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Public eye: MaryBeth DuPain, 23

New York street interviews: Stories from the sidewalk as told by real New Yorkers about their lives in the city that never sleeps.

Photograph: Zenith Richards

Grove St between Seventh Ave and Bleecker St

Is that your boyfriend you're with? Uh, he's a man friend. I dunno. We're just, you know, hanging out.

How did you meet? [Laughs] I picked him up.

No. I did! I was sitting in a caf in L.A. with a friend of mine, and I saw him. I wrote him a note, and when he walked by I dropped it on the floor and my friend was like, "Oh, you dropped something!" It was really, like, elementary school.

Do you make a habit of elaborate pickups? No, never! I am the shyest.

What do you do? I'm a model and actress.

I'm guessing you get cast in a wide range of roles. Yeah—when I first started, people called me the chameleon. Everyone thinks I'm from wherever they're from.

Have the Obamas been good for business? Oh yeah. Before, you could flip through a magazine from cover to cover without seeing a black girl, and now...

How do you feel about being considered more marketable because you're lighter skinned? Yeah, you know, it's like, "She's not going to freak too many people out." It's awful, but that's advertising. It happens every day. We all do it subconsciously.

Where does your own sense of identity lie? I'm half Nigerian and half English, and my parents were really cool the way they raised us. They took us to Nigeria every year for Christmas break. My mom is from a little village in Imo State. There, you don't have proper electricity, no running water. It made me realize early on what's special about living in the States and how lucky we are. But of course I loved it in Nigeria. Like, What? I can shower with a bucket? So cool! I'm going to chase some goats around. I saw that you can really live a very full, happy life with very little. My grandma is 92!

Given all that, the fashion industry must seem a bit excessive. It is, but it's fun. Sometimes you work with people who freak out if an item gets dropped on the floor and I always try to put things in perspective. We're not saving lives, so let's have some fun.

More from MaryBeth

"I have three brothers, so growing up, I thought I was a boy."

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