With such formidable names as Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender on the call sheet, the set of 12 Years a Slave could have been an intimidating place for a first-time actor. But newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, who arrived at the movie’s Louisiana plantation set only weeks after graduating from the Yale School of Drama, more than holds her own on screen. The 30-year-old Kenyan native earned a Golden Globe nod for playing Patsey, the favorite slave of sadistic owner Edwin Epps (Fassbender) who is so despondent she begs Ejiofor’s character, Solomon Northup, to end her life.
Nyong’o plays the part with an honesty that astonished her seasoned costars. “I was blown away by how new she was to it and how extraordinary and deep her performance is,” says Ejiofor. “When I watch the film, I get caught up with her on that journey.” For Nyong’o, replicating her first movie experience will be tough. “This film was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” she says. “But it was also one of the most joyful experiences of my life.”