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Lupita Nyong’o: “I wasn’t brought up to be afraid of dreaming”
When we catch up with Lupita Nyong’o, she’s in Atlanta filming Black Panther, a superhero flick set to be released in 2018…and that’s all she’ll say about it.
In fact, so tight-lipped was Nyong’o when we were discussing what she was doing in Georgia that we began to wonder if everything we’d heard about the actress—how articulate, lovely, interesting she was—might not be true.
But then, when we got to a topic not heavily, heavily embargoed and guarded with signature Marvel secrecy—like say TIFF audience favourite, The Queen of Katwe, in which she stars—the 33 year-old Kenyan had plenty to say…and yes, she was as articulate, lovely and interesting as we’d hoped.
ELLE Canada: I get the sense, based on other interviews you’ve done, that The Queen of Katwe is a film you find great joy in talking about.
Lupita Nyong’o: It’s a magical true story about this young girl who comes from very little and makes a lot of herself by pursuing an unlikely dream. That kind of narrative is one that resonates very deeply for me. It’s a story that ought to be told as often as possible because it’s an uplifting story. And the fact that it is also an African story means a lot to me, because very rarely do we get African stories told on this kind of global scale that are positive and that have Africans, you know, taking care and saving themselves and being joyful and full of dignity
EC: You play a woman living in a Ugandan slum whose daughter turns out to be a bit of a chess prodigy. Did you take away any lesson from this character?
LN: Harriet had her daughter when she was 15, so by the time we meet her, she’s my age. She just has a very different life from mine. That was one of the reasons why I was so keen to play her is because her circumstances are so different from mine. Even her outlook is quite the opposite of what my outlook is because she grows up in a situation where she’s been dealt a lot of difficult cards, and because of that she’s afraid of dreaming. Dreaming is an enemy to her because it leads to disappointment. Her journey is one where you have to discover that to love is to free oneself from fear.
EC: Given the incredible success you’ve had, I’d imagine dreams would be friends to you rather than enemies? You’re not afraid of dreaming at this stage…
LN: I never was. I wasn’t brought up to be afraid of dreaming. I was brought up to be into dreaming. My parents very actively participated in our dreaming out loud. My mother made us make dream charts over the school holidays of what we wanted the next year to look like, what we wanted the next three years to look like. She was really interested in having us expand our minds and our ideas of what is possible.
EC: Have you kept any of those charts?
LN: No, but I bet she has!
EC: If you did look at those charts, have any of those goals happened?
LN: There’s one thing I know came true—I wanted a bike and I finally got one when I was at Yale.
EC: You shot this film on location in Uganda. Was there a particularly special day of filming for you?
LN: Oh man, filming Queen of Katwe was such a joyful experience most of the time. Oh! We were shooting the end of the movie when Phiona comes home with her trophy as the Uganda champion and the whole of Katwe [a slum in Kampala] is dancing. That day we were filming in Katwe itself and we had a number of extras hired to be in the crowd but there was a lot of other people just going about their lives, and when we started filming they joined the festivities as well. That moment was just so moving to me because here we were fictionalizing a true story and in doing so we were celebrating what had happened in Phiona’s life, but also what was happening right now in Katwe. It was such a powerful moment and I remember feeling so honoured.
The Queen of Katwe is out now on Digital HD and Blue-Ray.