Cool Details About Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong'o is a force to be reckoned with. Not only is she an exceedingly talented actor with nearly 30 onscreen credits, an Oscar, and an Emmy Award to her name, as of this writing, but she's also been dubbed one of the world's most beautiful women, as well as one of the most down to earth. When Glamour crowned her Woman of the Year back in 2014, many applauded the decision, including Bustle, which noted that Nyong'o really was perfectly chosen for the honor. What's more, she also hasn't been afraid to speak her truth and join the #MeToo movement, sharing her own experience with Harvey Weinstein.

Since her breakthrough role in 2013's "12 Years a Slave," Nyong'o has truly become a household name, starring in box office hits like "Us," the "Star Wars" sequel trilogy, and the "Black Panther" films. Her success has been all the more impressive when you consider that she never thought she could actually be a full-time actor. As she told Grazia, her native Kenya didn't exactly have a burgeoning film industry. "I didn't know anyone who was acting for a living. I could dream about it, but I didn't know how to make it a reality," she shared. 

Even so, Lupita Nyong'o eventually made it happen, but vowed to balance fame with privacy. Case in point: She refuses to talk about her personal life. However, the star has offered the occasional glimpse into who she really is offscreen, and we're rounding up the coolest, most surprising facts about her below.

Lupita Nyong'o has a special connection to Mexico

Lupita Nyong'o may have been raised in Kenya, but she wasn't born there. As she told CNN en Español in an interview fully conducted in Spanish, she was actually born in Mexico while her father was there teaching. According to her Yale University profile, she holds dual Kenyan-Mexican citizenship, and as she gushed during a 2013 appearance at TIFF, "I have a special place for Mexico in my heart — it's my birthplace. ... I say I'm a Mexikenyan," she laughed. Although they moved away before she turned one, her parents sent her to Mexico to learn Spanish at 16. As the star told CNN en Español, she spent seven months living in Taxco, Guerrero and fell in love with the people, the beaches, and especially the food. In fact, she still likes eating tacos with carne asada before red carpets.

Nyong'o's connection to Mexico also includes her name. "I'm from the ethnic group Luo, and in our tradition, it's customary to name a child after the events of the day," she told the Daily Beast. Thus, her parents, in an effort to pay tribute to Mexico, chose Lupita, a diminutive of Gaudalupe, a moniker that's popular in the country. However, they also liked it for another reason. "They chose that particular name because my father's name is 'Peter' and in our language, to 'luo' means 'to follow,' so they thought it was a cool play on words of 'I followed Peter to Mexico,'" Nyong'o shared.

The star's Kenyan roots run very deep

Lupita Nyong'o may have been born in Mexico, but her family moved back to their native Kenya before she could even remember. There, she grew up with five siblings, her mom, Dorothy (the managing director of the Africa Cancer Foundation, per Grazia), and dad Peter, a university professor-turned-senator. When it came time for her to attend university, she chose Massachusetts' Hampshire College, per the Daily Beast, and as of 2012, she's called the U.S. home, as noted by Grazia. 

However, Nyong'o's ties to Kenya are unshakeable. As the actor shared with Vogue in 2016, her parents still live there in a town near Kisumu, which is where their Luo ancestors are from. These days, her dad is farming bananas, fruit trees, kale, maize, and tomatoes on her grandparents' land, where she spent much of her childhood. Recalling it fondly, Nyong'o shared, "We'd visit my grandparents, spend my vacations here; all the cousins would come from around the world to spend Christmas in the village."

Turns out that Nyong'o's roots in the area run very, very deep. As the outlet learned, her great-great-grandfather's moniker was used to name a nearby wellspring; her grandfather is remembered as the first Christian minister in the area; and her grandmother built a dormitory for poor and orphaned girls to help ensure they got the education they deserved. As for her dad, he and his brother were outspoken political activists against the fascist former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, and her uncle even lost his life to the cause.

