I give myself homework when I have an audition. I give myself goals, and that's how I check how I'm doing. It can be something simple like 'listen,' or 'find your feet.' And then afterward it's an assessment, so in a way it's not about booking the job or not. It's about what I learned as an actor about that character.
I was raised in Kenya, and I always wanted to be an actor from when I was really, really little, but the first time I thought it was something that I could make a career of was when I watched 'The Color Purple.' I think I was nine, maybe, and I saw people that looked like me - Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah.
Whoopi Goldberg looked like me, she had hair like mine, she was dark like me. I'd been starved for images of myself. I'd grown up watching a lot of American TV. There was very little Kenyan material, because we had an autocratic ruler who stifled our creative expression.
The set of '12 Years a Slave' was an extremely joyous one! We all recognized that we were making a powerful, necessary and beautiful film, and we weren't about doing it without that sense of responsibility, and we recognized that we needed each other to tell this story. We also knew we needed to hold each other up as we told the story.
It's so funny, you go to acting school thinking you're going to learn how to be other people, but really it taught me how to be myself. Because it's in understanding yourself deeply that you can lend yourself to another person's circumstances and another person's experience.