During the course of shooting the upcoming historical drama “12 Years a Slave,” British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor had to effectively portray the transformation from a free family man living in upstate New York to a man physically and spiritually beaten down by years of slavery on Louisiana plantations. This was the journey of Solomon Northup, whose incredible story is the basis for Steve McQueen’s new movie.
Ejiofor told MTV News that the physical demands of the shoot were difficult, but they brought him closer to the character. “I was very keen with Steve to feel some of the physical stuff as well, to not just be kind of padded to within an inch of my life or something. I wanted to be part of it and to know some of it, just as a key into what Solomon’s experience was — to try and uncover a tiny fraction of this experience.”
The psychological aspect of Ejiofor’s portrayal was just as challenging, if not more so. “Solomon Northup is a man who starts off in the story thinking that he’s in a battle for his freedom, and he realizes at some point that he’s actually in a battle for his mind,” the actor said. He described Northup as “a man really grappling to the depths of his soul to keep himself intact.”
Ejiofor said that it was a privilege to play Northup, and it’s very likely that his efforts will be acknowledged come Oscar time. When he spoke with MTV News, “12 Years a Slave” had screened at some festivals and was already garnering plenty of awards buzz.
Ejiofor was quite pleased with the positive response. “You’re working on this project and this thing you’re sort of tinkering away at, and your hope is — your belief is — that people are going to be engaged by this story of Solomon Northup. And so when that starts to happen, people are getting engaged, it’s exciting,” he said. “I’m sort of thrilled to be showing this film to people, hearing their reactions, talking to people about it, and whatever happens down the line happens. It’s been an extraordinary experience so far of getting this film out there.”