Whoopi Goldberg and Ralph Fiennes inspired her acting career

Lupita Nyong'o was just five years old when she fell in love with acting thanks to one particular film. "What actually did it for me was watching 'The Color Purple,'" she told Vogue. "When I saw Whoopi Goldberg and she looked like me, I was like, 'Oh, I can do this.'" Goldberg wasn't the only A-lister that would influence her career path, however. Jump to 2005 when the aspiring actor had her first on-set experience and was reprimanded, then inspired by Ralph Fiennes.

As Nyong'o told the Daily Beast, she was in Kenya on her first summer holiday from studying at Massachusetts' Hampshire College and learned "The Constant Gardener" was filming in her area. A friend introduced her to the production team, per Vogue, and she was hired as a production assistant. In her role, she worked directly with Fiennes and asked him loads of questions, which he answered kindly, until he didn't. "At one point, though, he just said, 'Lupita, give me my space,'" she told Rhapsody in 2015 (via Us Weekly). 

With that same honesty, he also gave her life-changing advice. "Ralph Fiennes was a pivotal influence on me," Nyong'o once gushed, per Express. That's because, when she asked him for advice on being 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.'" And so she did.

Lupita Nyong'o loves trying new hobbies

She may be an Oscar-winning actor, but Lupita Nyong'o is passionate about much more than film. In fact, she loves trying new hobbies and learning new skills, no matter how unconventional they may seem. Speaking with Vogue in 2017, Nyong'o explained that tackling a new pastime helps her feel childlike, and that's something she's always striving for. "I value not being good at things, because children are not good at things," she shared.

Just some of her adventures have included mastering new languages, learning how to play the ukulele, and taking pole dancing classes. Explaining how she got involved in the latter, the actor told Vogue her interest was sparked when a friend, who was staying with her in New York City, requested that they visit an exotic dance club. So they did. As Nyong'o recalled, she was instantly drawn to the dancers' skills. "It was a fancy club," she explained, noting of the pole dancing, "It was incredible and sexy, and I thought, 'I need to learn how to do that.'" 

There are also plenty of other more PG-rated activities she enjoys, like coloring. As Nyong'o once shared with, "I got a coloring book in a swag bag from an event and thought, 'Oh my goodness, I completely forgot about this charming thing called coloring!'" She quickly got some colored pencils and fell in love with the activity. "It's really fun!" the movie star gushed. "The idea is to give yourself a moment just to be in the moment."

She's a talented multilinguist

Before she was even old enough to remember, Lupita Nyong'o had already traveled the world and lived in three countries. Speaking about her formative years with the Daily Beast, she shared, "We moved to New York [from Mexico] — I took my first baby steps in Queens, actually! — and then we moved to Kenya, so all my conscious memory is in Kenya." It comes as no surprise then that she embraced different cultures early on and, as she told the outlet, "I grew up with programming from all over the world — including American movies, Mexican soaps, and British shows — and it gave me a lot of perspective, and I was able to relate to humanity in all sorts of different forms."

Her love of diversity is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that she is a talented multilinguist. In addition to English, Nyong'o told the outlet, "I also speak Swahili and Luo, which is my mother tongue." What's more, she has mastered Spanish. "I think I speak enough Spanish to watch — or do — a movie and hold a conversation," she shared. Indeed, Nyong'o once spoke in both Swahili and Spanish with Vogue, and in 2014, she appeared on an episode of "Plaza Sésamo," the Latin American version of "Sesame Street," to encourage kids to celebrate World Laughter Day with her.

Lupita Nyong'o has not one but two acting degrees

Acting can be real serious business! Before she felt ready to pursue her dream of becoming an actor, Lupita Nyong'o decided to study the craft in a school setting. She first enrolled in Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts where, as she shared with Vogue, she was able to design her own major. Honing in on two of her biggest interests, Nyong'o decided that her bachelor's degree would be in film studies and African studies. 

