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Funding Boost For "12 Years A Slave" + Details On Characters To Be Played By Fassbender & Pitt

by Tambay A. Obenson
April 9, 2012 8:25 PM
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Steve McQueen

Finally some news on this project...

New Regency is said to be "in talks" to co-finance and distribute 12 Years A Slave, the adaptation of Solomon Northup's slave narrative, to be directed by Steve McQueen, with Chiwetel Ejiofor in the starring role, and Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt in supporting roles.

In my "book-to-film" writeup on the project (HERE), I wondered what characters Fassbender and Pitt would play in the film; thanks to Deadline, we now know.

Fassbender will play a plantation owner (there were a few in the novel I read, so it could be any of them; but as reader Accidental Visitor astutely noted in his comment in response to my writeup, Fassbender will likely play Edwin Epps - your garden variety uneducated, ignorant, alcoholic redneck asshole to put it plainly, and the plantation owner Northup spends 10 of his 12 years in bondage working for.

As I noted in my writeup, Epps is middle-aged and, from what I gathered in Northup's description of him, large - more fat than muscle - and just a mean bastard; an ignorant one who drinks a lot. A lethal combo I'd say - ignorant, mean and an alcoholic. And in a position of power too I should also add.

As you know, Fassbender does not fit that physical description, but continuing on with what Accidental Visitor said...

Just as the case with Leonardo playing a character in "Django" that, by script decision, was the total opposite of him, Fassbender will probably be doing the same in this adaptation. That's how it works. When it comes to casting it is typical, when white folks are involved, for the thespians to be "prettier" than how they are described on the page. That's how you get funding for such films: promote the white prettiness. This is why when a major white character is an evil Nazi or a vicious slave owner, films pick good-looking types that allow the audiences to tolerate them (and for some perhaps sympathize with them).  

And besides, I doubt Fassbender's role would be a small one; although Brad Pitt's is. As Deadline notes, Pitt will play a Northern lawyer who helps free Northup; if I recall correctly from the book, this lawyer features primarily towards the end of the book, and not very much.

But Pitt is also acting as producer of the project via his Plan B company.

The film's budget is listed at around $20 million.

Shooting is scheduled to begin in June in Louisiana.

I expect this will be a 2013 release, unless it's rushed for a late 2012 limited opening to make it eligible for Oscar consideration next year.

If you missed it, read my book-to-film report on the project HERE.

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  • misha | April 10, 2012 1:18 PMReply

    Bondgirl, I don't think we have to worry about Chiwetel not bringing it, as he's proven to be quite the talented thespian. I'm a huge fan of Fassbender as well but I think his ability to master the Southern American accent is really the only concern I have about either man. And that isn't much of a concern, considering Fassbender's talent and dedication. Frankly, I can't wait to see these two playing opposite one another...I foresee some great clashes/moments between them.

  • Donella | April 10, 2012 3:23 PM

    They are both very strong actors. McQueen appears to be well on his way to creating a nice bit of cinema. $20 million??? Whoa!

  • BONDGIRL | April 10, 2012 12:14 PMReply

    Promote the white prettiness? Huh? What was pretty about Ed Norton in Fight Club, American History X, or Primal Fear? Or Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men? Christoph Waltz was not easy on the eyes in Water for Elephants or Inglourious Basterds. Alan Rickman in Die Hard is nobody's sex symbol. I could go on and on....Jack Nicholson (The Shining), Kevin Spacey (Seven, The Usual Suspects)....I can't believe you bought into that analysis, Tambay. And Chiwetel betta BRING IT, because Fassbender's going to kill every single scene. Should be interesting.

  • Wrong theory | April 17, 2012 8:44 AM

    AV's theory is bunk. Leo hasn't looked good in over 10 years. He is fat, bloated and ugly. When was the last time he was voted most sexiest? The lead always looks prettier than the villain even when the lead is Black and the villain White. They want you to identify with the pretty good guy. This is Hollywood so everyone Black, White, Hispanic is attractive. Most actors look good so we are talking relative degrees of pretty and unpretty. Javier Bardem is good looking in real life but looked like ass in No Country.

