The 35-year-old actress covers the March issue of Marie Claire and discusses why she made the choice to go on a 10-day silent retreat to meditate -- something she always felt was "a little mysterious and out of my reach" -- the day after her blockbuster film hit theaters.
“It was a gift. I did it for my birthday. And it was the best gift because, the thing is, my job has two main parts. There’s the acting, and there’s the celebrity. And the celebrity involves a lot of giving," she says. "After talking so much, and just expend, expending, expending, to sit with myself and just listen. Our lives are so full of distractions; you go from one distraction to another.”
The retreat -- where she didn't have her phone or a car and had signed an agreement to stay -- wasn't all pleasant. Nyong'o admits that she "was constantly wanting to leave and then daring myself to take one more hour and then another hour."
"Oh my God, it was crazy and beautiful, because after the 10 days, it wasn’t talking that I missed... The heart of the program is about unclutching from attachments to pleasure and aversion, the idea that we attach to things that we love and to things we dislike," she explains. "And our identities are built on assembling these things to basically write the stories of our lives, but learning to unclutch from that control makes it easier to live, to exist.”
A friend suggested that Nyong'o celebrate the end of the retreat by listening to an album she loves, something that, Nyong'o reveals, made her experience even better.
“I listened to Kendrick Lamar, his album Damn. Usually I listen to music and it’s backdrop. But after that retreat, I was able to focus solely on that and for it to fill my existence in that moment," she says. "I listened to him on the flight back to New York. I loved the music, but rap sometimes comes at me too fast and I’m not really able to hear it fully. But this time, I heard every word Kendrick Lamar said. I heard the musicality. I heard instruments I’d never heard before. It was like clarity."
"I was just, like, wow. I imagine that people sometimes get that from drugs. But it was really nice to get that just from spending time with myself,” she adds.
With the Oscar-nominated Black Panther in the past, Nyong'o's latest project is Jordan Peele's second directorial venture, Us. Nyong'o was thrilled to land a role in the flick after being "blown away" by Peele's directorial debut, Get Out.
“It was the first time I put the release of a movie in my calendar," she reveals of Get Out. "I went opening night, and I was blown away. I kept going back as though I didn’t have anything else to do. I went to the cinema five times to watch that movie.. I could not get enough of that movie."
After her Black Panther co-star and Get Out leading man, Daniel Kaluuya, told her that Peele wanted to meet with her, she jumped on the opportunity.
“‘I will hold the boom for you. I will drag cable. I’ll do it all and anything,’" she recalls telling Peele after their meeting. "I knew I had to work with him. In that meeting, he asked me, ‘What is your process as an actress? What do you need from a director?’ And I just started to cry. He was like, ‘What happened?’ And I was like, ‘I’ve just never been asked that.’"
"I could just tell in that question was a man who understood what it meant to be an actor, what is the vulnerability, and the support that is most fruitful to get the most out of a creative, artistic encounter," she continues. "And that was just, ‘Oh my God, why can’t he direct every movie I do?’”
When ET spoke with Nyong'o last January, she opened up about the responsibility that came with making Black Panther.
"There's been nothing like it, so of course with that comes a deep sense of responsibility," she said at the time. "... It's definitely something you feel a little challenged by because there's no rule book for it."