News / Arts & Entertainment

In '12 Years a Slave,' All Eyes on Chiwetel Ejiofor

Cast member Chiwetel Ejiofor poses at a special screening of "12 Years a Slave" at the Directors Guild of America, Los Angeles, Oct. 14, 2013.
Cast member Chiwetel Ejiofor poses at a special screening of "12 Years a Slave" at the Directors Guild of America, Los Angeles, Oct. 14, 2013.
Reuters
One of the most memorable scenes in the film “12 Years a Slave” is a long close-up of actor Chiwetel Ejiofor's eyes, wide with amazement as his character regains his freedom after enduring the brutal bonds of slavery on Louisiana plantations.
 
It is a defining moment for the British actor of Nigerian origin in the biggest film role of his career, one that many critics believe will yield him a best actor Oscar nomination. It is also a role that he wasn't quite sure he was up for.
 
“12 Years a Slave” has been heralded as an emotional and realistic journey through slavery in pre-Civil War America and won the top award at the Toronto Film Festival — often a harbinger of the film awards season. The film by British director Steve McQueen and backed by Fox Searchlight Pictures opens in U.S. theaters on Friday.
 
“You wait all your life for great scripts, you are reading everything, hassling people, your agent, you are trying to get a great part,” Ejiofor told Reuters.
 
“Then this script comes through the door, and you read it and it is a great script and a great part and you think 'Can I do this? Am I ready to do this? Is it for me?”'
 
The 36-year-old Ejiofor also felt a big responsibility in portraying the real-life story of Solomon Northup, told through his 1853 memoir. Northup was a free black man and musician in New York who is tricked and sold into slavery in 1841 and sent to Louisiana plantations for 12 years.
 
Ejiofor got his first big break in film in 1996 from Steven Spielberg, who cast him in the slave ship tale “Amistad.” The versatile actor has since split his time between film, television and the stage in Britain, where he has won awards for performances like his title role in “Othello.”
 
Once Ejiofor said yes to McQueen, he went into preparation mode, learning to play the violin and immersing himself in Louisiana plantation culture.
 
“The plantations are beautiful, amazing places. And Louisiana is extraordinary, it's alive, and the bayou and the swamps and the plantations and the trees,” he said.
 
“And within all that,” he added, “there is this other world — this deep darkness in the way we're treating each other. The place was very informative. It helped me understand the world that he was going into.”
 
'All about his eyes'
 
Ejiofor's challenge, however, was to portray a man who could not fathom the cruel depths of that world and couldn't believe the twist of fate that took him away from his comfortable life and family up north, where Solomon was a respected man in the community.
 
He said he had to see the film like a “fairy tale” — one in which he had to ignore all his knowledge of the slave trade and its repercussions. He himself is Igbo, a West African ethnic group that was a major source of slaves to the American South.
 
It was like “Alice in Wonderland,” Ejiofor said. “You go down the rabbit hole and you are in this other world.”
 
Solomon learns to keep quiet about his education and his condition as a former free man, lest he be seen as a threat to masters. He watches with disbelief the separation of mothers and children in the selling of slaves. And for years he tries to protect a young slave from the whippings, rape and psychological torture at the hands of their evil master, played by Michael Fassbender, who is tortured himself by his love for the girl.
 
That's where Ejiofor's eyes came into play.
 
“We talked a lot about silent movie stars, we talked about Valentino and Buster Keaton and the face because he has to communicate a lot without any words,” said McQueen. “Basically it was all about his eyes.”
 
And in those eyes, McQueen said, “the audience is seeing a mirror.”
 
In the midst of the awards buzz around “12 Years a Slave,” Ejiofor and McQueen say they are just happy that the film came to fruition and that people have taken a strong interest in it.
 
“To tell someone the story is one of the most deeply enriching experiences that I have ever had as a performer or an actor. And I don't really want to distract from that,” Ejiofor said.
 
“People should watch the film with their own eyes and see if it correlates to their experience or doesn't.”

You May Like

Video Snowstorm Sweeps Northeastern US

'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says; he had warned storm could be one of worst in city history More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle With Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

Singer Leyla McCalla takes up not only the guitar, but the banjo and cello to perform songs from her new disc, “A Tribute to Langston Hughes,” music that mixes the Creole rhythms of Haiti with the French Quarter flavor of New Orleans on this edition of "The Hamilton Live."