1. She was born in Mexico City and grew up in Kenya.
2. She is the second of six children.
3. When she was sixteen she spent seven months living in Mexico taking classes and learning Spanish.
4. As a teenager, she struggled with self-image. It wasn’t until she saw model Alek Wek that she started to see herself as beautiful.
6. She credits seeing Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple and Sister Act with inspiring her to become an actor.
7. When she was fourteen she played Juliet in a production of Romeo and Juliet at a Kenyan theater.
8. She got her MFA from Yale School of Drama — the same program Meryl Streep graduated from.
9. As of this February, she still lives with a roommate in Brooklyn.
11. She has worked with stylist Micaela Erlanger, who has also worked with Michelle Dockery and Hillary Swank.
12. She beat out 1,000 other actresses for the role of Patsey in 12 Years a Slave.
13. 12 Years a Slave was her first first feature film audition after graduating from Yale.
14. In 2009 she wrote, produced, and directed a documentary, In My Genes, which details the treatment of Kenya’s albino population.
16. In 2004 she worked as a production assistant on the set of the Ralph Fiennes’ film The Constant Gardener.
17. Before getting her master’s at Yale, she got a BA in Film Studies from Hampshire College.
18. Her mother is the managing director of the Africa Cancer Foundation.
19. She grew up watching American sitcoms like Step by Step, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, and Full House.
20. As a kid she drank a whole bottle of Linctifed cough syrup because she liked the taste. She tried replacing it with water so her parents wouldn’t discover what she did.
21. She starred as Ayira in the first season of the acclaimed Kenyan television show Shuga.
23. She visited the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore as part of her research for 12 Years a Slave.
24. She says she doesn’t know if she would have been able to play Patsey if it weren’t for her training from Yale.
25. She became part of a book club in Brooklyn upon moving there.
26. It was her idea for Patsey to make cornhusk dolls in 12 Years a Slave.
27. Her mother knew that her daughter was destined to become a performer.
28. She says that her mantra is Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen).”
29. In 2012, Forbes named her cousin Isis one of the most powerful women in Africa.
30. She’s afraid of heights.
31. At Yale she performed in many plays, including Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights, Uncle Vanya, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Winter’s Tale.
32. She is planning to produce and star in an adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s acclaimed novel Americanah.
34. She can speak Luo, English, Swahili, and Spanish fluently.
35. She is playing an unknown role in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII.
36. She shaved her head at nineteen because she was tired of taking care of longer hair.
37. She designed her own prom dress!
38. Her family is from the Luo tribe, the same tribe that President Obama’s relatives on his father’s side of the family are from.
39. She truly is the most beautiful woman in the world.