  • Akimbo | April 10, 2012 4:18 PM

    And I'm with Donella, Leo doesn't do it for me, Jamie is gross, Fassbender is cool, but Chiwetel is the winner.

  • Akimbo | April 10, 2012 4:11 PM

    If you need to apply specific rules and stipulations to a theory to make it work...maybe it just doesn't work. Two instances don't make a trend and in reality, Fassbender is a barely known entity to the general public, let alone a heartthrob. I don't know what they're going to do to Leo's appearance, but considering he's done nothing but run from being a pretty boy and Tarantino's style leans gritty, I doubt there will be loving shots of DiCaprio's glistening body or dreamy close ups of his sparkling blue eyes. Also, he ain't that pretty anymore; he and Terrance Howard are morphing into the same dude.

  • Donella | April 10, 2012 3:48 PM

    Well, from a woman's point of view, I don't find either Leonardo di Caprio or Jamie Foxx attractive. Michael Fassbender is attractive, but Chiwetol Ejiofer is attractive too. Fassbender-Ejiofer match each other in talent. There is a balance, and under McQueen's direction, I believe both actors will do well opposite each other. di Caprio greatly outweighs Foxx in acting ability, plus Tarantino wrote di Caprio's part to be stronger. I do believe McQueen has the better film--better source material, more authenticity, better acting team.

  • Curtis | April 10, 2012 3:26 PM

    @Akimbo but will Leonardo DiCaprio be "uglied up" as Sergio says to make him less attractive than Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained? because DiCaprio is the heartthrob in real-life not Foxx.

    Also to play devil's advocate the films you list starred Denzel and Will Smith who are both a-list stars. So maybe it's to be expected that they wouldn't be cast opposite "prettier" actors for that reason? In both Django and 12 Years a Slave the white "bad guy" is played by a white actor who is considered a bigger heartthrob in real-life than the black actor.

    I think though that Accidental needs to properly explain his comment lol.

    And can anyone tell me how to insert line-breaks or it's not possible?

  • Donella | April 10, 2012 3:22 PM

    ***I'm just going to say this theory is bunk and call it a day.*** You called it right. It's bunk.

  • Akimbo | April 10, 2012 2:39 PM

    John Lithgow (nawt hawt) opposite Denzel in Ricochet immediately comes to mind. No white studs up against him in Unstoppable, Safe House, Taking of Pelham, Manchurian Candidate, Man on Fire... I can't even tell you who the bad guy opposite Will Smith in Hancock or Enemy of the State were, but I know they weren't pretty. No particularly sexy villains in any of the Bad Boys or Men in Blacks (unless you're gross and count Lara Flynn Boyle). I'm just going to say this theory is bunk and call it a day. In any movie, you're supposed to find your protagonist more appealing than your antagonist. Period. So, if a black guy is the "good guy," he's going to be more attractive than the "bad guy," even if that means they take a pretty white actor and throw some dirt/ugly make up on him.

  • Curtis | April 10, 2012 1:17 PM

    Hmm, I think this is worth researching Tambay... if white villains cast opposite black good guys are generally played by goodlooking, or what is general considered "goodlooking" white actors. I'd be interested in knowing if there is a trend. Maybe Accidental Visitor has already done that?

  • Tambay | April 10, 2012 12:36 PM

    I think the point is when a white actor is cast in a villainous role opposite a black (or other minority) protag. Not white villains in general.

    But really, even taking those actors you mentioned into consideration... while they may not be universally thought of as "pretty boys," there are large populations of women who swoon over the likes of Javier Bardem for example, who's made various "Sexiest man Alive" lists in recent years, like in People magazine, even though I find those lists silly and frivolous. But the point is, he's considered a sex symbol.

    Yes, even Ed Norton.

    They may not be made up to be "pretty" in the films they star in, but there's already a real affection for the actors in real life that can translate to screen.

  • Mark | April 10, 2012 11:03 AMReply

    You don't think Fassbender is willing to gain weight and "DEGLAM" for this role? Look at the physical extremes he went to in Hunger, starving himself to near organ failure.

  • Donella | April 10, 2012 3:20 PM

    I'm also a Fassbender fan. He was the best part of Xmen: First Class.

