Lupita Nyong’o on Her Broadway Debut: “When we get up on that stage, you do not know what will happen”

Lupita Nyong’o in 'Eclipsed'
“I think theater offers a chance to flex muscles that then only help to sustain cinematic work.” – Lupita Nyong’o

Eclipsed, a play currently on Broadway about women during the Liberian Civil War, has received across-the-board rave reviews. Much of that praise has been bestowed on Oscar-winning star Lupita Nyong’o, who is making her Broadway debut in the production. In an interview with Variety, Nyong’o explains why now was the right time to make her Broadway debut and what the show means to her.

While it might seem odd that an actress who recently appeared (via motion capture) in the highest-grossing film in U.S. box office history would make her Broadway debut her next project, Nyong’o admits she has a deep love for theater and that the experience on Broadway will help her develop as an actress. She explains, “I’m a child of the theater. My father used to recite Shakespeare to me when I was 5 years old. It’s something that’s very, very dear to me. And I think theater offers a chance to flex muscles that then only help to sustain cinematic work. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to get back to theater at the point that I did. I’d experienced unprecedented success with my first film, and I really wanted to get back to the craft of it, just to remind myself, ‘Wait, what is it that I do again?’ The best way to find out is on stage.”

Curiously, Nyong’o was already familiar with Eclipsed — she was an understudy on the 2009 production at the Yale Repertory Theatre. She recalls, “It was the very first show I ever understudied. I remember sitting in those rehearsal rooms and just feeling so lucky, so fortunate, that this play existed and I got to witness it being made.” However, she confesses that she can’t pinpoint exactly why the play is so meaningful to her — especially because the material frightens her. She adds, “It’s one of those things where I don’t think I can really identify what it was, and I don’t care to really find out why. It’s the part I felt I was called to play. I don’t know. It terrified me, first of all. The character I play, the Girl, terrified me. The whole play terrified me, and that’s why I knew I had to do it.”

However, though Nyong’o has trouble identifying what the play really means to her, she is filled with praise for playwright Danai Gurira‘s work. She says, “What Danai has done so captivatingly is that she has created this story about these women in unimaginable circumstances, and she has given each one of them agency, and also a chance to have their story told. It’s a real ensemble piece, and I love that, because it gives every single person equal opportunity and equal commitment to the story and to their parts. With the actors that I’m doing it with, it’s just always surprising. Very committed and dangerous. When we get up on that stage, you do not know what will happen.”

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