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Steve McQueen Explains Why He Can't Talk Enough About '12 Years a Slave,' Unlike Michael Fassbender (VIDEO)

by Anne Thompson
October 17, 2013 6:26 AM
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Fassbender, Nyong'o, Ejiofor in '12 Years a Slave'

SM: I welcome those kind of debates because we were very careful, of course. We had an advisor, an historian. All of them vouched for the facts that these events actually occurred, with documents to back it up. So of course I welcome that kind of attention because I want to be right as well. Every picture that's "based on a true story" will have that kind of scrutiny, so I welcome this.

What is your sense of how accurate you were?

SM: Quite. Of course you would get something wrong. There's no two ways about it. We were very meticulous. Our fantastic production designer Adam Stockhausen and an amazing costume designer Patricia Norris who researched the look and the authenticity of what was happening. A lot of the costumes were actually slave clothes worn by slaves. You do your best. We hope we're good at it.

One thing I believe you added was the scene with Patsy (Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o) and wealthy neighbor Mistress Shaw (Alfre Woodard).

SM: She had one line in the book, a description of her. I spoke to John and said this character needs a voice in this film because it's such an extraordinary character, and one I've never seen on film before. For me, that scene was John's best work.

Michael Fassbender doesn't want to participate in campaigning the movie for the Oscars. How do you feel about that?

SM: I understand. It can be a bit much. [On "Shame"] it was very tiring, and it was unhealthy. You get exhausted and try to do your best at every moment. Forgive me for saying this, I felt like a prostitute, every 15 minutes another john would come through the room and it'd be taking, taking, taking. It was a bit much. This time, it's much more enjoyable. I don't know why. I think that it's worth it. I'm not saying that "Shame" wasn't.

The conversation has shifted to a cultural conversation that could have an enormous impact on the world.

SM: Yes, I think that's it. I do think it's worth it because the conversation has been on such a high level and it's fascinating. Someone asked me the other day, "When was the first time you were conscious of slavery?" It was just amazing. Or, "what was the first time you understood your name?" I was thinking, "my goodness, the only thing I can remember is that I grew up with such a feeling of shame and embarrassment." To start life like that as a young person, it's either a huge disadvantage or it's a situation where you become much more aware of your surroundings in society.

The assumption made by many people in America is that folks from Africa who grew up in Britain are not the products of slavery; they came from Africa without having been part of the American horror, without that sense of shame. It's inaccurate?

SM: My family came from the West Indies...It's debatable. What is correct is that we all come from this diaspora. We're all from a situation where we were displaced or dispersed, or parts of your family are missing. If you're from Africa, where some of your relatives would have been taken.

So talking about these issues is satisfying for you.

SM: For me, the movie stands up by itself because the story is so extraordinary. I'm happy we're having a debate about slavery but at the same time, for me, I'm excited about the picture because the picture is the picture.

When you were editing, were you challenged or did it fall into place in an organic way?

SM: It was very organic. With reshoots, different ways of looking at time, it was exciting. Also because of the set, because of the crew, the makeup, the wardrobe, the electricians, the camera and sound departments, we were all a team. When you have that sort of safety net, that friendship, that camaraderie, any and everything was possible. I knew from the first few days we might have something.

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More: 12 Years a Slave, 12 Years a Slave


  • Kate | October 17, 2013 12:55 PMReply

    I watched McQueen's DGA Q&A with Kathryn Bigelow. He's either getting better at the promotional game or just trying much harder. He was quite funny and not as abrasive/combative as he has been in the past. He might not be the liability that some pundits have supposed.

    On the other hand, I read the whole GQ article from which that Fassbender "won't campaign" quote was taken & I have to think that Searchlight might be relieved not to have such a wild card running around loose and bored in LA for three months. He's absolutely bonkers reckless.

  • jwiggs | October 17, 2013 12:07 PMReply

    "One often wonders what he or she would do if thrown back in time and was forced to be a slave. Now we have a chance to sit and watch someone who actually had to do it in real time. How would I respond in his given situation. I know it will be heart wrenching, but can't wait to see it!!"

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