Who Is ’12 Years A Slave’ Breakout Star Lupita Nyong’o?

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The Museum Of Modern Art 2013 Film Benefit - A Tribute To Tilda Swinton

Who is Lupita Nyong’o? Lupita Nyong’o is a Kenyan actress whose performance in “12 Years a Slave” has earned her tons of buzz, and who many critics say is a shoe-in to be nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards. If Lupita wins an Oscar, she’ll snag a trophy for her first major film role, as the 30-year-old filmed “12 Years a Slave” in New Orleans mere months after graduating from the Yale School of Drama.

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But who is Lupita Nyong’o, this Oscar hopeful who’s helping to make “12 Years a Slave” one of the year’s most talked-about films? Nyong’o was born in Mexico in 1983 and grew up primarily in Kenya, where her father was a prominent politician. A former minister of medical services with a PhD from the University of Chicago, Lupita’s father, Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o is now a member of Kenya’s parliament, and thanks to his notoriety, Lupita has a realistic view of celebrity.

“I grew up in the limelight and being the child of someone famous,” she said in an interview with the L.A. Times. “So my relationship with fame is not bedazzled.”

As a child, Lupita would put on skits with her five siblings, though she didn’t consider acting until one summer when she was home on break from Hampshire College in Massachusetts. A film crew was shooting “The Constant Gardener” in her neighborhood, and landed a job as a production assistant. On set, she met the actor Ralph Fiennes, who cautioned her that acting is “unforgiving.” Still, Lupita Nyong’o kept with it, and in addition to acting in the African MTV show “Shuga,” she filmed a documentary called “In My Genes,” all about Africans with albinism.

Who is Lupita Nyong’o? That’s what “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen found himself acting when he auditioned the actress for the role of Patsey. He’d been through hundreds of candidates and was starting to get “desperate and anxious,” as he told the L.A. Times. The role of Patsey is a tough one—the character is whipped, raped and abused—but Lupita Nyong’o had the right sensibility.

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“I said, ‘Oh my God, is she real?’” McQueen told the L.A. Times. “And that she was a novice? “Even better. Naiveté you cannot buy. It’s underrated, because it’s what makes you fearless. That’s what she has, and she has to hold on to that innocence.”

Who is Lupita Nyong’o? Now based in Brooklyn, she’s one to watch this awards season.

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