12 Years A Slave: the filming was difficult for the actors – CinéSéries

“12 Years a Slave” tells the story of Solomon Northup, an American violinist and carpenter kidnapped and sold into slavery in the mid-19th century. A poignant and painful feature film, for which the actors had a visceral experience during filming.

12 Years A Slave : the true story of Solomon Northup

While he aspires to make a film on slavery, Steve McQueen discovers thanks to his companion Bianca Stigter the work 12 Years a Slavean autobiography by Solomon Northup published in 1853. Unable to believe that he had never heard of it before, the British filmmaker was shocked when he read the book, which evoked The Diary of Anne Frank in its necessary character for the understanding of History. He therefore decided to adapt it, entrusting the writing of the script to the novelist and screenwriter John Ridley.

Released in 2014 in France, the feature film is worn by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who lends his features to Solomon Northup. In 1841, twenty years before the outbreak of the Civil War, this violinist and carpenter lives in New York State with his wife Anne (Kelsey Scott) and their two children. Betrayed by two men posing as artists, Solomon is kidnapped and sent to New Orleanswhere he is bought as a slave by William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) – 12 Years a Slave © France Televisions Distribution

Bullied by carpenter John Tibeats (Paul Dano), Solomon is sold by Ford to torturer Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), owner of a cotton plantation. Victim and witness of the worst abuse, he does everything to find his family and his freedom.

Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard and Michael Kenneth Williams complete the cast of 12 Years a Slave. Nominated in nine categories at the Oscars, the feature film won three statuettes, including those for Best Film and Best Adapted Screenplay.

A visceral experience

Shooting in Louisiana is tough for the actors. Awarded by Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the moving role of Patsey, Lupita Nyong’o is remembered with vulnerability :

(We were) in the height of summer in Louisiana, so it was hot. It was extremely hot. (…) I realized how strong these people were. I mean, they picked cotton more than sixteen hours a day in this heat. A warmth that challenged me.

She also evokes the shots of one of the strongest scenes of the feature film, during which her character collapses after having received many whiplashes:

It’s all in the cracking of the whip. We hear it. And we feel it. I felt the wind with every stroke. I didn’t need much more. (…) I did not see the whip. I could only react to sound and wind. So it was difficult. But that day could not have been more realistic for me because to prepare myself, I only had to be present.

12 Years a Slave
Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) – 12 Years a Slave © France Televisions Distribution

Sharing several scenes of incredible violence, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender support each other and show kindness outside of takes, in order to get out of the context of the film as easily as possible.

An emotional shock for Michael Kenneth Williams

Guest on the Arsenio Hall talk show, the late Michael Kenneth Williams reveals for his part that emotion overwhelmed him during filming. The famous interpreter of Omar Little in Bugged entrusts :

There is a scene which is unfortunately not in the film… We were shooting this scene where my character Robert is dragged to the slave ship and where he revolts. He becomes crazy. On the fifth take we had just shot, Steve yelled ‘Cut!’ and something took me, I don’t know what it was…I fell on the ground, I couldn’t stop crying and screaming. I couldn’t get up anymore.

Comforted by the stunt coordinator, Michael Kenneth Williams then let go for about twenty minutes. The actor concludes on this subject:

I think what happened to me was that I got a glimpse of what our ancestors had to go through.

A complicated end to filming for Chiwetel Ejiofor

Five years after the release of 12 Years a Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor ensures that despite the intensity of the filming, he did not expect such a shock when he discovered Steve McQueen’s film. In the show couch surfing of Peoplehe also explains that he neededa time of rehabilitation after production is complete:

It took me a while, even in a practical sense, to come out of that experience, to go to dinner parties and not just talk about the inhumanity of man to man. It took me some time to reintegrate into society.

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12 Years A Slave: the filming was difficult for the actors – CinéSéries


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