Lupita Nyong’o: There’s ”Nothing Comfortable About Being an Actor,” but She’s Taking Grace-Under-Pressure Cues From Emma Thompson

Lupita Nyong'o, Harper's Bazaar UK Alexi Lubomirski/Harper’s Bazaar UK

So this fame thing hasn’t quite grown on Lupita Nyong’o yet. “You know, I thought it would come to an end after the Oscars. I thought the Oscars would come and go and then all of a sudden everything would be back to normal and I’d be back in my apartment,” the Academy Award winner says in the May 2015 issue of Harper’s Bazaar U.K., which also features the radiant 12 Years a Slave star on the cover.

While you would have been hard-pressed to tell that Nyong’o’s triumphant 2014 awards season was also her first red-carpet gamut (not to mention her breakthrough year as an actress in general), the Kenyan star insists that she was just fakin’ it till she made it.

Lupita Nyong'o, Harper's Bazaar UK Alexi Lubomirski/Harper’s Bazaar UK

“You know what kept me sane? Not knowing,” she admits. “Having never really experienced that before… because this was new territory I had no normal. I had no sense of what was normal in that world. It was all new. I don’t think [I would attend that many events again]. Not to that extent.”

But if what Nyong’o says is true—that she considered Emma Thompson with serving as a beacon of light in the storm—perhaps we can expect her playful side to come out a bit more on future red carpets, à la her idol.

“Emma Thompson, Emma Thompson, Emma Thompson, Emma Thompson,” Nyong’o replied when asked what her ultimate saving grace was during those hectic months. “It was such a relief… witnessing her going through that whole thing with an ease and a playfulness and just abandon. That is like the person I want to be. I want to be that comfortable even in this very alien environment that you get put in.”

Thompson was nominated last year for a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, a BAFTA and many other honors for Saving Mr. Banks, so she did cross paths with Lupita a number of times—not least of which when she totally photobombed the awards season newbie.

Asked about her uniquely poignant acceptance speeches, Nyong’o admits that she wishes she didn’t put quite as much of herself into them as she almost always does.

“I wish that I took it more lightly sometimes because it costs a lot,” she says. “Which is why I can’t do those speeches every weekend, because it costs a lot to share from such a deep place, if you will. But I don’t know how to speak from any other place. Kenyans are very ceremonial. There is a formality that comes with gatherings and comes from our colonial conditioning… Oratory is something that’s really important to Kenyans, the way one speaks to the masses, it’s an art almost.”

Speaking of her heritage, Nyong’o was also asked if she felt a responsibility to share her personal experiences and speak out on behalf of the importance of diversity in Hollywood.

Lupita Nyong'o, Harper's Bazaar UK Alexi Lubomirski/Harper’s Bazaar UK

“I don’t feel like the responsibility I feel comes from any place other than my gut. I feel a responsibility to speak about certain things because I wish someone had spoken about them for me,” she says. “I know I’m in a unique position where lots of people all over the world are seeing me and connecting with me, and perhaps because of my demographic and how limited representation is for my demographic, I do feel not a responsibility but an impetus to speak. It’s an impetus… It’s 2015, man. We could all use some diversity. It can get tedious to have to explain that I speak English because Kenyans speak English.”

Though being under the microscope isn’t Nyong’o’s favorite thing about the biz, at least she still loves the acting part, albeit because she’s fine with a certain amount of discomfort.

“I enjoy learning new things,” she says. “I enjoy being uncomfortable for some reason. It’s more interesting, more challenging… That’s why I’m an actor. Because there’s nothing comfortable about being an actor. You’re always out on a ledge, you know?”

The May issue of Harper’s Bazaar U.K. is on sale April 2.

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