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StarWars Insider: How did you first get involved?

Lupita Nyong’o: I met with J.J. Abrams in early 2014 and he told me about this new project he was doing, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and that he was keen to work with me. Around May I got a call, and that he had this part called Maz Kanata. He wanted me to read it and see whether I was interested. I was in Morocco at the time, so he sent someone with the script for me to look at. I looked at it, and only had enough time to be fascinated with this character, and I said I’d love to play it.

Were you a Star Wars fan?

I did grow up watching Star Wars. It used to come on TV on public holidays in Kenya, where I grew up. I loved it at the time. I wasn’t conscious of the kind of phenomenon it was. I loved it for what it was. I particularly loved R2-D2 and C-3PO, and, later, the Ewoks. It came to me at a time when everything on screen was real. It wasn’t until I got involved that I realized what a cultural reference it is in America. It’s everywhere! There are images of stormtroopers in the most unlikely of places. Being involved, I guess you just see it more.

Did you get a sense of J.J. Abrams’ vision for the film?

I know that J.J. has been fascinated with motion capture and was keen to have it in his fi lm. It’s the embracing of the old ways of doing things and the new. And that’s what we have on set. Everything feels so real, and then there’s me in this headcam, with lights shining in my face, walking around, covered in dots. I found it really cool, and I think that’s what J.J. was going for. Where the old and the new can embrace each other and one doesn’t necessarily discredit the other.

What do you know about motion capture?

Before I got into the suit, I knew about Andy Serkis and that he was the man behind iconic motion capture roles like Gollum. I didn’t know much else. I watched the making of The Lord of the Rings way back when, but it was all extremely new to me. I knew I wouldn’t be in costume. I had no idea what the motion capture suit would look like and all the dots that would be required on my face. I did not know any of that. So, I’ve been learning on the job. It is quite a fascinating process. The number of people behind this one character is just spellbinding. And they all know what they’re doing. What’s great for me is I don’t have to know what they’re doing! They do it around me, and my responsibility is to just remain true to the character. We’ve gone about the motion capture differently in this film. The principal photography for me has been more of a technical rehearsal. There’s a whole other process where we zero in on my performance and get the nuances of that. So, I don’t know what other people have done, but it’s been incredible to have the opportunity to be on set with everyone else and feel what this world feels like before going into a more technical space. It can only help.

What is a typical day on set for you?

A typical day for me on set involves me coming into makeup—actually for the dots! There are 149 dots put on my face every morning. We’ve gotten it down to between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how cooperative the glue is being. I suit up, and then I have markers. My suit is gray with triangles everywhere, then I have markers that make it look like a road sign is velcroed onto the suit and kneepads and restraints to help with my mobility. Then, a headcam is put on my head with four cameras that shine a ring of LED lights onto my face to capture every movement my face makes. Then, we begin…

How did it feel to come onto set with that suit?

The first time I came onto set in that suit, it was the most alienating thing in the world. Because there are lights shining on my face, everyone is drawn to look at me. I was fighting nerves, butterflies in my stomach, and feeling very self-conscious! I was still trying to figure out how to be this completely different person in this suit and to have an understanding of my physicality and the space around me. It was bizarre.

Have you worked with Andy Serkis?

Andy has been very supportive, giving me insight into the process. Andy has encouraged me to let go of the oddness of the things I’m wearing and to just fi nd the character as I would in any other circumstance. That is the best way to remain reinforced. Also, I’ve had a few opportunities to see my avatar work live. To see how my movement immediately affects how my avatar moves. It has been very enlightening to have that experience. It’s so odd to look in the mirror and see a completely different animal looking back at you. Hopefully, it will be very rewarding when we fi nally see Maz in this fi lm, and not me.

Were you involved with how Maz would look?

I saw a version of Maz that was pretty far along when I got on set. They had at least established her dimensions and were still working on the texture of her skin, the color of it, and her costume. I’ve seen the development of her costume a lot. But, at each step I’ve been so fascinated to see how much thought goes into every single detail. Just looking at her tells a story. It’s really exciting to see what the art department is bringing to her. That’s the cool thing about motion capture. The work of the performance is truly shared by everyone.

How has it been working with John Boyega and Daisy Ridley?

It’s been such a pleasure to work with them. They’re both so energetic and they’re really taking charge of this space. I came in learning from them because they know way more about what’s going on, having all the time on set and being a big part of the entire fi lm. John Boyega is such a Star Wars professor. I’m the one going to him and asking what’s going on or to tell me about The Clone Wars. He has it at his fingertips. It’s been great to have a lead that knows so much about the universe. Daisy has been a refreshing energy. She brings such sweetness to her work. It’s been great working with both of them. What do you think the audience will look forward to the most? I hope that the audiences get a kick out of seeing this world come back to life with so much pizzazz. It’s going to be a feast for the eyes. At the core of it is a really human story about stepping into yourself and facing your fears. I hope that the fans really enjoy that and the experience of it and the spectacle. There will be so much to see and relish.

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