Lupita Nyong’o was definitely 2014’s ‘It Girl,’ and despite not being among the nominees at this year’s Oscars, all the talk about her glamorous, pearl-strewn Oscar dress shows that 2015 is still quite enamoured with her.
She is known as much for her historic Oscar win for her role in 12 Years a Slave and impeccable fashion sense as she is for her intelligence and enlightening attitude. She is a role model for all women and girls, best exemplified in her empowering speech on beauty at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon.
But when it comes to the thing that most defines her success, namely her much-lauded acting ability, there seems to be one thing that elevates her to the talent she is, and that is an impeccable attention to detail.
When she was freshly graduated from the Yale School of Drama, her agent convinced her to send an audition tape to director Steve McQueen of Shame and Hunger fame for the role of Patsey in the film, 12 Years a Slave.
In NYMag, McQueen describes what it was like seeing Nyong’o for the first time:
“I just kind of rubbed my eyes in disbelief and needed someone else to confirm what I was seeing,” When he then showed his 14-year-old daughter the same tape, she said, “Wow. Who is she?”
The secret to the powerful performance Nyong’o gave in 12 Years a Slave lies in her devoted attention to creating the details that gave credence to the overall story.
Before shooting began, Nyong’o delved into the history behind her character. She read not only the autobiography of Solomon Northrup on which the film is based, but also sought out accounts of female slaves’ experiences from the era to give her the kinds of details that a history written by a man might overlook.
“One of the things that the book [12 Years a Slave] says is that Patsey ‘had an air of loftiness that neither labour nor lash could rid her of,’ and that is a woman of extraordinary ability, you know?”, Nyong’o said in a pre-Oscar win interview with CTV.
“Then the script said that she was effortlessly sensual, and I was thinking about that for some time and I found this quote from James Baldwin’s book The Fire Next Time where he says, ‘To be sensual, I think, is to rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in everything that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread,’ and that was Patsey.”
Her dedication to immersing herself fully in a character goes all the way back to her childhood days, where she describes her preparation for a simple walk-on scene in a school production of Oliver Twist, where she had only one line.
“I was a passerby. I had five words: ‘Coming down the street, there.’ That was it. But I had a backstory for my character. I decided I was going to be a man, so I borrowed my brother’s suit, my dad’s briefcase. I don’t know why I decided to be a man—I think it was more interesting.”
Not all of us might aspire towards Oscar success, but in all aspects of life, you can never go wrong by paying a little extra attention to detail.
Whether it’s remembering the name of your best friend’s favourite obscure band, or making a pitch to investors and creating customized planners for each person, it’s often the simple details that make all the difference.
Lupita Nyong’o speech at the Essence Magazine ‘Black Women in Hollywood’ luncheon
Image Credit: Forbes