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Actress Lupita Nyong'o talks about her role in '12 Years A Slave'

Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the GQ Men Of The Year Party at The Ebell Club of Los Angeles on November 12, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the GQ Men Of The Year Party at The Ebell Club of Los Angeles on November 12, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
Michael Buckner/Getty Images for GQ

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Fresh out of Yale's prestigious School of Drama, Lupita Nyong'o landed a role in the new film by acclaimed director Steve McQueen, "12 Years A Slave".

In the film, Nyong'o plays Patsey, one of the hardest working slaves on a cotton plantation in Louisiana. The slave master there is a brutal man who abuses her in all sorts of ways.  

Host Alex Cohen recently had the chance to talk with Lupita Nyong'o and asked her how she prepared for this incredibly dramatic role. 

Interview Highlights:

On how she immersed herself in the role of Patsey:
"What Patsey when through is real. One can look at it and be floored by it and ask oneself, "how?" But when I was given this role, I just recognized that someone actually lived through it so I could surely live through imagining it. And just it being real was always so grounding and it was practical, you know? She couldn't sentimentalize her pain and so neither could I in playing her."

On the intense makeup she had to endure during the film:
"Patsey has scars from before the epic whipping, from previous beatings, so the day before we did that epic scene I had the pre-whipping scars on and it took four hours of sitting in that chair. So the next day I looked at the call sheet for the next day and it was going to be six hours. I had to get up at three in the morning and be in makeup for six hours.

"I said to the makeup artist, 'Look, let me just sleep in these scars because then we'll cut our work in half." And of course, she loved the idea…I went home and I slept in the scars and they were so haunting. I couldn't sleep on anything, but my stomach because I did not want to mess them up. I was just aware of them the whole night and while I was doing '12 Years a Slave' I was an insomniac. I just could not sleep, but that particular night, I got even less sleep because of these scars. I just remember weeping in the night and then I recognized that my discomfort was temporary and the woman who I was playing was permanent. It still brings me to tears."

On the dolls she made for her character Patsey:
"I have trouble taking credit for it because I just feel like it was Patsey's guidance. Part of my ritual was I talked to her every day before I got on set because I do believe these spirits live on. So about a week before we started filming, I was daydreaming in my hotel room as I like to do just about the work and Patsey and just asking myself what would  she do in the little free time she had. I knew that Epps grew corn on his plantation so it just occurred to me, 'Oh what if she made crafts out of corn husks?'

"I look it up on the internet and it was historically accurate that slaves did make crafts out of corn husks and then there was always something very child-like about Patsey. She had been robbed of her childhood by master Epps taking an early interest in her sexually and so I thought, 'Oh, wouldn't it be nice if she made corn husk dolls for the children on the plantation?' It was just something that I was going to know, but then the next day I had a meeting with Steve and he was asking me about Patsey and what I was thinking and I mentioned it to him and he loved the idea. So he immediately had the art department supply me with corn husk and I went about learning how to make corn husk dolls."