Lupita Nyong’o: 5 Things You Don’t Know About the 12 Years a Slave Oscar Nominee

Lupita Nyong'o
Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong'o has become a household name this year with her breakout role in 12 Years a Slave -- check out 5 things you may not know about the 30-year-old actress Michael Buckner/Getty Images

She's arrived! Lupita Nyong'o's breakout role in 12 Years a Slave late last year catapulted her into A-list status in Hollywood. The 30-year-old actress has been racking up the awards (and best-dressed lists!) during her very first awards season after portraying the tragic, heartbreaking character Patsey in the Steve McQueen-directed historical epic.

The first-time Oscar nominee has won several awards so far this season, including a Screen Actors Guild and Critics' Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress. Up next, she goes head-to-head with Golden Globe winner Jennifer Lawrence, Sally Hawkins, Julia Roberts, and June Squibb at the 2014 Oscars.

Here are five things to know about the newcomer:

1. Nyong'o was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents. "My parents gave me a Mexican name. In our culture we are named after the events of the day," Nyong'o told Yahoo! Movies back in November. She jokingly added: "It's gotten me into a lot of trouble: Kenyans want to claim me and, now, Mexicans do, too." Her father Peter Anyang' Nyong'o is also a political leader in Kenya.

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2. She started behind-the-scenes. In 2005, Nyong'o worked as a production runner on the Kenyan-based film The Constant Gardener while home for the holidays from Hampshire College. The project's star, Oscar winner Ralph Fiennes, gave her honest advice about the industry. "He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I very timidly admitted that I was interested in being an actor. He sighed and said, 'If there's something else that you want to do, do that. Only act if you feel you can't live without it,'" she recalled to The New York Post back in October. "It wasn't what I wanted to hear, but it was the thing I needed to hear."

3. 12 Years a Slave is her first motion picture role. After graduating from Yale School of Drama in 2012, the standout was chosen out of 1,000 actresses for the role of Patsey. While accepting the SAG award for her performance on Jan. 18, she recalled how she told her father about landing the job. "My dad [Peter], he was the first person I called when I got this role, and I said to him, 'Daddy, do you know Brad Pitt? I'm going to be in a movie with him,'" she said. "And he said, 'I don't know him personally, but I'm glad you got a job.' So am I!"

4. She's slowly warming up to the Hollywood scene, but seeing herself on magazine covers is still baffling. "So the other day I went to a Hudson News in an airport while I was in transit and I was like, 'I need to see one of these,' and so I went and saw the New York mag on the stand and I bought one," she said of her new-found fame to Ellen DeGeneres on Feb. 21. "I was trying to be discreet but then the guy behind the counter was like, 'Oh my God, you look like her. And I was like, 'Yeah — never mind."

5. She did her research when it came to rocking every red carpet look. "Until all this, I hadn't been a student of the fashion industry as a formal industry. I wasn't the girl who bought the fashion magazines, I'd always just worn what appeals to me," Nyong'o told The Daily Beast this month. "I've admired from afar people like Elizabeth Taylor, Iman, and Cate Blanchett. When I knew I was going to be doing the press tour for 12 Years A Slave, I got to work and started researching what was happening in the formal world of fashion to try and articulate to myself what my style would be in it all," she continued. "[It's been] a great discovery—to find clothing artists who are doing things that I feel express something about myself."

The 86th Annual Academy Awards airs live on Sunday, Marc. 2 at 7 p.m. EST on ABC.

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