Before “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was released, there were a ton of secrets being kept about the film — and even now after it’s been out for a few weeks, there are still tons of question marks.
One of the characters best kept under wraps was Maz Kanata, a thousand-year-old pirate who holds court at her cantina on Takodana.
Lupita Nyong’o, who won an Oscar for “12 Years a Slave,” stars as the diminutive pirate in a motion-captured CGI performance. Kanata plays an integral role in the film — and has a serious love for Chewbacca.
Beyond her work on the big screen — she also has roles coming up as Raksha in Jon Favreau’s upcoming adaptation of “The Jungle Book,” due out in April, and director Mira Nair’s upcoming biopic “The Queen of Katwe,” about a young, African chess player — the actress is also making a name for herself on stage.
Nyong’o, who lives in New York City, finished up her Big Apple stage debut in the critically-acclaimed off-Broadway production of “Eclipsed,” which will be transferring to Broadway at the John Golden Theatre, with previews starting on Feb. 23.
amNewYork spoke with Nyong’o.
What was your relationship with “Star Wars” before signing onto the film?
I watched them as a child. They came on TV on public holidays while I was growing up, so for me, “Star Wars” was time away from school. We only had two TV stations growing up, so everyone was watching “Star Wars.” For me, there was no one in my life who didn’t know “Star Wars.”
Did you have a favorite character?
R2-D2. I just liked how he was really emotional, or at least I found him that way. I loved the fact that he expresses himself through these sounds and you felt so many different things. You felt irritation, you felt when he was hurt and all that, and I really loved his relationship with C-3PO.
Did R2-D2, who had to express himself without words, inspire you as an actor?
I mean yeah, it’s all about other ways and modes of communication other than just words. I think that’s when acting gets interesting, when you move past the language to what’s happening beyond that. R2-D2 is definitely a master class in that.
What was your experience like working on “The Force Awakens”?
It was quite daunting at times, but at the end of the day, no matter the size of the film, the work of the actor is always the same, you just have to focus on what you’re doing in the moment and get that done. The monstrosity will take care of itself. It was super exciting to get to be able to be a part of those sets alone, they were out of this world. And the creative team went above and beyond to create this universe. It was so many visual riches that we got to delight in and I have no doubt the audience will be super pleased with. It was an honor and such a major blessing and I definitely geeked out on set, meeting the Wookie and stuff. They’re right there! It’s an extended amusement park experience.
Did you talk to any of the original cast about life after “Star Wars”?
I didn’t talk to any of the original cast. When we were shooting this film, you’re so much in the moment. You’re dealing with the challenges of making this film, you’re not thinking about the reception of this film, at least I wasn’t. And now I regret not having asked some questions. But hopefully I’ll see Harrison [Ford], Carrie [Fisher] and Mark [Hamill] soon enough and I can pick their brains.
How was working on “Eclipsed”?
“Eclipsed” was such a joy to be a part of. It’s a very exhausting play because it asks a lot of you both physically and emotionally. But it was a gift to me every single day to be on that stage and working with that group of women. And I’m extremely happy to be taking it that step further to a Broadway stage and share it with a larger audience.
What can you tell us about its Broadway transition?
I think the beauty of it is the cast remains the same. That’s so important with material like this because it’s all about nuance and energy exchange and stuff. We’ve gotten to really know each other and play together. I think it’s only going to grow stronger and I learned recently that we will be the first play that is fully female in terms of cast, director and playwright on Broadway. So that’s a milestone that I’m happy that we are bringing to the Great White Way. I’m looking forward to whatever it becomes. I don’t yet. Just trying to get through “Star Wars” right now!
What do you enjoy about living in New York City?
I live here when I’m not traveling. I like the collision. I like that New York is one big collision of people. There’s always something surprising happening around the corner. And it feels very vibrant and rich. It’s very full of music and spectacle and oddities and I like that.