There are a good handful of actors and producers around town whose name can “get things made,” but there are only a select few who decide to back projects that ordinarily would be perceived as “risky” or as an unwise business investment. Brad Pitt is one of those few. He put his name behind Terrence Malick‘s “The Tree Of Life” — a picture he originally wasn’t going to star in — and over the years, he’s used his brand to back projects as diverse as “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” “Year of the Dog,” “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee” and “God Grew Tired of Us: The Story of Lost Boys of Sudan.” Sure, it might be a bit of mixed bag, but clearly Pitt doesn’t mind taking chances or simply doesn’t need the validation of a tentpole to his name. And once again, his Plan B shingle is getting behind a promising endeavour.
Steve McQueen, the Brit helmer who wowed with his debut “Hunger” and is currently readying his sex-addiction drama “Shame” for the film festival circuit, is once again taking on some powerful, provocative material. Plan B will produce an adaptation of “Twelve Years A Slave,” with McQueen directing and Chiwetel Ejiofor set to star in the film based on the 1853 autobiography written by Solomon Northup, a free black man who was tricked into slavery. Educated, married and living in New York, Northup was lured by a job offer in Washington only to be kidnapped and put in a slave pen, leading to years of enslavement under various owners. He finally earned back his freedom when a white Canadian carpenter who opposed slavery smuggled letters to Northup’s wife, which helped launch a court case that eventually set him free. Northup’s subsequent book is a detailed chronicle of the slave trade at the time and should serve as some strong background for the script that is being written by McQueen and John Ridley (“Bobby,” “Three Kings“).
What can we say except this is great material, with solid talent all around. And as you might remember, this isn’t the first time McQueen and Ejiofor have tried to work together. Last spring, McQueen had the actor in might for the planned biopic “Fela” about 1970s Nigerian afro-beat legend. Unfortunately, that film is yet to come to pass (we really hope it’s still in active development) but clearly, McQueen and Ejiofor are keen to collaborate. In a rather interesting side note, Ejiofor just wrapped another slave-era movie, “Savannah,” with James Caviezel and Jamie Alexander in which he plays a freed slave in the early 1900s who becomes business partners with a wealthy aristocrat.
The distribution rights to ‘Twelve Years’ are now up for grabs and we’d guess a certain amount of pre-sales will make or break the project. Here’s hoping the subject matter doesn’t put potential buyers off; this sounds like it could be a fantastic piece of work. [THR]