Lupita Nyong’o (‘Us’): Dual roles may give her a better chance at Oscar than we’re giving her credit for

The Oscars don’t usually care for horror movies, and they don’t usually remember movies that opened way back in February, but Jordan Peele overcame both of those factors with his 2017 sleeper hit “Get Out.” So are we underestimating his 2019 sleeper hit “Us,” which also received critical acclaim and was a box office success (more than a quarter of a billion dollars grossed worldwide)? Specifically, I think Lupita Nyong’o could ambush the Best Actress race — with or without her scissors.

Nyong’o was an awards darling for her breakthrough role as the enslaved Patsey in “12 Years a Slave” (2013), which ended up winning her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She has worked steadily since there, both in front of the camera (“Queen of Katwe,” “Black Panther”) and in voice-over roles (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi,” “The Jungle Book”), but “Us” is arguably her juiciest acting showcase since that victory.

Actually, it’s two juicy showcases for the price of one since she plays dual roles as Adelaide Wilson, a wife and mother traumatized by an event in her childhood, and her homicidal doppelganger Red. The academy loves to reward actors who transform themselves — which is why so many win for playing biographical roles — so playing two such diametrically opposed characters, in scenes opposite herself, may especially appeal to them.

Dual roles have succeeded before in the Best Actress race, including Joanne Woodward, who won for playing multiple personalities in “The Three Faces of Eve” (1957). Also nominated for playing multiple parts was Meryl Streep (“The French Lieutenant’s Woman”), while Julie Andrews (“Victor/Victoria”) and Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow (“Shakespeare in Love”) played women who assumed male identities.

Horror movie performances aren’t usually awards bait, but films like “The Exorcist” (Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair and Jason Miller), “The Sixth Sense” (Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette) and the aforementioned “Get Out” (Daniel Kaluuya) all scored nominations for their performances, and of course “The Silence of the Lambs” won both lead-acting prizes for Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. Since Nyong’o is playing both the hero and villain in “Us,” it’s kind of like both Foster and Hopkins’s roles rolled into one.

And there’s still room to maneuver in the Best Actress race. Though the category is getting more and more crowded as films like “Judy,” “Bombshell” and “Little Women” have been unveiled this fall, Nyong’o is still among our top 10 contenders according to the combined predictions of thousands of Gold Derby users. Currently, “Us” is by far the highest-grossing film among those top 10 contenders (though not all of them have officially opened yet). And five of the Expert journalists we’ve polled say she’ll make the cut — no pun intended: Tim Gray (Variety), Andrea Mandell (USA Today), Kevin Polowy (Yahoo), Sasha Stone (Awards Daily) and Brian Truitt (USA Today).

And a nomination would be even more significant for Nyong’o since she would be only the fourth black actress in Oscar history to receive a second bid in her career, following two-time nominee Whoopi Goldberg and three-time contenders Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, all of whom, like Nyong’o, won on one of their nominations. So do you think the two faces of Lupita will bring her back to the Oscars?

Be sure to make your Oscar nominee predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominees are announced on January 13. And join in the fun debate over the 2020 Academy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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