Lupita Nyong'o's Method Acting In Us Terrified Her Co-Stars

Many strange things are afoot in Jordan Peele's 2019 horror film "Us." The film's opening scenes are a collage of seemingly unconnected nightmare images: A vintage TV set plays footage of the 1986 nationwide fundraiser Hands Across America. A wall of rabbits in cages. A carnival in the 1980s. A young girl in a hall of mirrors. And, wait ... Was that a reflection, or an actual person? 

That young girl will grow up to be a mom named Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) who, while on vacation with her family, returns to the site of her childhood trauma. At night, a mysterious, frightening family appears in her driveway. They wear matching red jumpsuits and fingerless leather gloves. They don't speak, at least not at first. They are doppelgängers. Adelaide's husband (Winston Duke), her two children (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex), and herself have perfect doubles who break into their home and threaten to "untether" them with decorative scissors. What it means to be "tethered," well, that's one of the film's many mysteries. 

Nyong'o plays both Adelaide and her twisted double Red in "Us," and her performance is nothing short of chilling. Red speaks as if her throat hasn't been accessed in years, her body coiled and constantly ready to explode. Adelaide is terrified, of course, but has an eerie understanding of her nefarious twin. Eventually, Peele reveals what their true connection is and where the doppelgängers came from, but none of it makes sense in a traditional, logical way. "Us" plays like the nightmare one has after a late night reading folklore, American history textbooks, and watching '80s movies.

Nyong'o got deep into character to play Red. On set, some of her co-stars were afraid of her and, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Nyong'o revealed that she was even afraid of herself.

It was kinda creepy

In talking on Buzzfeed's morning show "AM to DM" (via Bustle), Shahadi Wright Joseph reveals that Nyong'o stayed in character between takes when playing Red. Red doesn't speak, and stalks around skittishly, and Joseph admitted that it was scary seeing her co-star behaving that way even when the cameras weren't rolling. And while Nyong'o was doing her best to stay scary, Joseph sensed that it was all play: 

"It's a lot of fun because you never know which [Lupita] you're gonna get sometimes, which I think makes her perfect for this role because she has so many great different personalities."

Nyong'o sense of haunted house fun carried over into the press tours for "Us," wherein the actress would appear on late-night talk shows to promote the project. When appearing on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," Nyong'o wore a pair of eerie gold contact lenses, giving her a vampiric look. Nyong'o declared in that interview that she's "going for the darkest things in life now." 

Nyong'o talked about those dark corners, and what was involved in delving into them in the Rolling Stone interview. 

"... I definitely had to go to some dark, dark corners of my being to embody the one scary character. It was very intimidating to think of that character as scary or evil, you know those kinds of words I found to be debilitating. So, it was about getting beyond that because when you watch these scary movies, the evil is so ominous that it feels larger than life. To try and embody that can be quite daunting. So, it was about just really deeply investigating the character's emotional motivation and being situated in that and allowing that to magnify the character."

The joy of being scary

Ultimately, Nyong'o was happy to work on "Us," even if it was terrifying. More than anything, she relished the opportunity to work with Peele, whose 2017 film "Get Out" was an enormous hit and was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay (which it won), Best Actor, Best Director, and Bes Picture. Says Nyong'o:

"I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the realization of Jordan's imagination. He was such a joy to work with from the very beginning. One of the things that makes him an extremely incredible director is how compassionate he is, and he has incredible communication skills. At every turn of making this film, he was just very, very good at keeping everyone informed about what's going on. And in doing so, you kind of get on board, and you root for him and you root for the work."

Nyong'o also talked about how Peele got her into the horror mindset by assigning her horror homework. Peele asked Nyong'o to watch 10 horror films that were important to him and vital to understanding the world of "Us." 

"Jordan really does pay homage to the genre and to the canon of horror films. For me, it was useful to know what kind of vocabulary he'd be working from, what kind of aesthetics, what kind of style. So that was what I was taking away from the films, really. Not really acting notes per se, but the things that are going to influence the world he was creating, because the world in 'Us' is so deeply from Jordan's mind that in order to do my work as an actor, I really had to, like, interrogate him."

"Us" received widespread praise from critics who appreciated Nyong'o's performance, as well as the film's ambitious mishmash of themes. Peele's next film, "Nope" is scheduled to be released in theaters on July 22, 2022. Nyongo's next film, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" is due out on November 11, 2022.