Since Lupita Nyong’o’s startling debut in 2013 with 12 Years a Slave we’ve heard her voice in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Jungle Book but it’s been too long since we’ve seen her expressive face on the big screen. That will all change come September when Disney bows The Queen of Katwe in theaters. In the film, which also stars David Oyelowo (Selma), Nyong’o plays Harriet Mutesi, the mother to a young girl with a prodigious penchant for chess. Despite the family’s impoverished circumstances, the young Ugandan rises to become a world-class champion.
Nyong’o, who is currently performing her Tony-nominated role in Eclipsed, was drawn to the idea of playing a mother and was also eager to work with director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) and Oyelowo. But what surprised her the most about the shoot was the Ugandan culture.
“There is an ease in the Ugandan demeanor that is very welcoming. I love the melody of the accent, the food, the music and the people’s inherent style. There was a familiarity with my home country being right next door but also complete surprise in what was so different,” she said in an email exchange. “There is a resilience of spirit in Uganda. The slum of Katwe is a very difficult place to live, but you see these people living there with dignity. To go there and to have that environment to work from really did give life and meaning to our work. It was research, obstacle and inspiration.”
The cast consisted primarily of non-acting children who filled out the majority of the roles, including Madina Nalwanga, who plays Phiona Mutesi in the film. Nyong’o adds that working with the children in the movie was easier than she expected it be.
“It opened my heart and made me a better actress,” she says, adding “I have so much love and admiration for the children. They all shine in this film.”
Queen of Katwe opens in limited release on Sept. 23. Check out the first trailer above.