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Jordan Peele: I wanted to explore something other than race in new horror film Us

As Jordan Peele releases his sinister horror Us, Georgia Humphreys talks to him and stars Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke about the making of a modern horror

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Real fear: Lupita Nyong’o, Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph in Us

Real fear: Lupita Nyong’o, Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph in Us

Real fear: Lupita Nyong’o, Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph in Us

Jordan Peele's directorial debut Get Out wasn't just a box-office success - it redefined the horror genre. A socially-conscious thriller, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2018, it explores what it means to be black in America, as a young black man uncovers a disturbing secret while meeting the family of his white girlfriend.

Now, New Yorker Peele is back with Us, another original nightmare that he has written, directed and produced.

"I wanted to explore something other than race and to show the wide range of horror films that I have," the 40-year-old suggests when asked about the inspiration behind the film.

"I have this fear of a doppelganger. And so when you have a real fear as a horror movie creator/director, then you know you have something that you can nurture and exploit for an audience."

Us follows Adelaide Wilson (played by Lupita N'yongo) as she returns to her North Carolina home with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex).

Meant to be a dreamy summer getaway, Adelaide starts to feel paranoid that something bad is going to happen to her family. And sure enough, they return from the beach one day to find silhouettes of four figures in their driveway.

But the creepiest thing? The monsters they're facing are doppelgangers of themselves.

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One draw of the role for Mexican-Kenyan Nyong'o (36) was that it's so different from anything audiences will have seen her in before.

"Jordan was asking me to go to places I've never been and giving me two well-rounded, three-dimensional women to play at complete opposite ends of an argument," elaborates the actress, who won an Oscar for her film debut in drama 12 Years A Slave.

"And so to be asked to see something from one perspective and then the next day have to see it from the exact opposite perspective... I mean, it was an opportunity of a lifetime.

"And just this imaginative monster that he was creating, actually articulating a world from inside his head; I felt very, very fortunate to have that kind of task in front of me. And also very intimidated!"

Furthermore, Us is about a middle-class black family - something we don't see represented in cinema very much.

"I loved how unremarkable it was that they were black," Nyong'o notes, "because I often feel quite unremarkable; I don't live my life always considering the colour of my skin.

"And it was nice to have that - a family that we could project our own understanding of a family on to, no matter what colour our skin is, and that the paradigms to which they were navigating this particular monster had nothing to do with the colour of their skin. Yeah, that's refreshing."

Duke (32), who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, agrees that a very middle-class black family being placed at the centre of the film is, in itself, a "large statement".

They're also a family, he says, who are "wrapped in what we would call the American dream, this idea of American normality and class and privilege".

It would make sense that making a film as layered as this - there are a lot of different thematic elements to the piece - would raise questions for the stars involved.

So, what other messages did Duke - whose breakout role was M'Baku in Marvel's Black Panther, followed by Avengers: Infinity War - personally take from this role?

"For me, it was a lot of cultures of power; privilege, power, luxury. What is it and what's the cost of that?

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Jordan Peele with his Oscar

Jordan Peele with his Oscar

Jordan Peele with his Oscar

"It's about the speechless and the people you render invisible in your shadow, who carry the burden of your actions. For me, that really spoke volumes - it really made me question myself and see my experiences of privilege.

"I come from a historically oppressed background and I don't really see my life as one that is privileged, until you put it in the context of people who don't have as much as you, people who have to suffer to make your life as privileged as it is. So, it really put me into a different category of how I see myself."

Star Wars actress Nyong'o, who also appeared alongside Duke in Black Panther, admits she was taken aback by the script when she first read it.

She made sure to pick Peele's brain about the imagery and the social commentary on the US which is woven into the story, before going on set.

And it seems the idea "of recognising the monster in the man in the mirror" is one that has really stayed with her.

"There's a duality in all of us, there's a darkness that we often suppress and it is in suppressing that side of ourselves that it can become destructive, because we project it out of ourselves and onto other people and onto other things," she says.

"So, especially in this time when people are pointing a lot of fingers to the 'other' - the other gender, the other country, the other political faction, the other religion, the other ethnicity - we often fail to recognise the monster in ourselves, and this was a film that was anthropomorphising that monster."

  • Us is in cinemas now

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