Lupita Nyong’o On Cats, Chemistry With Joseph Quinn & Her “Need” To Do A Comedy

Most post-apocalyptic movies are all about survival. How long can you stay alive? These films ask rhetorically, with the expectation that surviving is the goal — no matter what new world you are attempting to exist in. Whether their city is overrun by zombies, climate disasters, talking apes or aliens, the baseline assumption is that the main character wants to live, above anything else. It wouldn’t be a very good story if our hero didn’t really want to survive alongside the zombies, climate disasters, talking apes or aliens, would it? In A Quiet Place: Day One, Lupita Nyong’o plays Samira (Sam), a poet and a terminal cancer patient who wants to live — just a little –  before she dies. Sam’s main motivation isn’t staying alive for the sake of it, it’s making the most of her last moments in New York City before succumbing to the inevitable. And the way to do that? Finding her favourite piece of pizza because it’s a portal into her past. 
The simplicity of Sam’s main goal (to make it across New York to her beloved Harlem pizza parlour before she dies) makes A Quiet Place: Day One stand out from its predecessors. Its story is very good – an emotional, gut-wrenching exploration of grief and humanity — and Nyong’o is at her absolute best. Since Jordan Peele’s Us, we’ve known that Nyong’o can do horror with the best of them (she deserved an Oscar nomination!) and here, she does simmering anger and bone-chilling trepidation with such skill, she’ll have you holding your breath with each whisper. Sam is the person in the apocalypse who is taking stock of her life, with her emotional support cat named Frodo of course, and pushes through her personal pain with a mission in mind. So who would Nyong’o herself be in the end times?

I have a really strong flight instinct. I'm not waiting for anybody. I’m out and I'm probably gonna be the first one to die because of it. I'm just running.

lupita Nyong’o on outrunning the apocalypse
“I am out,” Nyong’o tells Refinery29 Unbothered’s Christa Eduafo. “Wherever it is I can go, I am going. I know that for a fact. I have a really strong flight instinct. I'm not waiting for anybody. I’m out and I'm probably gonna be the first one to die because of it. I'm just running.” Nyong’o’s instinct for “flight” instead of fight was put to the test when she was tasked with having a cat as her co-star. Before filming A Quiet Place: Day One, Nyong’o was terrified of cats. 
“The only reason why I'm not afraid of cats is because of [my character] Sam,” Nyong’o shares. “I had to get over my fear in order to play her. I tried to get the animal changed in the movie, [the director] Michael [Sarnoski] wouldn't have it. So I had to get exposure therapy to cats before I started filming. I had to spend time with cats over a period of a few weeks to get acclimatizsed and to understand them enough not to be suspicious of them because I really needed to look like I was a cat owner.” As Nyong’o spent more time with her feline friends on set, she got a bit attached, to say the least.
“By the time I was finishing this film, I was crying. I was crying as I said goodbye to [the cats] Nico and Schnitzel,” Nyong’o says. “I had grown so attached to them. They're so cute. And they were so talented. And so when the time came, when I was going through a hard moment, I was like, ‘you know what, I'm gonna get myself a cat’.” Nyong’o famously adopted her own cat in the midst of heartbreak. Last year, after she announced on Instagram that she had split from boyfriend Selema Masekela, Nyong’o shared that getting a cat helped her with her heartbreak. But since Nyong’o is Kenyan, we had to ask if her African background (Eduafo is Ghanian and had her own presumptions about cats before she adopted her own) added to why she was apprehensive about the animals. 
“Definitely,” Nyong’o said with a laugh. “My siblings cannot believe that I have a cat. You know, because my fear has been long standing. I had a few traumatic experiences with cats when I was little. Yeah. I wrote them off. The culture surrounding me did not help because they were like, why?
In spite of all that, Nyong’o and A Quiet Place: Day One’s cat Frodo have incredible chemistry, a bond that almost rivals her onscreen connection with co-star Joseph Quinn (Stranger Things). If you’ve been on social media in the past few days, you’ve probably seen cute clips of the duo during their press tour or the multiple fan edits dedicated to their friendship. But on screen, Quinn’s Eric, a stranger who teams up with Sam on her quest for the perfect pizza (and to stay alive — for now), clings onto her for hope and a semblance of solace in terrifying times. As for the secret to their chemistry, Nyong’o credits her director and the producers (including John Krasinski). 
“They saw something in us separately before we knew what we would be in the same frame,” Nyong’o says. From there, their chemistry came naturally. “We didn't prepare for it. We just jumped right in. I met [Joseph Quinn] for the first time when we were doing our camera test. We didn't have a chance to get to know each other. We really got to know each other while making the movie.” Throughout the press tour, the pair seem to have become very close friends — and yes, only friends (Nyong’o is rumoured to be dating fellow actor Joshua Jackson).
“What I'll say is that Joe [Quinn] has a similar work ethic to me,” Nyong’o says. “He's not concerned with his ego as much as he's concerned with rooting for his character. He comes to work with a buoyancy and he's present. And he's generous. And he listens. And he's surprising. He was so much fun to work with. And so it was instant. I could just tell he's open, I'm open. He's receptive, I'm receptive. We're going to be good. What you see in the film is that our trust only developed as the film went on.”
That trust definitely showed up on screen — and off — resulting in viral chemistry. So who would Nyong’o want to work with next? When we asked her our signature Unbothered question about what the actress needs right now (in our opinion Black women’s needs aren’t prioritised enough. Period), she had a quick response: “What do I need? I need to work on a project that is funny. I need to work on a light and funny project.” You can say a lot about Nyong'o's filmography but "light" probably isn't the first word that comes to mind. After winning an Oscar for 12 Years A Slave, Nyong'o's biggest films have been Us, the Black Panther and Star Wars franchises, and spy thriller The 355. None of those are going to leave you in stiches, but as Nyong'o proved in our interview — and throughout the Quiet Place press tour, she's got comedy chops. She even has some dream co-stars in mind: "Yahya Abdul-Mateen II or Donald Glover," she says after some thought.
Someone get Abdul-Mateen II or Glover on the phone, immediately! We have a feeling any film with either one of them would have Nyong'o swooning as well as laughing. We want — need — to see her getting loved on properly in a rom-com with a hot co-star, maybe even over a slice of pizza. After all Nyong'o has been through on screen, she deserves some giggles, some flirting, an onscreen kiss or two. She can save the screams for outrunning the apocalypse.
A Quiet Place: Day One is in theatres now.
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