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Queen Lupita Pleads the 5th on Questions About her Dating Life"

"My manager had gotten the script for another client, Garret Dillahunt," who also appears in the movie as a white field worker. "

The 30-year-old actress, who recently rocketed to fame for her portrayal of a physically and sexually abused plantation worker in the film 12 Years a Slave — a role that has earned her Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice awards this year, as well as an Oscar nomination — is easily the most elegant creature in a high-end Midtown hotel bar. Chatting with her over morning tea, a less graceful mortal may find herself fighting the urge to check if there's a stain on her own shirt, or lint on her pants.

It's not just Nyong'o's delicately sculpted face, or her much-celebrated sartorial style, which has been lighting up red carpets. She is dressed pretty casually today, in jeans and a simple black top accessorized with a textured gray scarf. Still, there is a sense of almost aristocratic refinement about her. Nyong'o speaks softly and with perfect diction; she has the posture and poise of a trained dancer (which she is not, she says) and the preternatural composure of a Zen master, even when she giggles.

None of which should be surprising, given Nyong'o's lineage and training. The daughter of a prominent Kenyan politician, currently a senator for one of its 47 counties, Nyong'o first auditioned for Slave while preparing to graduate from the prestigious Yale School of Drama. Prior to that, she earned a degree in film and African studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and collected diverse credits, ranging from production runner on the 2005 film The Constant Gardener to director of the 2009 video documentary In My Genes to star of the Kenyan TV mini-series Shuga.

Slave, which director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley adapted from Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir of having been kidnapped as a free black man in New York and forced into slavery down South, marks Nyong'o's feature-film debut as an actress. "My manager had gotten the script for another client, Garret Dillahunt," who also appears in the movie as a white field worker. "She saw this role, Patsey, and thought I'd be good for it," says Nyong'o.

What followed was a series of "very intense, very challenging" auditions, as anyone who has seen Slave — up for a total of nine Academy Awards, including best film — might expect. Patsey is the property and obsession of a sadistic plantation owner, played by Michael Fassbender, and is consequently loathed by his jealous wife (Sarah Paulson). Over the course of the movie, Nyong'o's character is raped, cut, humiliated and, in an especially harrowing scene, whipped to within an inch of her life

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