12 Years A Slave is already generating massive amounts of Oscar buzz-and with good reason. It’s a searing, unflinching (and very stressful) look at slavery as seen through the eyes of Solomon Northup, a freeman who was wrongfully captured and sold into slavery. Northup was a real man, and the events in 12 Years A Slave actually happened. We spoke to the film’s stars, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson, about how they handled the film’s most soul-crushing moments.
British actor Ejiofor had the challenge of taking the audience through Northup’s harrowing odyssey of torture, enslavement and degradation. Still, Ejiofor found playing the role to be a “privilege.” He explained that he “was always struck by how much resilience and love and spirit there is in the tale.”
Northup’s most vile owners, Edwin Epps and his wife, are played by Fassbender and Paulson. Throughout the film, Epps and his wife inflict all sorts of horrific pain upon their slaves, particularly a young slave named Patsy (Lupita Nyong’o). When we asked Fassbender and Paulson about what were the most disturbing scenes to film and to watch, they had different answers.
“I mean the rape scene is upsetting,” said Fassbender, “but again, I was serving something that was bigger than me and bigger than any of the sort of troubles I might have with the particular scenes.”
Paulson pointed out that scenes that are difficult for an actor might be different from the scenes that are hard to watch for a viewer. “I didn’t approach the part to try to figure out how to play a monstrous person, even though I behave very deplorably and indefensibly in a lot of ways, but that’s not how I thought about it while doing it, so it wasn’t difficult to do those things because I just had to really think about the why of what I was doing and then I was able to do it,” said Paulson.
“Watching it on the other hand,” she continued, “watcing the scene where Lupita is tied to the pole and whipped mercilessly, with me telling my husband to do it harder, is something that is not easy to watch.”
12 Years A Slave is by all means a very difficult film to watch, but it’s because, as Fassbender points out, it’s serving something bigger.
12 Years A Slave is in limited release this weekend.