Jordan Peele’s “Us” requires Lupita Nyong’o to play two roles, one of which is an evil doppelgänger referred to as Red who speaks with a terrifyingly grating voice. The accent Nyong’o adopted for her evil character is hard to forget, and it turns out the actress found inspiration for her vocal work from an unlikely source: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
As revealed in a recent profile of Nyong’o published by The New York Times, Peele included in his script that the doppelgänger’s voice was “scratchy, as if withered from lack of use.” Nyong’o was working Red’s voice and had a light bulb moment while attending a fashion event where Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was speaking. Kennedy Jr., an environmentalist and the son of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel, suffers from spasmodic dysphonia, described as a “neurological disorder that causes involuntary spasms of the larynx.” Nyong’o decided to create her evil “Us” voice for Red around an “amplification” of this disorder.
Nyong’o first day on set as her evil doppelgänger was for a scene in which the character performs a long, unbroken monologue about the story of her life. In costume and revealing her voice for the first time, Nyong’o left the production speechless.
“She walked into the room and you just felt the air suck out of it,” Peele told The Times. “The first time she did that scene was magic. I think we shot it like 10 times — just because we could — and it was always gold.”
Nyongo’s double performance in “Us’ has earned the Oscar winner some of the best reviews of her career. In his A- review of the movie out of SXSW, IndieWire’s chief film critic Eric Kohn raved, “Nyong’o in particular makes for an incredible study in contrasts, giving a frightened monologue about her past trauma at one moment — and, as her monstrous opposite, unleashing cryptic threats in a gravelly whisper.”
Universal is opening “Us” in theaters nationwide March 22.