'Little Monsters' Star Lupita Nyong'o on Why She Loves "Melodrama," "Specific Rules" of Horror Movies

Lupita Nyong'o - Getty - H 2019
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The Neon and Hulu film about a kindergarten class that encounters a zombie outbreak on a field trip marks Nyong'o's second effort in the fright genre this year, along with Jordan Peele's 'Us.'

Lupita Nyong’o was basically a kindergarten teacher while she was filming Little Monsters. Yes, she was playing the role onscreen, but the 11 child actors who portrayed her students only knew her as her character, Miss Caroline, on set. 

“I met them about a month before we started filming, and we had an orientation period where I designed lesson plans,” Nyong’o told The Hollywood Reporter at the Neon and Hulu film’s New York premiere on Tuesday night. “They met me as Miss Caroline and called me Miss Caroline, so I had to assume that role of responsibility and authority. And we came up with a memorandum of understanding of how we were going to work together. And we had a chant that we would do all together at the start of every day. I created a song to start us off. It was fun to do all those things and create this community so the filming could be seamless.”

The character is directly inspired by writer-director Abe Forsythe’s son’s kindergarten teacher. Forsythe’s child has severe food allergies, and school was the first time the boy was in another person’s care. The filmmaker was so amazed by the teacher’s attentiveness that he was inspired to write Little Monsters. “This movie is a love letter to my son, but it’s also a love letter to kindergarten teachers,” Forsythe told THR.

However, there is one aspect that was not true to life: zombies. The pic follows a kindergarten class on a field trip, during which they encounter a flesh-eating zombie. Forsythe actually went on a trip with his son’s class to the same place where filming occurred.

“It was just one of those weird ideas that popped into my head like, 'What if there was a zombie here?' And then that led to further thinking of how would you protect children if they had zombies attacking them and how would you stop their minds from being corrupted by everything as well,” Forsythe explained of his inspiration. “I remember thinking I felt comfortable, if my son was in a zombie apocalypse, if his teacher was looking after him.”

He then sent his script on to Nyong’o, as they’re both repped by CAA, and within a week, she was on board.

“She was just the ultimate person for me. I knew that she would bring a certain amount of strength and truth to that character which was really important, and I was a massive fan of hers,” said Forsythe.

Little Monsters also stars Josh Gad, who plays Teddy McGiggle, a famous child entertainer, and Alexander England, who portrays a has-been musician who is chaperoning his nephew’s field trip and is attracted to the teacher. England and Forsythe previously worked on Down Under, and England was excited to collaborate again with the director and work with Nyong’o.

“Lupita’s just unbelievable. She came in with such generous spirit for this story and everyone involved,” England said. “She was just ready to go. It was so exciting to see her with the children.”

However, they had to protect the kids from a lot of the cursing in the film and some of the more terrifying elements. “We were very conscious that the kids couldn’t see certain things, couldn’t hear certain things, so a lot of energy went into making sure they were all very safe and comfortable,” said the actor. “It also meant when the kids were gone, we could go as crazy as we liked.”

To prepare for the zombie element, Nyong’o viewed several films in the genre, including Night of the Living Dead and Train to Busan, which Forsythe recommended she watch. (The actress said she didn’t have time to watch her friend and Black Panther co-star Danai Gurira on AMC's The Walking Dead, but Gurira told her she’d be fine with the zombies.) Forsythe is hesitant to categorize the pic as a zombie film. “It’s a movie that has zombies in it, but it’s about so much more," he asserted.

Nyong’o was ultimately attracted to the imagination of the story. Little Monsters is her second time venturing into the horror genre following Jordan Peele’s Us, and she really enjoyed the sense of play.

“I love the melodrama of it. It’s high stakes and it’s very imaginative,” Nyong’o said of horror flicks. “In the two films that I’ve done, the worlds have been so different, but I love how specific the rules of the world are. And when you have such specific rules, there’s so much freedom and it’s just a lot of fun to go that far into your imagination and commit. Everyone’s committing. 'That dude over there dressed as a zombie is about to chop our heads off!' That’s fun.” 

Little Monsters is set to bow Friday on Hulu.