Ny­ong’o em­braces African role

Os­car-win­ning ac­tress is happy with her di­verse and var­ied ca­reer

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - THERESA SMITH

AC­TRESS Lupita Ny­ong’o made a de­ci­sion, a long time ago, to de­sign a ca­reer for her­self that is di­verse and var­ied.

“So the choices I’ve made re­flect that. I went from do­ing a pe­riod drama about slav­ery to do­ing Star Wars, which could not have been more dif­fer­ent.

“And then I worked on The Jun­gle Book as the voice of the mother wolf, and now this,” Ny­ong’o said in an in­ter­view in Joburg, re­fer­ring to Queen of Katwe.

She plays Har­riet Mutesi, mother to teenager Phiona whose life on the streets of Katwe, just out­side Kam­pala, changes dra­mat­i­cally when she is in­tro­duced to the game of chess.

Ny­ong’o frowns when a jour­nal­ist asks her whether she feels any par­tic­u­lar pres­sure to be the face of Africa: “No, I don’t. I don’t put any ef­fort into be­ing African, I just am, so I lead with what I know.

“So, I don’t feel a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity, I feel an op­por­tu­nity.

“Grow­ing up I didn’t have movies like Queen of Katwe and what a plea­sure to be in a time when Dis­ney is in­ter­ested in mak­ing such a film, when Tendo Na­genda is an ex­ec­u­tive at Dis­ney and makes such a film pos­si­ble, when Mira Nair has lived in Uganda for 27 years and brings such au­then­tic­ity to the film, when Phiona has set off to achieve her dreams and pro­vided me with a job in the process,” the 33-year-old said.

Na­genda is the Dis­ney vice-ex­ec­u­tive who walked the Queen of Katwe pro­ject to com- ple­tion and who tapped Nair for the di­rect­ing job.

When asked about the chal­lenge of stay­ing au­then­tic to Africa when she spends so much time else­where, Ny­ong’o said it sim­ply meant she had to be very de­lib­er­ate about the peo­ple she worked with: “We’re talk­ing the films I make, the things I wear, the make-up, ev­ery­thing.

“I have to hold the peo­ple that know and un­der­stand me very close. It took a vil­lage to get Phiona to where she is, it took a vil­lage to get me to where I am. I am not a one­man show and that’s been very im­por­tant,” she said.

The Kenyan ac­tress (born in Mex­ico) ar­rived in Uganda weeks be­fore the shoot started, so she could get to know the real Har­riet Mutesi bet­ter, but also to per­fect her ac­cent.

She found that learn­ing Lu­ganda helped her make friends with the two-year-old who played her youngest child in the film.

“My two-year-old son didn’t speak any English, so when he was first given to me, he didn’t trust me.

“So I had to ac­tu­ally pick up the lan­guage be­cause he didn’t want any­thing to do with me,” she smiled. The movie is out now.

theresa.smith@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: ED­WARD ECHWALU

Os­car win­ner Lupita Ny­ong’o is Har­riet in Queen of Katwe, the vi­brant true story of a young girl from the streets of ru­ral Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is in­tro­duced to the game of chess.

Pretoria songstress Filipa sings of her life ex­pe­ri­ences.

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