With cotton and corn husks, actress connects to her '12 Years a Slave' character

Wed Nov 20, 2013 4:03pm EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In preparing for her first film role as a petite, hard-laboring slave in "12 Years a Slave," actress Lupita Nyong'o sized herself up against 500 pounds of cotton, which her character Patsey picked every day.

The pile "was taller and wider and thicker than me," says Nyong'o. "And I was presented with this woman's loftiness."

Conveying that loftiness proved to be a key to Nyong'o's performance, one that has generated critical acclaim for the Hollywood newcomer and predictions she will earn a best supporting actress Oscar nomination.

The film itself is considered a heavyweight Oscar contender, having won widespread praise for its brutal depiction of pre-Civil War American slavery. "12 Years a Slave" is based on the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northup, a free black man tricked and sold into slavery who cannot fathom the hell he has landed in on Louisiana plantations. He is played by British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Patsey has the unfortunate lot of not only being a slave but also the object of love and sexual desire of her master, the cruel and conflicted Edwin Epps played by Michael Fassbender.

As it turned out, Patsey proved to be the big casting challenge for British director Steve McQueen.

"Lupita, that was crazy," McQueen told Reuters at the Toronto Film Festival where the film won the top award. "It was like looking for Scarlett O'Hara, over a thousand women interviewed and finally we got to her. I just couldn't believe it. Wow. She came from Mars."

Nyong'o was born in Mexico 30 years ago (hence the Mexican name Lupita) where her Kenyan father was in political exile, but they moved back to Kenya when she was 1. She was educated in the United States and was graduating from Yale University's School of Drama just as she prepared her first-ever audition tape for McQueen's film.   Continued...

Actress Lupita Nyong'o, who stars in the movie "12 Years a Slave," poses for a portrait in Los Angeles, California November 13, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni