Lupita Nyong’o says working on Us – Jordan Peele’s hotly anticipated follow up to Get Out – allowed her to access her “dark side”.
The Oscar-winning actress plays a dual role in the film, along with the rest of the lead cast.
In it, an all-American family are terrorised by jumpsuit wearing doppelgangers (“The Tethered”), wielding oversized golden scissors.
Nyong’o explains: “It’s really about befriending the darkness in all of us and being patient enough to coax it out to make use of it.
“I think in society we often just suppress that side, it’s unacceptable. We ignore it and that’s how it ends up growing an ugly head and becoming the destruction we see in the world.”
She uses a pertinent contemporary example: “In order to have that smart phone, there are certain people who are compromised. Being aware of that duality in life is very much part of the human experience.”
Her co-star Winston Duke agrees the movie’s about those living the good life and those on the other side of the dream.
Duke explains: “It’s a story of power and privilege and the people that you render invisible or speechless. The people who bear the burden of your actions and are aware of you, but you’re not aware of them because of your privilege.”
While there’s no explicit linking to Peele’s earlier films, the “Sunken Place” – the otherworld where victims become trapped in when their bodies are taken over in Get Out – “The Tethered” live in a similar psychological limbo world, but this time a brightly lit one set in a building full of rabbits.
But, Duke says Peele is raising another big issue – and this time it’s about the genre itself.
Duke elaborates: “One of the reasons I never was that attached to horror was that black people were the first casualties. They were always the first sacrifices to the genre to make it move forward. And now [Peele’s] saying ‘Could that be racism? Could that be the American Dream?'”
Peele has gone out of his way to explain the film’s not about race, blaming the industry’s very lack of diversity for making it almost impossible for the audience to see past skin colour when an African-American family lead the action.
As in Get Out, the protagonists are black. But in this horror their skin colour is irrelevant.
Additionally, Peele has gone to great lengths to stress that despite comedy elements, the film is a horror, and has tweeted to say as much.
For Duke, who gets the lion’s share of the funny lines, it’s about the genre serving the story – with both comedy and horror allowing for taboos to be broken and providing a sense of release.
He explains: “In moments of extremes you really get to see what doesn’t serve you. The isms don’t work for you, the patriarchy doesn’t work for you when you need to be an ally just to survive.
“You can’t be racist in the zombie apocalypse.”
While comedy was a keystone of Duke’s portrayal as affable dad Gabe, Nyong’o had precious little light relief to fall back on in her roles.
As Adelaide, a wife and mother-of-two, she is haunted by an experience from her childhood.
As her shadow self, Red, she is filled with murderous rage.
Nyong’o created a broken voice for Red which was based on the real-life vocal condition spasmodic dysphonia.
The disorder can be brought on by physical or emotional trauma.
She explains: “The vocal folds begin to spasm involuntarily creating this irregular flow of air, creating that kind of jagged speaking voice. I was inspired by that and then we built from there. The script had mentioned that she had not spoken for a long time, so I used creative license to do that.”
Both actors agree working with Peele was “a joy”, with Nyong’o crediting the director with helping her “grow exponentially as an artist because of his directing”.
They clearly relished working with each other too, having gone to drama school together before working on the blockbuster Black Panther.
Nyong’o explains that for her Us “was a darker world”, but Duke sees a parallel with the Marvel Comic universe.
“They are both so big in so many way… Wakanda was a world, but also this was an entire world unto itself where we had to really create the rules around the doppelgangers, what happened and where they live. It was actually more similar than I ever expected.”
Us is in cinemas now.