When I was younger, I was almost too afraid to admit that I wanted to be an actor. I didn't know any successful actors in Kenya, so I felt like I could get away with going to college to study film more easily than I could with saying, 'I want to be an actor.' That's what I did.
Ralph Fiennes was a pivotal influence on me. He asked me, 'So what is it you want to do?' I very shyly, timidly admitted that I wanted to be an actor. He sighed, and he said, 'Lupita, only be an actor if you feel there is nothing else in the world you want to do - only do it if you feel you cannot live without acting.'
As human beings, we aren't as individual as we'd like to believe we are. And I think that's what makes acting possible. Despite the fact that I have not experienced something, I have it in my human capacity to imagine it and to put myself in someone else's shoes, and to take someone else's circumstances personally.
It's so funny, you go to acting school thinking you're going to learn how to be other people, but really it taught me how to be myself. Because it's in understanding yourself deeply that you can lend yourself to another person's circumstances and another person's experience.
The set of '12 Years a Slave' was an extremely joyous one! We all recognized that we were making a powerful, necessary and beautiful film, and we weren't about doing it without that sense of responsibility, and we recognized that we needed each other to tell this story. We also knew we needed to hold each other up as we told the story.
I never understood who all those people are behind the actors! When you see them on the red carpet on TV, you go, 'Why does that person need such a large entourage?' And then you realize that every single person there has a role to play.
The beauty standards had nothing to do with me in Mexico. It was such a bizarre, dire time for my hair. I was living in a small town where there was not any semblance of an African community. I'd have to take the bus to Mexico City to find a woman who could braid my hair. That was two and a half hours away.
My mother talked about the stories I used to spin as a child of three, before I started school. I would tell this story about what school I went to and what uniform I wore and who I talked to at lunchtime and what I ate, and my mother was like, 'This girl does not even go to school.'
I was part of a growing community of women who were secretly dealing with harassment by Harvey Weinstein. But I also did not know that there was a world in which anybody would care about my experience with him.
My father was a professor of political science and also a young politician fighting for democracy in Kenya, and when things got ugly, he went into political exile in Mexico. Then I moved back to Kenya shortly after I turned one, and I grew up in Kenya.
I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin, and my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come, and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first.
What fame does is there is an illusion of familiarity that is cast into the world. So it's about negotiating with that illusion because, oftentimes, you encounter people who have encountered you, but you haven't encountered them. It's a little weird to find your footing.
Whoopi Goldberg looked like me, she had hair like mine, she was dark like me. I'd been starved for images of myself. I'd grown up watching a lot of American TV. There was very little Kenyan material, because we had an autocratic ruler who stifled our creative expression.
I always envisioned working in film and in theater. Theater and film are not, they're not in any way substitutable. What I love about theater is so different from what I love about film, and I enjoy the craft of both.
I was raised in Kenya, and I always wanted to be an actor from when I was really, really little, but the first time I thought it was something that I could make a career of was when I watched 'The Color Purple.' I think I was nine, maybe, and I saw people that looked like me - Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah.
One of the reasons why I went to the Yale School of Drama is because I felt that I was acting off of instinct, but sometimes that is not reliable. When you're not feeling it, what do you do? So, going to grad school was about getting the tools to just use my instrument to the best of my ability.