Lupita Nyong’o Recalls Crush on Leonardo DiCaprio, Crying Inconsolably During ‘Titanic’ on First Date

The Oscar winner accepted a star of the year trophy during CinemaCon’s closing Big Screen Achievement Awards ceremony at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Thursday night.

Lupita Nyong'o, recipient of the Star of the Year award, speaks onstage during CinemaCon.

Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o said that when word came her way that she’d been selected to receive CinemaCon‘s star of the year award during the closing night Big Screen Achievement Awards, it led her to ponder what cinema has meant to her.

“One of my strongest memories from my adolescence came to mind,” said the 41-year-old actress while accepting the trophy inside the Colosseum at Caesars Palace on Thursday night. “My very first date was going to see a movie at the cinema in Nairobi, Kenya, where I grew up. I was 16. Not only was I going out with this boy I liked for the first time, but I would be watching my crush Leonardo DiCaprio in none other than Titanic.

Nyong’o, honored for her upcoming turn in Paramount Pictures’ thriller A Quiet Place: Day One, said she was beyond excited to see DiCaprio in the 1997 disaster epic from James Cameron. “My walls were adorned with posters of Leonardo DiCaprio, and to see him on the big screen was a dream come true. As the movie began, the entire theater went quiet. We were captivated, we all gasped at the same moments, fell in love at the same time, and grieved together as the tragic story unfolded by the end of the movie.”

As the ship sank and DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson had disappeared in the deep, dark sea, Nyong’o said she couldn’t believe her eyes. “I was so devastated by the fate of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character that I wept and wept. Long after the credits had rolled, I was inconsolable. In fact, my date and I stayed in the theater for so long that even the staff began cleaning up around us, urging us to leave. But that moment was so special to me. It was more than just a movie. It was an experience that shook me to the core that night. What I experienced firsthand was the power of cinema to transport us to another world, to make us feel things we never thought possible — like developing a fear of glaciers.”

I was inconsolable”: Lupita Nyong'o Developed a Phobia After Watching Her Crush  Leonardo DiCaprio During Her First Date That Ended in Tears - IMDb

Nyong’o shared the stage with a roster of honorees that included Dennis Quaid (cinema icon award), Amy Poehler (vanguard award), Shawn Levy (director of the year), Geena Davis (Viola Davis trailblazer award), Joseph Quinn (breakthrough performer of the year award), Dan Stevens (excellence in acting award) and Ariana Greenblatt (rising star of the year). Coca-Cola served as the night’s presenting sponsor while Entertainment Tonight frontman Kevin Frazier hosted the ceremony.

Nearly every honoree at Thursday’s ceremony paid tribute to the theater owners in the audience by thanking them for what they do and sharing early memories of buying tickets to the movies in their youth. Greenblatt, who is only 16, also stayed on trend by sharing a story about sneaking into a theater recently to check out her work in Greta Gerwig’s billion-dollar blockbuster Barbie. “The cinema has given me some of the best memories of my life,” said the veteran actress who has been working since age 6 and can next be seen in Eli Roth’s Borderlands.

A running theme also proved to be the power of cinema in telling stories and changing lives. Excellence in acting award winner Stevens said, “It’s magic what we get to do.” Quinn quipped, “Making films is utterly insane.” Oscar-winner Davis said, “Together let’s blaze trails, let’s inspire change.” Vanguard honoree Poehler said, “Thank you for your hard work, all the distributors who create the spaces that allow us to sit in the dark and travel to places unknown.”

Director of the year Levy, who presented Deadpool & Wolverine earlier in the day, said his “favorite kind of dark secret” is a matinee sneak out when he can escape to the movies early in the day by checking out of the editing bay or the office. Cinema icon winner Quaid paid special attention to theater owners by expressing gratitude at multiple points in his speech. “I appreciate you people, I really do. It is hard work and it is a business, but it’s a gathering place for a community.”

In closing her speech, Nyong’o turned her DiCaprio crush anecdote into a sentiment about the power of the theatrical experience. In a way, her comments served as the best kind of exclamation point on the events of the week as CinemaCon 2024 came to a close.

“Beyond the personal nostalgia, cinema holds a profound significance in our society. It’s a place where strangers come together, united by a shared love for storytelling and a desire to escape reality if only for a few hours. The barriers of age, race, relationship, status and background fade away, and we are all simply human beings bound together by our love for the silver screen. And in an age where digital connectivity often leaves us even more isolated than ever, the cinema offers a sanctuary of human connection.”

And just in case DiCaprio is reading this, Nyong’o had one last thing to say.

“As I accept this wonderful award, I do so with a profound sense of gratitude and appreciation for all that you do. Thank you for believing in the power of cinema, for investing in the dreams of filmmakers, and for creating spaces where audiences can come together and experience the joy of storytelling. Also, if Leonardo DiCaprio happens to come through, tell him I said hi.”

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