“12 Years a Slave” tells the harrowing tale of Solomon Northup — a free black man kidnapped into slavery. At a screening Tuesday night, the director and his two of his stars told the story behind their interpretation.
TheWrap showed the film at the Landmark Theater in Los Angeles as part of its 2013 Screening Series. Following the 134-minute movie, actors Chiwetel Ejiofor (Northup), Lupita Nyong’o (Patsy) joined director Steve McQueen for a Q&A session moderated by TheWrap’s editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman.
See photos: TheWrap Awards Screening Series 2013
Here are the 12 most interesting quotes from the “12 Years” Q&A:
1) You are Solomon Northup:
“This is not an African-American film, it’s an American film,” McQueen said during the Q&A that followed the screening. He added, “Everyone is Solomon Northup” and that his intention for the viewer was to “actually experience slavery as if you’d gone through it.”
2) Michael Fassbender was a tyrant, but only when the cameras rolled:
The very first thing that the actor told co-star Lupita Nyong’o on set was a reassuring “You are my peer.” That gave the unknown actress the confidence to match Fassbender’s considerable skill in the emotionally charged and often violent scenes the two shared.
3) The Rolling Stones were on set, kind of:
Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt was a CBS war cameraman, which McQueen says explains his intuitive, fluid camera movements. And the director had the highest praise for his guy:
“He’s Charlie Watts. Michael (Fassbender) of course is Jagger. I want to be Keith,” McQueen quipped.
4) Plantations have horrible history, but they’re also pretty:
“The most heinous things happen in the most beautiful locations,” McQueen summed up his set.
The film shot on three different plantations in the south. The wardrobe department was so thorough that they collected separate dirt samples from each farm to rub on the corresponding on-screen slaves’ clothing — some of which were garments worn by actual slaves.
5) Louisiana. Fast:
“We all wanted to get out to Louisiana and get on the plantations as quickly as possible,” Chiwetel Ejiofor told Waxman of his enthusiasm at the screening.
He did not win the race: Fassbender beat him down to the set, where it was 108 degrees on first day of filming.
6) They cast and crew embraced the other-worldly presence on those Louisiana plantations:
And they went with it: “We were dancing with ghosts,” McQueen said of the actors playing real-life characters that actually went through the chronicled torment.
7) This land is your land, this land is my land:
“We’ve been fucked for 200 years, now it’s your turn,” McQueen said of the scene where slaves dine with Native Americans. He considered it a metaphorical passing-of-the-torch of oppression.
The director added that he doesn’t know of another film scene cutting from African-Americans to Native Americans. He found the imagery quite beautiful.
8) “12 Years” not the only slave movie game in town:
When asked of his feelings on a very different recent slave movie, 2012’s “Django Unchained,” McQueen carefully praised writer/director Quentin Tarantino:
“He employs black actors,” McQueen said, adding, “We exist.”
9) Mo’ Money, Fewer Problems?:
“12 Years a Slave” filmed for 35 days with one camera.
“I should have asked for more money,” McQueen joked of his low budget.
10) This is real life, not a Hollywood blockbuster:
“He wasn’t Bruce Willis with an AK-47 and a grenade,” McQueen said of the real Solomon Northup’s level of resourcefulness, why he didn’t try to escape (more).
11) It’s truly the role of a lifetime for Ejifor:
“As soon as I had consciousness I was thinking about slavery,” Ejiofor said. He credited much of that to being born the same year that “Roots” came out.
12) But he was apprehensive about the role:
Still, the lead actor — McQueen’s first choice — resisted signing on for the film: “I felt the responsibility of (the role),” Ejiofor told the Landmark audience. “It led me down a route of questioning if I could do that. I wondered how I could make the connection with Solomon.”
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