You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

’12 Years’ Writer Approached the Script Like a ‘Restoration Project’

The cast and filmmakers behind Steve McQueen‘s “12 Years a Slave” settled into the Directors Guild Oct. 14 to present the story of Solomon Northup, whose harrowing autobiography — a bestseller during the 19th Century — was the basis of the film. But Chiwetel Ejiofor, who deftly portrays Northup’s journey through bondage, hesitated before accepting the role.

“[Steve] called me up and he said he was going to send me the script and I was excited because I had been a fan of his for ages,” Ejiofor said. “After I read the script I had to take a bit of pause because there was a lot of responsibility.”

“You have these feelings as an actor, you hope for a great part and when it comes sometimes, it is a strange reaction, and you think, ‘Can I do this?’ I don’t want to go out there and make a mess of it.”

For many involved in the film, the trick was to remove their subjectivity as much as possible so as to make room for Northup’s original text to guide their work.

“This story was so powerful in and of itself and the perspective was so different than my own, I approached it like a restoration project that you want to elevate and excavate, but you didn’t want to overshadow and have too much of a personal imprimatur on it,” screenwriter John Ridley said. McQueen approached Ridley in 2008 about collaborating on a film about American slavery before McQueen found “12 Years.”

Lupita Nyong’o, whose standout performance as Patsy has garnered praise from critics, was just relieved that she could do her character justice.

“Patsy left an indelible mark on Solomon Northup and that is why she had such an important part in his story. It was about picking those things up and letting them govern how I went about it,” Nyong’o said. “As much as she moved Solomon, I was hoping to capture that light as well as the darkness.”

Ejiofor agreed that it was Northup’s words that determined every creative division. “The book was just incredibly valuable and gave me insight to Solomon, his life, his attitude, his world view, the reasons he was able to survive this, and the reasons he was the person that he was.”

More Scene

  • Noah CentineoNickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, Show,

    Kids’ Choice Awards 2019: JoJo Siwa, Noah Centineo Take on Bullying

    This year’s Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards was full of positivity and encouragement to be yourself. DJ Khaled, known for his upbeat mantras, hosted the 32nd annual awards ceremony alongside JoJo Siwa at USC’s Galen center. Siwa accepted the award for favorite social music star. Siwa said in her acceptance speech, “I get hated on every [...]

  • Tina KnowlesSoul of Nation: Art in

    Jay-Z, Tina Knowles Celebrate New 'Soul of a Nation' Exhibit at Broad Museum

    “This show is so important. I mean, it’s our history — and it’s a very important part of our journey,” Tina Knowles Lawson said about Friday night’s opening of the exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963 – 1983” at the Broad Museum in DTLA. “I’m just so impressed [...]

  • Jordan Peele'Us' film premiere, Arrivals, New

    Jordan Peele Explains the Meaning Behind the 'Us' Michael Jackson Reference

    Jordan Peele’s horror movie “Us” is filled with pop culture references, from “Jaws” to “Goonies.” But the most divisive might be right in his opening sequence. Warning, minor spoilers ahead. The movie about a couple (played by Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) and their children being hunted and brutalized by a mysterious family that looks just [...]

  • Danielle Brooks'Ain't Too Proud - The

    How 'Orange Is the New Black' Star Danielle Brooks Became a Broadway Producer

    Danielle Brooks earned a Tony nomination when she made her Broadway debut as Sofia in the 2015 revival of “The Color Purple,” but now the “Orange Is the New Black” star is working behind the scenes as a producer on the new jukebox musical “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.” “I [...]

  • Nick Offerman Amy Poehler

    'Parks and Recreation' Cast Talks Possibility of a Revival at 10th Anniversary Reunion

    For one night, Hollywood felt a little like Pawnee. The cast of NBC’s hit comedy “Parks and Recreation” reunited at PaleyFest on Thursday in honor of the show’s 10th anniversary. The whole Pawnee gang showed up: Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Rob Lowe, Adam Scott, Rashida Jones, Retta, and Jim [...]

  • Andy CohenThe Shops and Restaurants at

    Andy Cohen to Receive Vito Russo Award at GLAAD Media Awards

    Mazel, Andy Cohen! Bravo’s late-night talk show host is set to receive the Vito Russo Award at the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards on May 4 in New York City. Sarah Jessica Parker will present him with the award, which is named in honor of GLAAD founder Vito Russo. The annual award goes to openly [...]

  • Variety TV Summit Europe

    Variety TV Summit Europe Coming to London on June 13

    Variety’s TV Summit Europe will coincide with London Tech Week this year, returning to the city on June 13. The international conference will be held at the Royal Lancaster and is co-produced by global events company Informa’s KNect365 division, the world’s largest business-to-business organizer. The one-day summit will focus on the intersection of content and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content