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.
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.