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“I had dreams, but they were never this size,” says the Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o as we sit down at the Los Angeles offices of The Hollywood Reporter to record an episode of THR‘s Awards Chatter podcast. I ask Nyong’o what she would tell herself if she could go back in time seven years before she was cast in Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years a Slave, the film for which she won a best supporting actress Academy Award — becoming only the 15th female performer ever to win for a film debut, and that category’s first-ever winner from Mexico, Kenya or Africa at-large — and through which she became an A-list star. “As a woman, it’s not cool, it’s not acceptable, to be lofty in what you want. I would encourage that girl to be lofty. And I continue to encourage myself to be lofty. It’s not about the size of the dream; it’s about the quality of it, and what impact do you want to have.”
After the unveiling of 12 Years, Nyong’o, a Mexican-born Kenyan, morphed almost overnight from total unknown to household name and face. She subsequently picked up a Tony nomination for Danai Gurira‘s 2016 Broadway play Eclipsed, the first Broadway show ever with an all-black and all-female cast and crew; starred — in voice, if not body — in J.J. Abrams‘ 2015 film Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jon Favreau‘s 2016 film The Jungle Book; and played a key role in Ryan Coogler‘s 2018 film Black Panther, the first superhero movie to star a majority black cast and/or to have a black writer and director and/or to land a best picture Oscar nomination.
Most recently, the 36-year-old played two characters in Jordan Peele‘s Us, an elevated horror flick which cost just $20 million but, upon its release last spring, grossed $250 million. Her performance(s) have already brought her best actress SAG and Critics’ Choice award nominations — and could soon earn her a return invitation to the Oscars.
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below.
Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Gervais, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Al Pacino, Julia Roberts, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett and Norman Lear.
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Over the course of our conversation, Nyong’o and I also discuss her globe-hopping upbringing and how she wound up at the Yale School of Drama; being #MeToo’d, while still a student, by Harvey Weinstein (“I [later] recognized that the shame and the guilt was not mine to carry”); how she came to be cast over 2,000 other actresses to play Patsey, a slave, in 12 Years, and how she tackled that grueling part; why the sudden celebrity that came with her Oscar, including being named People‘s “Most Beautiful Person in the World,” caused her to choose screen roles over the next few years in which she did not show her face; why she wanted so badly to work with Peele even before he approached her with the parts of Adelaide and Red in Us, a film about a family under siege by evil-twin versions of themselves; and much more.
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