Lupita Nyong'o on Lancôme, Confidence and Career

From grad student to Oscar golden girl in a blink, Lupita Nyong’o takes on a new role she never expected: beauty sage

Lupita
(Photo: Alexi Lubomirski for Lancôme)

“No chance” were the words dancing in Lupita Nyong’o’s head as she put together her audition tape for 12 Years a Slave. The Yale drama student would eclipse thousands of rivals for the role of tormented Patsey, vaulting from “Who’s that girl?” to Oscar glory with dizzying velocity. Within months of the movie premiere, the eloquent actress with the sweetheart smile had become a front-row fashion darling, a magazine cover star and Lancôme’s first black ambassador.

Like most overnight successes, hers was a lifetime in the making. “I wanted to be an actress before I knew it was a profession,” recalls the Mexico City–born, Nairobi-raised Nyong’o, 31, who landed the lead in a local production of Romeo and Juliet at age 14. “I always tried to participate in plays in school, and if there were none, I would make plays up and bully my friends into being in them.”

Despite Nyong’o’s easy poise—the kind that suggests Teflon confidence—she’s been frank about feeling inadequate and “hyper-visible yet invisible” as a kid, taunted for her “nightshaded skin.” Her complexion seemed like an obstacle, until a stranger made her realize it wasn’t. “I moved [back] to Mexico at 16 and lived in this tiny town where there were only a few black people. One particular man [a friend of a friend] came up to me and asked to take my picture,” she recalls. “He was so enthralled by me, and I felt like the sun itself.”

Nyong’o sees her role as the new face of Lancôme as an opportunity to make girls of her skin colour feel more validated, and she’s quick to dish beauty wisdom. On the philosophical: “My mother said to me early on that your outer shell will not sustain you as a person. You have to dig deeper in order for that outer shell to do its job,” she offers. On the practical: “I stubbornly believed the sun couldn’t harm me—until I was burned! For black women, because our skin is dark, it’s harder to detect a problem if one occurs. That’s why it’s so important to protect our skin.”

Now, all eyes are on the once-invisible star’s next moves: a gig in J. J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII and the lead in the Brad Pitt–co-produced Americanah, based on the novel about lovelorn Nigerian emigrants. While there’s been industry hand-wringing over her longevity (“After Oscar, What Happens to Lupita Nyong’o?” asked The Hollywood Reporter, lamenting the dearth of roles for darker-skinned actresses), Nyong’o seems almost monk-calm under the pressure. “I need to stay true to my course and do the things I think I’m called on this earth to do, and not worry or stress about what it all means in the grand scheme of things,” she says. “I think our greatness lies not just in what we do but also in what we inspire others to do.”

Lupita’s Favourite Five

Lancome Lipstick
(Photo: Ivan Engler)

One Shade Fits All
“Red lips are classic; any woman of any complexion can wear that look.”
Lancôme L’Absolu Rouge Lipstick in Rouge Amour, $36

Lancome Blush
(Photo: Ivan Engler)

Glow Getter
“Brightens without looking artificial.”
Lancôme Blush Subtil in Plum Charm, $39

Lupita Nyong'o
(Photo: Getty Images)

Fashion Statement
Jonathan Cohen “The prints are quirky and surprising.”

Meiji ChocolateConstant Craving
Meiji Black Chocolate from Japan

Snoop Dog Album

High Rotation
“I love Bruno Mars and Lorde. Oh, and Snoop Dogg.”

The Prophet Khalil Gibran

Page Turner
Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet “A book of poetry with great life lessons.”

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