It's a Strange Handicap If You Can't Talk about Violence in a Film about Slavery. with a Lead Role in One of 2014's Most Highly-Anticipated Films, It's No Wonder Chiwetel Ejiofor's Name's All over Awards Shortlists. the British Actor Tells Shereen Low Why the Film Couldn't Afford to Pull Any Punches and Why He Wasn't Sure He Should Take the Role Big Screen

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), January 8, 2014 | Go to article overview

It's a Strange Handicap If You Can't Talk about Violence in a Film about Slavery. with a Lead Role in One of 2014's Most Highly-Anticipated Films, It's No Wonder Chiwetel Ejiofor's Name's All over Awards Shortlists. the British Actor Tells Shereen Low Why the Film Couldn't Afford to Pull Any Punches and Why He Wasn't Sure He Should Take the Role Big Screen


TORTURE, threats and abuse are part of daily life when you're a slave.

If any other director had taken on 12 Years A Slave, those harrowing details might have been played down, but in the hands of Steve McQueen, they're played out in all their goriness.

Just as with his previous films - like 2008's Hunger, about the Irish hunger strikes, and 2011's Shame which tackled sex addiction, the Bafta-winning film-maker pulls no punches with his bold and unflinching big-screen adaptation of Solomon Northup's memoir, which tells the story of a free black man who is illegally kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841, where he remained for 12 years.

The film, which was co-produced by Brad Pitt, follows Northup after he loses his liberty and is passed from one plantation to another, before he was finally saved.

"I Some of the most painful scenes were shot in single, continuous takes, such as the whipping scene - in which Northup's forced to whip his friend, fellow slave Patsey (a superb movie debut by newcomer Lupita Nyong'o) by domineering plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) - and another which sees Northup being beaten and then hanged by a noose.

found the idea of playing Solomon daunting Chiwetel Ejiofor, a London-born actor with Nigerian parentage, and a familiar face for fans of BBC Two's recent series Dancing On The Edge, about a black jazz band carving their way in Thirties London, was McQueen's first choice to play Northup.

He had no reservations about the graphic nature of the film.

"As an actor, you just have to slip down the rabbit hole and see what happens. There was no other way of telling the story," says the 36-year-old.

"It's not like I wasn't aware of Steve and his films, so I knew he would go to all those places and that's what I wanted - to tell the story. It's a strange handicap if you can't talk about violence in a film about slavery. You're not going to do justice to Solomon Northup and what he went through.

"It's like doing a film about World War 2 and you can't shoot anybody," he adds. "I don't want to get involved with something that I wouldn't be proud of, or that isn't right."

Ejiofor, who started acting in school productions when he was 13, later joining the National Youth Theatre, then studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, admits shooting these scenes was challenging though, and the mood on-set would often be solemn.

"Days like that were hard and uncomfortable," he says, "but they were also a real way of connecting with Solomon."

His performance has created quite a stir on the awards circuit - he's already up for a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild, and the talk of the town is he might be in the frame for an Oscar.

"It's really terrific, really exciting. The reception has been amazing," says Ejiofor, who's also received a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Louis Lester in Dancing On The Edge.

In the film category, he's up against fellow Londoner Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom), but he doesn't mind. "I'm thrilled for Idris as well," he insists. "We've been friends for a long time now - it's been 20 years - so it's really exciting."

Part of the appeal of 12 Years A Slave was the opportunity to work with McQueen. …

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It's a Strange Handicap If You Can't Talk about Violence in a Film about Slavery. with a Lead Role in One of 2014's Most Highly-Anticipated Films, It's No Wonder Chiwetel Ejiofor's Name's All over Awards Shortlists. the British Actor Tells Shereen Low Why the Film Couldn't Afford to Pull Any Punches and Why He Wasn't Sure He Should Take the Role Big Screen
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