Three months ago, I flew to New York to meet Lupita Nyong’o for dinner for ELLE UK’s January issue. Little did she know, the star of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens had become an imaginary friend in my head. This is a woman whose progress my social network has celebrated as if she’s one of our own. When she won her Oscar for 12 Years A Slave in January last year, nearly every person I know celebrated it on Facebook. When she twirled on the Cannes red carpet resplendent in emerald Gucci pleats, the image filled my Instagram with effusive captions, things like ‘Yaaaaassss’, ‘Life made!’ and the ultimate sign of approval: praise-hand emojis. And when she became Lancôme’s first-ever black ambassador, my peers retweeted the historic news with wild abandon. She had become the fun-loving, affable, fiercely admired, imaginary new addition to my global network of girlfriends – when, just two years ago, we had never even heard her name.
If anyone understands the force, it’s Lupita: a woman who was told she was too dark for Hollywood and would never make it as an actress. ‘I get my mind fixed on something and I find a way to do it,’ she said.
The year-end is typically a time when people get reflective about their lives, taking stock of what worked and didn’t during the previous 12 months and what to do to make the next 12 even better. If you’re already in this state of mind, read my complete interview with Lupita in the January issue, in which she’s beautifully styled and shot by Anne Marie Curtis and Kai Z Feng respectively, simply because she has so many inspiring things to say about how to be successful when it feels like the world wants you to fail.
Lupita on Star Wars:
‘The opportunity to play a CGI character for me was the opportunity to not be limited by my physical circumstances. I could experience being bigger or smaller, something totally different to who I am. And of course it’s in a galaxy far, far away.’
Lupita on diversity:
‘If you turn on the television and you are not represented on that television, you become invisible to yourself. And there was very little of myself that I saw on TV, or in the movies that I was watching, or in magazines that were lying around the salons or around the house. And so these are subconscious things. Yes, Western beauty standards are things that affect the entire world. And then what happens? You’re a society that doesn’t value darker skin.’
Lupita on insecurities:
‘[Living in Mexico as a child] people would stop and take pictures of us just because we were black. And it was a time during that tricky adolescent phase when you’re coming into yourself and you’re trying to pave your own way but you’re insecure about where you lie. It devastated me’
Lupita on fame:
‘I don’t think being conspicuous is a state we’re supposed to live in, or at least not permanently. I wish there was a dial we could turn up and down. And in a sense I can, by making very deliberate choices about what I do and when and how, and with whom.’
Read the full interview in ELLE’s January issue, out now.