A Primer: Lupita Nyong’o, Gorgeous Rising Star

Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Here’s a safe prediction: Actress Lupita Nyong’o will be 2013’s biggest emerging face. Her first-ever American film role in 12 Years a Slave, out today, is already getting Oscar buzz, and her handful of red-carpet appearances have landed her on many a “Girl to Watch” list. Between her fascinating background (she’s the daughter of a Kenyan politician), great taste (lots of Miu Miu), top-tier education (the Yale School of Drama), and movie star presence (I mean, just look at her), she’s probably going to be huge. Here’s a tip sheet on all things Nyong’o, and get ready to see her everywhere, come awards season.

Born: 1983, in Mexico, to Kenyan parents. She was raised predominantly in Nairobi.

Age: 30.

Parents: Her father, Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, is the former Kenyan minister for medical services and served in the Kenyan Senate. He is currently a professor of political science at the University of Nairobi.

Other Family Members: Her cousin Isis Nyong’o manages African operations of InMobi, the world’s largest independent mobile-advertising network. Forbes named her as one of Africa’s most powerful women in 2012. Another cousin, Tavia Nyong’o, is a professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Education: She majored in film at Hampshire College, and received her graduate degree in acting from the Yale School of Drama.

Principal Residence: Brooklyn, New York.

Why She Might Look Familiar: She played a lead role in MTV Base’s Shuga, a series that aired in some areas of Africa and Europe between 2009 and 2011. Filmed in Kenya, the show was commissioned by a number of AIDS-relief organizations to spread awareness and tolerance of responsible sexual relationships. Nyong’o’s  character was a confident, sexually active young student named Ayira.

Why She Probably Looks Familiar: Her role as Patsy, the most prominent female character in 12 Years a Slave, is already getting Oscar buzz for Best Supporting Actress. Director Steve McQueen cast her three weeks before she even graduated from drama school, and she’s been on red carpets everywhere leading up to the film’s release.

Signature Style: Bold minimalism. She mostly sticks to bright solids like fuchsia, neon yellow, and cobalt blue, but occasionally mixes in an uncomplicated print like polka dots. Her stylist, Micaela Erlanger (who also works with Michelle Dockery), deserves credit for the major labels she’s been wearing, including Prada, Miu Miu, and Roland Mouret. Preferred silhouettes involve a fitted waist, but she can wear pretty much anything.

What She’s Been Talking About in Interviews: That she was plucked from obscurity to play opposite Brad Pitt! (And more, of course, which you can read about here.)