Lupita Nyongo, who played the role of Nakku Harriet in Queen of Katwe, a biographical drama about Uganda’s world famous chess player, Phiona Mutesi, throws some light about her experience of working with Mira Nair and her other stints on the set .
Q This is such a great studio for these projects. normally people would think that they would have done some of these movies that they have been putting on their slate. but it seems like it’s a progression like Disney’s open to us or something. Is it true?
Lupita Nyongo: Disney is woke! Disney’s straight up woke. One of the executives actually got the project off the ground and I am so grateful that he is there. He is of Ugandan descent and this is a story close to his heart as well. It takes people of that kind with other perspectives to make these stories. The slogan of Mira’s film is ‘if we don’t tell our stories no one else will’ and that’s true. So the fact that Mira has lived in Uganda for over 20 years and she being the kind of director she is, it was like the perfect storm of things.
Q What do you think makes this film so warm and believable to the audience?
Lupita: I think it starts off with the people on whom the story is based on. Robert (our chess consultant) is an unbelievable human being. He was always on the set and his smile will make you feel better and he’s actually a warm person and is very much about helping these children through the game of chess. I had a session with him and he made chess feel like life itself. He makes the chess board vital, brings it to you and states how applicable it is in your life. When you can have that kind of teacher, then you set off a generation in a totally different and upward direction. We need those kinds of teachers.
Q What was your reaction when you got the script?
Luptia: I was about 10 pages in and I just put the script down and I was weeping because I couldn’t believe it. It was such an inspiring story — so complex and so layered. I loved the characters; they were written with empathy, humanity, dignity and authenticity. I just committed myself to it immediately.
Q How did you deal with playing a real person?
Luptia: It was wonderful to have the people we were playing with us there and obviously also very scary as well because you know this person’s going see the film and is going let you know what they thought. Mariette, though, was very welcoming and kind to me. In the time, I spent with her I got to observe her physicality. I got to pick her brain about how she became the person she is — very grounded, reserved and observant and aware.
(Queen of Katwe will premiered on Star Movies Select HD on November 11 at 9 pm)