The Discovery series “Serengeti” might not be a reality show per se, but narrator Lupita Nyong’o found the storylines around the animals of the African desert just as engrossing.
The six episodes of the nature documentary were already filmed and edited before Nyong’o recorded her narration, which the Oscar winner says helped give her a sense of the arc of the journey each animal character would take. To prepare, Nyong’o sat down with a pen and paper to take notes, but found herself getting sucked into the story each time.
“What’s so enthralling is that you’re rooting for both the predator and the prey in equal measure. And you go from this one predator and you think, ‘Yeah, the lion is dope. I really want her to get food for her cubs.’ And then you meet the hyena, you’re like, ‘Oh man. She’s a woman, she’s taking over her pack, I really want her to succeed,’” Nyong’o explains on Variety Live. “And then the next scene is that they’re both going for the same prey and you’re like, ‘Oh, who do I root for?’ I love that! I was definitely very alive watching this show.”
Nyong’o was particularly moved by the tale of Bakari, a male baboon who takes in an orphaned baby baboon to raise as his own after its mother is killed.
“It’s a really special story because also it just shows what we consider ‘modern families’ of like adoption and stuff in nature, [when] Sabira dies and Bakari chooses to take over and take care of this baby baboon and just this rivalry between him and the leader is all things that we see play out in humanity,” she explains. “I think it gives us some perspective.”
Nyong’o also spoke about the opportunity to use her native Kenyan accent for the series at the request of “Serengeti” executive producers and directors Simon Fuller and John Downer.
“That was moving and also kind of gave me a little bit of a panic attack because, I don’t even know where that voice is,” she says. “But it was so nice to have someone embrace that and encourage it, because I never knew that I would start my career and that would be called for. So, it was just really lovely to bring my full self to this without any sort of pretense.”
Though Kenya neighbors Tanzania — where the Serengeti desert is located — Nyong’o has never been there. But after spending much of her life going on safari elsewhere, she relished the chance to bring the region’s natural beauty — and her own heritage — to viewers at home.
In another notable connection, Nyong’o’s “Star Wars” co-star John Boyega serves as the voice of the U.K. version of the documentary.
“It was really cool to learn that he was doing it in the U.K.,” Nyong’o says. “He’s a good friend. So, we definitely like bonded over it. This is cool that we get to do it together.”
Nyong’o even got a chance to listen to Boyega’s completed narration before recording hers, but she stresses that there was no kind of competition between the pair.
“Narrating a documentary is such a personal thing, you know, and it’s so subjective,” she explains. “You know sometimes people ask me what research did you do. And really because John Downer and Simon Fuller wanted me to bring myself to this and didn’t want me to be ascribing to any sort of like voiceover culture, the only research there was to do was to watch the documentary and to allow it to like wash over me and do the diction and language homework. … So there was nothing to lose or gain from witnessing John Boyega’s work.”