OnlyOnAOL: Lupita Nyong'o hides in plain sight

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Lupita Nyong'o & Cast On "Eclipsed"
BY DONNA FREYDKIN

We defy you to spot Lupita Nyong'o, the glamourpuss of global red carpets, on stage in 'Eclipsed.'

Yes, she's the headliner of the drama, about women trapped during the Liberian civil war. But from her ratty attire, to her accent, to the fact that she plays a wide-eyed sexually innocent youngster, this isn't the woman who fronts Lancome's global campaigns.

In the play, earning raves, she's one of an unnamed warlord's wives, who's shielded from his attentions by the other two women living in their shanty.

What does she have in common with her character, known as the Girl? "I would say, curiosity. A desire to make a difference. I relate to that. She goes on a very big arc. From having no experience in war to being a soldier. She goes on a steep arc," says Nyong'o. "She's learning as she goes. She has to make some tough decisions."

The challenge, for Nyong'o, was "to find those turns in her journey and her growth as immediately and suddenly as they come."

Another hurdle has been the move from the Public Theater to Broadway, where "Eclipsed" runs through June 19 at the Golden Theater. "It's been interesting. It's my first time doing a play in two different venues. Space informs your performance. It's like moving house. Or changing lovers. Or something. You compare the one that came before," Nyong'o laughs.

Since winning an Oscar for her searing turn in "12 Years a Slave" as brutalized Patsey, Nyong'o has been choosy, and choosier. She had a small part in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," but above and beyond any screen work, felt an immediate need to return to the theater. She had, after all, earned a masters in acting from the Yale School of Drama, where she had understudied "Eclipsed."

"For me, acting is my job but it's also my heart. I have to choose things that are worthy of my heart. You give a lot of yourself when you're doing a role. It's a lot of passion. It's an emotional thing, unlike something like accounting. It's hard to do it when your emotions are factored into it," she says.

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Which means she gravitates towards projects that are compelling, challenging, and smart. In essence: "Things that can hold my attention," says Nyong'o. "Things that ask me to give of myself in new and exciting ways."

"Eclipsed," beyond telling the story of war-torn Liberia through the eyes of women, also showcases their intense and often fraught bond. Like her fellow "wives" on the show, Nyong'o has a close cadre of pals. "Yes, both female and male friends. My very best friend is male. I definitely have very close female friends. Friends from since I was 5," she says.

In "Eclipsed," the audience (at least during the performance this writer attended) was momentarily stunned to see Nyong'o not in Prada or Ralph Lauren, but in attire appropriate for a captive surviving in a ravaged country. And in "12 Years," she too showcased a very different side from the fashion goddess we see on red carpet.

"It's funny -- my family is like, 'When are you gonna do a movie or play when you are going to look glamorous? ' The body of work I have has not been glamorous. I like the contrast. I like rolling up my sleeves and getting to work. No fuss. Just get it done," she says.

In person, Nyong'o is quiet, well-spoken, and utterly stunning. It's one of the reasons she's the face of Lancome. For her, it's paying it forward by being a role model to others. "I get to be the girl I wish I had when I was growing up. A face, that familiar face," she says.

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Lupita Nyong'o Cannes film festival
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OnlyOnAOL: Lupita Nyong'o hides in plain sight
Mexican-Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o poses as she arrives for the opening ceremony of the 68th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southeastern France, on May 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Mexican-Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o poses as she arrives for the opening ceremony of the 68th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southeastern France, on May 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE (Photo credit should read LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 13: Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the opening ceremony and premiere of 'La Tete Haute' ('Standing Tall') during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 13, 2015 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 22, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 25: Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10: Actress Lupita Nyong’o attends the Glamour 2014 Women Of The Year Awards at Carnegie Hall on November 10, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Glamour)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 05: Actress Lupita Nyong'o departs the Mark Hotel for the Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images for The Mark Hotel)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 03: Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 100th Annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton on May 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 03: Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 2014 Annual Garden Brunch at the Beall-Washington House on May 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 02: (EDITORS NOTE: This image was processed using digital filters) Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the Oscars held at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Lupita Nyong'o is honored by Sally Morrison & LoveGold at Chateau Marmont on February 26, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the EE British Academy Film Awards 2014 at The Royal Opera House on February 16, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends The Hollywood Reporter's Annual Nominees Night Party at Spago on February 10, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 86th Academy Awards nominee luncheon at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 10, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 19: Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 25th annual Producers Guild of America Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 19, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 18: Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 18, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - JANUARY 16: Actress Lupita Nyong'o poses for a portrait during the 19th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at Barker Hangar on January 16, 2014 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 12: Lupita Nyong'o arrives for Fox And FX's 2014 Golden Globe Awards Party - Arrivals on January 12, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Lupita Nyong'o arrives for DuJour Magazine's Jason Binn with editors Nicole Vecchiarelli & Keith Pollock as they celebrate The Great Performances issue featuring '12 Years A Slave' Golden Globe Nominee Lupita Nyong'o at Herringbone, Mondrian LA on January 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)
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