“I don’t put any effort in being African, I just am,” says Lupita Ngong’o. The actress speaks to us about her new film, Queen Of Katwe, and being authentically African.
What was the most exciting moment about shooting the film in Uganda?Just being in Uganda was amazing. To be in location for a film was great because I haven’t shot on location for a film since 12 Years A Slave. So to be in Uganda, in the slums of Katwe, where the actual story transpired was stimulating and informative for me, particularly for developing my character and having a full grasp of the story we were telling.
The film is about a mother fighting for her kids. Since you’re not a mother, how did you channel your role?The woman I play is grounded and enigmatic; she reminded me of my mother. I spent a lot of time with her (the real Harriet), just getting to know her and her struggle, which helped. She was my inspiration. Playing this role gave me a profound respect for all mothers. This role was definitely a rehearsal towards motherhood for me.
As your career grows, is it easier to find interesting roles?I’d like a career that is diverse. I went from doing a drama about slavery to doing Star Wars, which are two completely different projects. I also worked on Jungle Book, before being on Queen of Katwe. I sign on to things that I feel are offering me something new, and are a viable challenge. And that’s what I intend to do as I move forward.
What are challenges do you face with being an authentic African?I have to be very deliberate [in choosing] the people I work with. From the films I make to the things I wear, to make-up, I have to hold the people that know and understand me very close. I’m not a one-man show, so having the right people around me helps.
Do you ever feel the pressure of being the face of Africa?No, I don’t. I don’t put any effort in being African, I just am. So I lead with what I know, which is conditioned by where I am from and the experiences I have had.
How are you finding Joburg?Unfortunately I have done noting but work since I got here. I won’t even get a chance to explore. But half of the movie was shot in Joburg so I have spent some time here.
What are you currently working on?I am producing and will be playing a role in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americana, which is a project that I am very passionate about and is a story that gives a whole other African perspective.
About Queen of KatweLiving in the slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle for 10-year-old Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) and her family. Her world changes one day when she meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a missionary who teaches children how to play chess. Phiona becomes fascinated with the game and soon becomes a top player under Katende's guidance. Her success in local competitions and tournaments opens the door to a bright future and a golden chance to escape from a life of poverty.
Queen of Katwe opens in South Africa on 14 October 2016. Check out the trailer below.