, the fabulous four were not only the victors on Sunday night, but throughout the whole awards season, bringing home over a hundred accolades among them, including from critics' associations and film festivals.
While the other big three were well known to moviegoers -- and music fans when it came to Leto and 30 Seconds to Mars -- the 12 Years a Slave best supporting actress winner was a newcomer before she was thrust into the spotlight.
Landing her breakout role immediately before graduating from the Yale School of Drama, Nyong'o first caught the attention of critics when the Steve McQueen-directed best picture winner premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in August 2013, where the film caused shock and awe with its remarkable true story of a free black man from the North who was deceived and sold into slavery in the South in mid-19th century America.
THR's Scott Feinberg immediately predicted that 12 Years would rake in award nominations, tipping Nyong'o for a best supporting actress nod for her portrayal of the slave who endures heartbreaking brutality.
The now 31-year-old, who was born in Mexico but grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, had never starred in a feature film before winning the role of Patsey, and had more experience behind the scenes (as a production assistant on The Constant Gardener) than in front of the camera, with just short film East River and TV miniseries Shuga on her résumé.
Nyong'o appeared delicate and refined as she posed with 12 Years' cast and creators -- including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt, McQueen and Michael Fassbender -- at the Soho House Toronto in September.
"It was like finding Scarlett O'Hara," McQueen said of his female lead, noting that 1,000 girls auditioned for the part.
In October, still a month before the film's nationwide release, the newcomer told THR at an L.A. screening held at the DGA headquarters in West Hollywood that she felt "really uncomfortable with having all the makeup on my back" to represent Patsey's permanent wounds.
By November, however, she was already on the forefront of Oscar watchers' radars, but still shrank away from the spotlight when surrounded by Hollywood greats such as Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey and Meryl Streep at THR's Actress Roundtable series.
Shyly expressing her admiration of fellow roundtable star Winfrey, she told her, "When I was a little girl, the first time I thought I could be an actor was when I watched The Color Purple."
The red-carpet rookie appeared elegant but understated in one of her early award show outings, wearing a white strapless dress and a cautious expression when she attended the Gotham Awards in December, but by the end of that month she was named one of the breakout stars of 2013 by THR.
During her stroll down the red carpet at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January, Nyong'o told THR that she was in a dreamlike state of gratitude. "Part of me is in the clouds, but my little brother, who's here with me, is keeping the other part of me on the ground."
The short-haired beauty caught the world's attention at the Golden Globes in January -- not just with her win, but for her daring spiked 'do and stunning red Ralph Lauren Collection caped gown that transformed her into a fashion "it" girl.
Even once she was nominated for an Oscar, Nyong'o still didn't feel any more grounded, telling THR: "It feels strange. Like I'm a boat on really funky waves. I'm not really sure what's happening, but I'm just filled with so much gratitude."
As Nyong'o's accolades mounted, so did her confidence on the red carpet, where she began dramatically breaking the beauty rules -- such as with butterfly-wing eye makeup to offset her Gucci gown at the SAGs.
In the final run-up to the Academy Awards, Nyong'o was among the many A-list guests at THR's Nominees Night, where she shone in gold Valentino couture at the star-filled bash held at Wolfgang Puck's Spago on Feb. 10.
Playing the part of both starstruck fan and acclaimed nominee, the actress told THR that the dramatic life turnaround still took her by surprise.
"It sneaks up on me and I'm like, 'Wow, a lot has changed in just a few months,' you know," she said. "And I look forward to having distance from it and being able to take it all in and maybe look at the photos I've taken. I have so many photos on my phone, my phone's about to break."
In the Oscar Nominees Luncheon class photo, Lupita stood next to Pharrell Williams, a best song nominee for "Happy" from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack, calling Williams and his cohorts "the 'Happy' team, which is the team to be next to."
The fast friends were united once again on Oscar night, when the singer swept her from the front row at the Dolby Theatre to dance during his performance, as all eyes were on her swirling sky blue Prada gown.
Before she arrived for the biggest night of her life, Nyong'o revealed to THR her pre-Oscars game plan, which included getting a massage and hanging out with her friends and family, most important, her mom, Dorothy.
Her relaxing preparations paid off, and when she took to the stage to accept the Oscar on Sunday, she was a world away from the shy girl from the previous summer -- looking polished and perfect as she delivered her moving acceptance speech thanking her character Patsey.
"It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's," Nyong'o said through her tears.
After also thanking her brother, Junior, she left the audience with a heartfelt message: "When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every child, no matter where you're from, your dreams are valid."
Having compared herself to both Cinderella and Willy Wonka during the media frenzy since, Nyong'o, who's currently appearing in Non-Stop opposite Liam Neeson (which has grossed $30 million since Feb. 28), says she is exercising patience when looking for her next role.
"It won't be 12 Years a Slave: Part 2, but I think just exercising patience and listening to my gut because that's what has gotten me surviving thus far," said the actress, who is repped by Innovative Artists.