Cast of 'Us' open up about the 'beautiful' responsibility of representing black people onscreen
Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke have come a long way since they met as students attending the Yale School of Drama. In the years since their graduation, they've both hit the big time, starring in the superhero hit Black Panther, and recently reuniting to lead the cast in Jordan Peele's new horror movie Us (not forgetting, of course, Lupita's 2013 Oscar win for her role in 12 Years a Slave).
But the thrill of making it in the movie industry means much more than just fame and fortune for both actors.
Clinching Hollywood leading roles means the pair get the chance to represent the black community onscreen - something that's immensely important, given that research from the University of Southern California, claimed that in 2017, African Americans represented a mere 13.6 per cent of characters in major film projects, compared to 70.8 per cent of white characters.
Marking a new chapter in film, Us is thought to be one of the first - if not the first - horror movies to have a black nuclear family at its centre. Speaking exclusively to VT, Winston Duke opened up about getting the chance to portray black people onscreen, saying that to him, it was "beautiful".
"It’s really surreal to know that we’re in this and we’re helping to shape conversation, shape how people who look like us are perceived and all that," he said. "It’s really just beautiful."
In celebrating the opportunity he'd been given, Winston marvelled alongside co-star Lupita Nyong’o as they both looked back and looked at how far they'd come since university.
The college friends met back when Lupita was appointed to give Winston a campus tour back in the early 2010s and have remained firm friends ever since. Casting their minds back to their humble beginnings, the two reminisced about the days in which they would yearn to appear in a movie - even if it was just as an extra.
Winston said: "There was a day where we were on the Universal set driving by the Jaws thing and I was like ‘can you believe we’re doing this right now?’
Academy Award winner Lupita also remembered the special moment, saying: "It was weird. I remember you saying that. We were like ‘let’s take in this moment, let’s just take in this moment, that here’s where we find ourselves X number of years after we graduated."
Laughing, Winston quipped "X number of years since we were in school just hoping we would work," before Lupita admitted they used to watch Avengers together and say "Wouldn’t it be nice to be an extra even?"
Watch the full interview here:
It's not the first time either of them has spoken out about the importance of black people being represented in film.
Back in 2018 when Black Panther came out, Lupita claimed that people were "ready" to see a film "with a predominately black cast, African story and a celebration of African culture on a very big scale," adding: "It’s a look and feel like something you’ve never seen before."
Winston was also outspoken about the issue of black representation during the promotion of the film, stating: "How often do they [audiences] see black men represented with so much dimension and class, with masculinity that feels authentic, yet malleable? I don’t think that’s represented very often, and it’s really important to point that out."
In their interview with VT, the two stars of Us - which follows a family who is confronted by their doppelgängers - also spoke about the stresses of playing not one, but two characters.
Lupita, whose dual performance as Red and Adelaide has generated Oscar buzz already, admitted it was difficult, but claimed director Jordan helped her along the way.
"For me at least, it was a challenge," she said. "I’ve never done anything like this [playing two characters] and I feel I grew in leaps and bounds having done this work with Jordan. But it was about finding the things that separate them and also the things that bring them together, so I think a physical distinction for both of them was key."
She continued: "Adelaide was influenced by her dance background. Jordan said Red her doppelgänger was like ‘a queen and a cockroach,’ so having that stillness of a queen, the regality, but also the skittery nature of a cockroach. Kind of like a menace below - that helped a lot. Also finding the voice difference, all those things helped me to separate the two."
You can catch Us in movie theatres now (if you can deal with being terrified of your own reflection afterwards, that is).