You are an established Hollywood actress now – an Oscar winner for 12 Years a Slave, do you have any plans to start your own business, be it a production house or otherwise?
Well, I actually am producing a film, Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I am putting that hat on my head.
And how is it going wearing two hats?
It is going well, it’s a learning curve for sure. But this is an industry I am very passionate about, I love storytelling. So I am just learning a new way to tell a story.
The experience of being on the red carpet that night of the Oscars, what goes through your mind when they announce your name?
It was very confusing.
In what sense does time stop?
It’s just I didn’t know if they had said my name or if I had said my name or my brother said my name, and you have no time to figure it out, you have to get up there and say something.
And in terms of your process for a role, what do you do to embody the character, what is your method as it were?
Each role speaks for itself and you kind of design your preparation, depending on the kind of role. But it always starts with research about the world the character lives in.
What kind of research did you do for Queen of Katwe?
Well, it was about learning as much as I can about these people. I was fortunately privileged enough to have the real Harriet – she is very much alive and kicking – and I sat with her and asked her to tell me about herself from her perspective and that was really cool, to ask her why she let Phiona go to Robert Katende’s chess academy and she was very practical, she said ‘he could give her a cup of porridge when I couldn’t’. So this is a woman who is very practical and principled as well and I felt very honoured to play because her dignity is one that doesn’t have a price tag on it.
What is the experience of shooting in Uganda like?
It was incredible, to be on location shooting in the places where these things transpired, you are doing research as you walk and every day you are learning something new and deepening your understanding of your character and the world you live in. So for me, it was very fertile to be in Kampala, in Katwe, in its environments.
As an African actress, you’ve now very much become an icon on this continent, do you feel it’s a big responsibility to shoulder and how do you feel to potentially mentor young girls to get where you’ve gotten to?
Well I don’t feel a responsibility at all, I feel like it’s my opportunity, it’s a conviction of my heart. I didn’t grow up seeing very many movies like Queen of Katwe, certainly not told by Disney so to have a chance to be that mirror this time feels very meaningful.
Marvel’s Black Panther… what is your involvement there, are you are allowed to talk about it?
I am allowed to say who I am playing which is Nakia, and that’s about it.
Is it a big studio film or…?
It’s Marvel… so it’s in the league of Captain America, Avengers and Iron Man… those kind of movies.
Other than that, what are your future plans at this stage?
I am definitely looking forward to that, I have not shot that yet. So that is coming up shortly, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and totally new role for me and I will be producing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah as well and I hope to do comedy sometime soon.
In terms of influences, who are they, be it directors, actors or actresses?
Oh…I am very fortunate to work with people like J.J Abrams, Mira Nair, and Steve McQueen to name a few. I love Cate Blanchett, I love her work, I loved Elizabeth Taylor as well, Viola Davis is fierce, Sidney Poitier is incomparable, yeah, those are some of them…