What's more, her senior project — a documentary Nyong'o directed, produced, and edited — allowed her to explore a topic she had been curious about for years. Titled "In My Genes," the film told the story of Agnes, a woman with albinism living in Kenya. As the actor told Vogue, she was drawn to the subject because, "I knew a person with albinism and I didn't know anything about her experience, and I found myself feeling shame for not understanding someone that I considered to be my friend." The resulting doc was a hit and won first place at the 2008 Five College Film Festival, as well as being screened at Lincoln Center, per Mass Live

But she wasn't done quite yet. Nyong'o followed up her undergrad by pursuing a master's degree from Yale School of Drama, from which she graduated in 2012 with an MFA in acting.

Her backup career choice is not what you'd expect

Fans of Lupita Nyong'o may be unable to imagine her ever doing anything else, but the actor knows exactly what career she would have pursued had acting not worked out. While answering Vogue's famous "73 questions" in 2015, Nyong'o shared that her backup career choice has nothing to do with Hollywood. "I would be a massage therapist," she said without a moment's hesitation.

As it turns out, Nyong'o is a firm believer in the physical and mental benefits of massage therapy. As she told "Live! with Kelly and Michael" (via in 2013, filming "12 Years a Slave" took a real toll on her and she needed a way to recover. "I did a lot of self-care ... because '12 Years a Slave' was an emotionally taxing thing to go through," she shared. As she elaborated with Entertainment Weekly, that self-care included massages. "[I did] what I could to take care of myself — massages, and acupuncture, and all those things I know are useful for me to center myself," she revealed.

The actor once had beef with Kenya's tourism minister

Former Kenyan tourism minister Najib Balala most likely couldn't have predicted the uproar he'd cause when, in 2021, he appointed Naomi Campbell as the country's newest tourism ambassador, per Essence. As Kenya's The Star newspaper reported, many locals took issue with the fact that the British supermodel had been chosen over a local star, like Lupita Nyong'o. However, Balala defended his decision by revealing that Campbell had agreed to be an ambassador pro bono, according to Africa News, and praising "her love and commitment to Kenya." Indeed, Campbell loves spending time there and even has a luxurious holiday home in Kenya.

However, he didn't stop there. Balala went on to seemingly shade Nyong'o as he tried to place the blame on her. "Lupita has commitments and her managers cannot allow us to access her," he claimed. "We've spent the last five years looking for Lupita." Well, Nyong'o wasn't having it. Taking to Twitter, she posted a photo of herself laughing and wrote, "​​Me when I hear the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism has been looking for me for five years. #Imrightherebaby #alternativefacts." 

That, in turn, caused the rift to deepen as politician Kiigen K. Koech (who calls himself "a people's servant" in his Twitter bio) clapped back at the actor, tweeting in part, "If you truly are proud of your Kenyan roots then no one will have to look for you." The Oscar winner didn't respond.

Lupita Nyong'o's rap skills are pure fire

Attention, please: Lupita Nyong'o is a bona fide rap superstar. In what was a seriously unexpected turn of events, Nyong'o celebrated hitting 3 million Instagram followers in 2016 by ... rapping! In a since-deleted post (via Essence), she took fans by surprise as she revealed she can seriously spit rhymes. "Mexican born, Kenya running through my veins," she began. "Dark chocolate, plus I keep a sharp mane / Lancome fresh face, looking tailor made / Disney on the books, so you know I stay paid!"

Jump to 2019, and the actor then took "The Tonight Show" by storm when she agreed to freestyle as her alter ego Troublemaker. "I was baptized Troublemaker by Common, so I feel like it's legit," Nyong'o shared with host Jimmy Fallon. Saying she usually only raps in cars, the star eventually dropped a few lines while accompanied by The Roots, thanking Beyoncé and Jay-Z for mentioning her on two different tracks. "Much love to the Carters, Hov and Beyoncé / They always big me up in a big way," she rapped. "I'm a brown skin girl, so that means a lot / Hov said we made it, got an Oscar for my props."

Nyong'o's talent is so legit, in fact, that Ciara even invited her to appear on her song "Melanin" in 2019. As the singer told ET, she was impressed. "My girl Lupita Nyong'o, she drops bars," Ciara enthused.