Lupita Nyong’o Recalls Worst Advice She Got After Winning Oscar (Exclusive)

    Lupita Nyong’o Recalls Worst Advice She Got After Winning Oscar (Exclusive)

    Lupita Nyong’o listened to her own instincts when people had other ideas for her career path.

    It’s been 10 years since the A Quiet Place: Day One star won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her first film role in 12 Years of Slave. Nyong’o, now 41, tells PEOPLE that the accolade turned up expectations for her.

    “It definitely put the pressure on,” she says. “It was my first movie, and now I had received what is considered the pinnacle of one’s achievement as an actor. … So there I was like, ‘Okay, what happens now? I can’t afford to fail.’ ”

    Lots of people in the industry had ideas for what Nyong’o should pursue next. What was the worst career advice she fielded at the time?

    “That I needed to seize the day and do bigger. That the next thing after 12 Years of Slave needed to be a lead role in a blockbuster movie.” She adds of her perspective, “It wasn’t about the size of the role, it’s about the quality of the role, at least for me.”

    A conversation with another Oscar winner, Emma Thompson, “really set me straight,” says Nyong’o. “She said, ‘You have to live your life the way you think is suitable. You have to listen to your own intuition.’ Even up until that point, there was no formula that I followed, so there had to be no formula moving forward,” says Nyong’o.

    Lupita Nyong’o and Emma Thompson on Jan. 18, 2014.

    Christopher Polk/WireImage

    “She was like, ‘You have to give yourself permission to fail.’ That was really great advice to hear at a time when everybody was saying, ‘Seize the day, you’ve got to find that lead role, then you’ve got to do this and that, and blockbuster movies and all that.’ ”

    After her Oscar win, Nyong’o did a Broadway turn in Eclipsed in 2016, which scored her a Tony nomination. “I listened to my intuition,” she says. “I went back to the theater and I did a play on Broadway, which really did save me from imposter syndrome and just the fear of failure.”

    Lupita Nyong’o on June 23, 2024.

    John Nacion/Getty Images

    In Hollywood, she followed up her Oscar with a part in the 2014 Liam Neeson action film Non-Stop, a motion-capture role in the Star Wars world, and a voice performance in 2016’s Jungle Book. She went on to star in the Black Panther films, plus dual roles in Jordan Peele’s horror film Us, and now the latest A Quiet Place installment.

    Nyong’o says doing the CGI Star Wars role in 2015’s The Force Awakens was “surprising” to some. But, “I’d been given the privilege of this award, it comes with having some semblance of choice. I was in a place where I was financially stable enough that I could choose. So I decided to exercise that privilege and choose.”

    Lupita Nyong’o (center) with parents Dorothy and Peter on March 2, 2014.

    Christopher Polk/Getty

    She would still like to do a rom-com at some point. “I don’t get comedic roles offered to me. Ever. I’m known for dramatic roles, so I tend to get that kind of role. Lots of depth, darkness,” says Nyong’o, quickly adding, “I love depth. I’m not saying I don’t want depth. But darkness and drama, I get that a lot.”

    “I am always trying to choose roles that I haven’t played before, roles that will stretch me,” she says. “I think comedy is very scary. It’s very hard to achieve, and I want to try my hand at it more.”

    In her emotional acceptance speech at the Oscars a decade ago, Nyong’o gave a special shout-out to her plus-one that night, her younger brother, Junior, whom she called her “best friend.” She tells PEOPLE her family keeps her “grounded” through her career highs.

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    “We’re in this fantastical environment with all the bells and the whistles and the lights and the glitter and the glamor, and then there’s my brother whose diapers I changed,” she says with a laugh. “It’s so nice to have that reality. They remind me that this is a real experience and I get to take it home, but I also get to take it off.”

    “There was never a point when my parents were not on board me being an actor,” she recalls. “My parents wanted me to be whatever I wanted to be. Their requirement was just that I did it to the best of my ability. …  I got really lucky in the lottery of parents.”

    A Quiet Place: Day One is in theaters now.

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