  • Neziah | April 10, 2012 11:48 AM

    Agreed, he'll probably knock the role right out of the park.

  • Micah | April 10, 2012 11:30 AM

    He's certainly a dedicated actor.

  • Jen | April 10, 2012 9:01 AMReply

    I read the book in school, but I want to check out a copy of this - Anybody have a pdf?


  • Nadine | April 10, 2012 12:19 PM - hope you see this...

  • CareyCarey | April 10, 2012 4:18 AMReply

    MIcah, Misha and Accidental Visitor have all made excellent points, but notwithstanding the "yawn" element, I am leaning toward Comrade's remark. I do not believe the average movie-goer has read the book, nor intends to read the book before seeing the movie. Consequently, the general public's vision of the characters in question will be shaped by the director and the actors choosen to play the parts. So, looking at what Comrade said "You attach two prominent white actors to the project and it's a recipe for Oscar success" one might quickly believe that "prominent" is the optimum word. Now, since we're talking about a "slavery" film, to compliment my point, I believe the same can be said about Django Unchained. It does not matter if the actor(s) are fat, pretty or whatever, it's all about popularity and name recognition. Opps, I didn't intend to go here, but how else can someone explain Kerry Washington's inclusion in Django? Was it her looks, her acting ability or her "name"? Isn't she in a popular TV series, Sandals, Flip-Flops or Dirty Scoundrels?

  • Jen | April 10, 2012 12:52 PM

    Oh, thank you Nadine -

    I should have been more clear - I meant a copy of the script - I own the book, thats why I'm curious to see the script. Thanks though.

  • Finally | April 10, 2012 1:52 AMReply

    I'm happy to see a film about slavery told from the perspective of the slave by a black auteur. I cannot think of very many movies made about slavery. That has a lot to do with the fact that America doesn't like holding a mirror because looking back is the ugly, sordid, shameful truth.

  • Donella | April 10, 2012 3:18 PM

    Me too!

  • Comrade | April 10, 2012 1:31 AMReply

    Yes, another film about slavery. You attach two prominent white actors to the project and it's a recipe for Oscar success. Yawn

  • meme | April 10, 2012 11:05 AM

    Yep, it's very true especially about Fassbender, who was horribly snubbed by the Academy this year. He is prominent how? Talented yes, but prominent?

  • Micah | April 10, 2012 12:14 AMReply

    AV has a point but it doesn't perfectly apply here, if I understand him correctly. While the casting may play into how Holllywood likes to portray things and the way a portion of the moviegoing public can digest things, I'm sure the casting happened this way for a much more benign reason. The reason Misha stated of course. McQueen has found an actor he likes to work with and will take any opportunity to do so. It's the feeling is mutual from Fassbender's end, judging by his own comments. I can assure the financiers said "Brad unless you are in front of the camera and listed as an actor on the marquee, we are not throwing our money behind it." That is not uncommon when big name actors want to play producers. And who knows actors have gained weight and transformed physically for a part before, perhaps that will happen here.

  • misha | April 9, 2012 11:55 PMReply

    Hmm...not sure if I agree with AV's observation for a couple of reasons. One, I've found that Hollywood is really only concerned with an actor being "pretty" when he/she is playing the hero/heroine. After all, it is usually said hero/heroine who's used to sell the movie. With the villain, it's more of a toss up and I've seen some not so pretty villains, especially in films of this ilk. Moroever, McQueen likely set his sights on Fassbender playing the meatier, more controversial part from the outset. Not to mention that he (McQueen) doesn't exactly seem like the type who'd easily acquiesce to Hollywood's warped ideology. Oh and "pretty" isn't a word I'd used to describe Fassbender, as I don't think he fits into the conventionally "pretty/hunky" category. So in other words, I think the McQueen/Fassbender connection was more of a factor than the latter's physical appearance. Anyhow, I'm really looking forward to seeing what the combination of McQueen, Ejiofor, Fassbender and Pitt will produce. It certainly has the potential to be a memorable, award-winning production.

  • AccidentalVisitor | April 9, 2012 10:59 PMReply

    Tambay, I'm glad you remembered my comment. Trust me the formula is almost always in play when it comes to casting.

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