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

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    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.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.

    New in Music Alley

    Beyond Category: Arturo Sandovali
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    February 02, 2016 3:53 PM
    Cuban-born trumpeter Arturo Sandoval is one of the most exciting musicians in jazz. The multi-Grammy winner takes the Blues Alley stage to perform, and sits down with Beyond Category host Eric Felten to talk about his life in music.

    Cuban-born trumpeter Arturo Sandoval is one of the most exciting musicians in jazz. The multi-Grammy winner takes the Blues Alley stage to perform, and sits down with Beyond Category host Eric Felten to talk about his life in music.