Before we even meet, Lupita Nyong’o decides to interview me first. Too many journalists end up impersonally grilling her over lunch, she tells me over the phone, and as a result, she wants to know some things about me so that we can have an actual conversation. In our pre-interview, I discover our mutual love of the clothes of Nigerian fashion label Maki Oh, and our shared, slightly unhealthy obsession with Game of Thrones. “I’m not caught up, though, so I can’t talk about it. I’m in the dark and blissfully so,” she says, laughing. “I like to spread it out so that it can live with me for longer.”
Pole-dancing is a decidedly stark change from the mixed-martial-arts training Nyong’o underwent for her role in the movie, which premieres next month. Black Panther, which Nyong’o calls “brave for an action film,” is based on a Marvel character that debuted in 1966. She plays Nakia, bodyguard and love interest of the young leader (Boseman) of an advanced African kingdom named Wakanda. The country has never been colonized, and its traditions have matured without interference. “For me, as an African who lives outside Africa and wrestles with that dichotomy of tradition and modernity, this is almost healing,” she says.
Before filming began, she spent up to four hours a day for six weeks in boot camp with her castmates. “Chadwick had a live drummer come in as we worked out, and it was so cool—it changes your sense of internal rhythm,” Nyong’o tells me. “My character fights with anything: guns, spears, ring blades, shoes, glass.” Nyong’o’s appreciation of working out started when she was a child watching her aunt exercise to Jane Fonda videotapes at home in Nairobi. She now has a trainer come to her apartment in Brooklyn several times a week, and physical training plays a significant part in her preparation for every new role she takes on. Flexibility is more important to her than exertion, so that she can stay “fluid and open.” She does plenty of stretching, drinks a lot of water, gets regular massages, and takes Epsom-salt baths. She tries to avoid anything that results in tension or bulk.
Her physical practice stems from a broader desire to preserve something essential about herself. Nyong’o, who is 34, wants to remain childlike, she explains, so that she can feel buoyant and unabashed about who she is. “That’s why I like to try new things, like pole-dancing” or mastering new languages and accents, and learning the ukulele for her next role. “I value not being good at things, because children are not good at things.” She is about to leave for Australia to begin preproduction on an independent comedy/horror film called Little Monsters, directed by Abe Forsythe, in which she plays a kindergarten teacher. Right now, she is in the period of self-doubt she usually experiences when starting a new project, she says, “feeling like a total rookie.”
She is moving ahead with the screen-adaptation rights she optioned for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah—a love story about a young Nigerian couple who take separate paths before reuniting. Nyong’o will star as the headstrong protagonist, who finds herself becoming a popular blogger in America, and she is also delving into the production process. “Americanah is close to actually rolling camera—it’s about time,” Nyong’o says. She will be making the film with the production company Plan B, which was cofounded by Brad Pitt, her costar in, and a producer of, 12 Years a Slave. As for the stage, she is waiting to find a play that excites her as much as her last project, Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed. “I am a theater baby first and foremost,” she says. “It may pull me back sooner than I think.”
From Nairobi, with stints living in Amherst (where she went to Hampshire College), the Mexican city of Taxco (where she spent time learning Spanish), and New Haven, Nyong’o is still mulling the concept of home. When she first moved to New York, “I had the mattress on the floor for so long, my mom was like, ‘Buy a bed. You are alive now, and you need a bed now. Accept your existence as it is in the moment,’” she recalls with a laugh. So she bought a bed and dug into Brooklyn: eating local, going to farmers’ markets, finding out who her city representatives are. Nyong’o is also relishing her free time, listening to podcasts (she loves “On Being” and “The Business”), going out for oysters with friends, cooking (“I like to make salads,” she says), checking out fashion (Off-White is her current favorite), and laughing at the comedy of Russell Brand.
Before she disappears from the car, she tells me that she has just been in talks to star in a buddy comedy for Netflix with Rihanna. She is feeling exhilarated and defiant. “I am here. I am happy to be here,” she says, tilting her head, immersed in thought. “I know this industry was not made for me. But I’m not going to apologize for being here.”
This information from Magazine Vogue