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by Clint Holloway
October 10, 2013 10:00 AM
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NYFF '13: Steve McQueen on '12 Years A Slave,' the Effects of Slavery Today and Reuniting With Michael Fassbender

On the look of the film:               

"I've been working with Sean Bobbitt, the cinematographer, for the last 13 years. He's a Texan that's been living in England for goodness knows how long. First, it's about the color; we talk about the color. This is the first time I actually sort of feel like I've shot outdoors, in an environment which is so lush. So the palette is very important to talk about. The costume designer, Patty Norris, she took Earth samples from all three of the plantations to match the clothes, had a conversation with Sean to kind of deal with the temperature of each plantation, and the character temperature, of course. So there was a lot of that kind of minute detail."

On the actors working with such intense material:       

"I think all the hard work comes in rehearsal. As far as spontaneity and stuff is concerned, there are slight deviations for sure but not... Because when you're working with actors like this and you're rehearsing, they're so good that you want to stop. 'Oh, let's stop that and not do anymore.' So you get this light training and when you say 'action' or whatever you say... Actually I don't say that, the other guy says that, you say 'cut.' I want to say action, but I can't! What happens is that when you say action, or someone else says action and they're doing it, it becomes like a sphere. Because we've trained, we've talked so often, we've talked a lot with each other, we've formed a trust with each other, but they become spheres so that everything they do is correct. It's beautiful, it's magic, you work for that, you work damn hard to get there, but you have to trust them as well. But they become spheres, so that everything they do, wherever they go, is great."

On working with Michael Fassbender for the third consecutive time:  

"It's one of those with Michael, don't take him for granted. He's not gonna do things because I'm doing it, so it's one of those things where it has to be bloody good before you present him anything. Yes, he was always my choice for that. He's an amazing actor; me, personally, I think he's the most influential actor of his time. He's like Mickey Rourke when he was Mickey Rourke and Gary Oldman when he was Gary Oldman. I mean, people want to be an actor because of him, people want to be in a movie because of him, people want to make a movie because he wants to be in a movie. So he has that pull, that kind of quality where people want to jam with him. He's like Ginger Baker."

"12 Years A Slave" has another screening at the New York Film Festival on October 13 before it opens on October 18.

Watch the full press conference below:

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2 Comments

  • Pearl Duncan | October 10, 2013 11:10 AMReply

    Fascinating interview about approaching the subject if slavery with an open mind. Having found ancestors who named Maroons, enslaved people who rebelled, escaped and lived in the wilderness for many generations, I would love to have Steve McQueen look at some of my material about slave ancestors who rebelled. Survival exists -- existed in many forms, and risking everything by rebelling was one form. The people who rebelled were already soldiers. I found them in medieval Ghana. I know their names and their villages.

    Ironically, I also know the names of my Scottish and English ancestors who were slavetraders and slaveowners. Today, I'm in touch with descendants from Ghana and from Scotland.

    At the New York preview, Steve McQueen was very gracious; he shook the hands of everyone on line waiting for the second show and thanked us for coming. For me, that's foreboding. One of these days after my book about DNA and ancestry comes out, he may be interested. Just saying, fabulous interview, to approach such a complex era in history, such complicated characters and themes with an open mind.

  • Nichola | October 10, 2013 9:53 AMReply

    A great interview