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Us: Lupita Nyong'o Talks Her Terrifying Double Role As Adelaide And Red

Of all the things that make writer-director Jordan Peele's newest horror feature Us absolutely terrifying, lead actress Lupita Nyong'o's double role as Adelaide, a wife and mother of two children, and Red, Adelaide's scissor-wielding, hoarse-voiced doppelgänger, is perhaps the scariest.

To coincide with the release of Us in theaters on Friday, Nyong'o sat down with Entertainment Weekly to discuss what it was like playing two sides of the same coin, and how she approached each character. 

The Academy Award-winning actress shared that she worked with "almost a mathematical precision" to create Adelaide and Red and "have them be as distinct as they needed to be, but also have them influence and be connected to each other." Her biggest challenge was being on "both sides of the argument," and ensuring that neither Adelaide nor Red felt more real and fleshed-out than the other; they had to be equal. 

"I had double the work to do ... I had to do ballet for Adelaide, learn that voice for Red, and do fight choreography as well, so it was very physically and emotionally and psychologically demanding," said Nyong'o. 

A fear for any actor working on a horror movie is the lasting effect the character they play may have on their psyche. For Nyong'o, she had two troubled women on the brain — but she shared that she feels constantly flipping between Adelaide and Red actually kept her from sinking too deeply into one character and helped her avoid any psychological torment. 

"Because I was working on two characters at once, I think it's actually what saved me from having to go to some deep therapy afterwards, because I couldn't rest in any of their loins, I couldn't. I had to have the elasticity of moving from one side of the argument to the other, and so exploring the opposite perspective was the therapy for both, and I was too tired to carry it any further," Nyong'o stated. I left it all in that film, I tell you!

She then opened up about what it was like to reunite for Us with her longtime friend and Black Panther co-star Winston Duke.

When the pair linked up for Us, Duke, who portrays Nyong'o's onscreen husband Gabe Wilson and Gabe's evil double Abraham, and Nyong'o brought their "deep friendship and intimacy" and "long history" to their characters and to Peele's story. 

"There was a comfort level there when going into this with him. We trust each other personally as well as professionally, so we were able to do some risky stuff that the other person was game to support. In terms of the family dynamic, Jordan cast these incredible children, Shahadi [Wright Joseph, who plays Zora Wilson] and Evan [Alex, who portrays Jason Wilson], who are both extremely talented and very gracious children, professional, enthusiastic, passionate, and imaginative," said Nyong'o. "We had a rehearsal process where we went to the Wilson home where we were going to shoot, and we built on our chemistry. We discovered our natural allegiances and exchanged a lot of very bad dad jokes, courtesy of Winston Duke primarily, and then Shahadi. So it was a very close and intimate relationship that we formed, and Jordan was ushered into that. We just really trusted each other's creative processes."

Diving into the horror genre was both simple task and a conscious feat for Nyong'o to pull off, as the actress revealed she loves "to scare people," but doesn't like being scared. She even admitted that she had skipped out on watching horror films for almost 20 years prior to signing on for Us, which spurred Peele to give her homework in the form of classic horror movies. To create a "shared language" behind the scenes of Us, Nyong'o watched A Tale of Two Sisters, Dead Again, Funny Games, It Follows Let the Right One in, Martyrs, The Babadook, The Birds, The Sixth Sense, and The ShiningThat crash-course in horror taught Nyong'o the perfect formula for how to watch horrors: "in the daylight, standing up, with the door open." 

She then shared the biggest lesson playing two characters in Us taught her that she'll carry on to her future projects: listening to and believing in herself. 

"Truly I went through another level of trusting my creative instincts working on this because it was so hectic and extremely stressful, because it was two roles to play. And Jordan, before we started, had said, 'Listen, Lupita, you're going to be extremely tired, I just need you to know that.' So that made me really nervous, but when I started working on it, it needed my energy and focus on another level, and what ended up changing was me trusting my instincts and trusting that the work I had done to prepare was enough," said Nyong'o, who added with a laugh, "And I spent a lot of free time taking naps."

Us is currently basking in its first weekend at the box office, pulling in millions of dollars in Thursday-night previews and burning up the critics' corner of the web with a slew of fantastic reviews. Both professional critics and casual moviegoers have applauded Us for its direction, woven-together metaphors, sky-high ambition, soundtrack, and exploration of universal themes of identity and sin — as well as the astonishing performances by Duke and Nyong'o. One reviewer exalted Nyong'o as the glue that holds Us together, the heart of its story: "For all the ideas Peele nods toward, and all the moments of genuine suspense in a classical sense, it all comes back to Nyong'o." Another wrote that the actress is the best of the Us bunch and the "driving force" of the film: "The entire cast is super in the dual roles but make no mistake this is Lupita Nyong'o's shining moment." And another said of Nyong'o what many will be thinking after seeing Us for themselves: "This is her movie, and she dominates for better and best."

Catch Us, also starring Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, in theaters now.