Rave re­views for Slave role

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - MOVIES - TIF­FANY BAKKER

AC­TOR Chi­we­tel Ejio­for has blown away all and sundry with his per­for­mance in the much- lauded 12 Years a Slave, a film based on the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Solomon Northup, a free man kid­napped and sold into slav­ery in the Amer­i­can South in 1841.

Northup’s book, a best­seller upon its pub­li­ca­tion in 1853, faded into ob­scu­rity, only to reap­pear at var­i­ous times through­out the 20th cen­tury ( ap­par­ently, the 1930s and the 1960s saw a resur­gence in its pop­u­lar­ity) but, for the most part, dis­ap­peared from pub­lic con­scious­ness.

Now, ac­claimed Bri­tish di­rec­tor Steve McQueen ( Hunger, Shame) has brought it to the screen af­ter his girl­friend dis­cov­ered the novel in a sec­ond- hand book­store.

Ejio­for’s per­for­mance in the film is so good it’s earned him his first Academy Award nom­i­na­tion.

As such, he’s now a freshly minted movie star, which is quickly ap­par­ent be­cause he has four over- ea­ger pub­li­cists present dur­ing our in­ter­view, just in case I say the wrong thing.

Ejio­for swats away any no­tion that he’ll be tak­ing home the lit­tle gold man come Os­car night.

“For me, it’s still a point of re­flec­tion about what Solomon went through,” he says.

“You feel you have a frac­tion of an insight into what may have oc­curred,” he says.

There was an even more per­sonal as­pect to the film for the ac­tor. His own Nige­rian an­ces­tors, the Ebos, lost hun­dreds of thou­sands to slav­ery ( Nige­ria was a main ship­ping point for the slave trade) and he felt a duty to rep­re­sent those who “have gone through an ex­pe­ri­ence that is hard to imag­ine and been sort of left in the an­nals of his­tory. We had the priv­i­lege and the re­spon­si­bil­ity of bring­ing those peo­ple back and telling their story”.

But ask him whether he thinks the film will open up a dis­cus­sion on race, par­tic­u­larly in Amer­ica, and he bris­tles.

“Well, I’m al­ways con­cerned about the term dis­cus­sion,” Ejio­for says.

“Peo­ple talk about th­ese dis­cus­sions and con­ver­sa­tions – I think it’s ac­tion, that’s all. Ei­ther you be­lieve in hu­man re­spect or you don’t. And if you do be­lieve in it, then you act ac­cord­ingly when you meet peo­ple and they can be dif­fer­ent races, sexes, gen­ders, re­li­gions, and you af­ford them hu­man dig­nity be­fore any­thing else. Ei­ther you do it or you don’t do it.” 12 YEARS A SLAVE Now show­ing at the State and Vil­lage cine­mas

“I feel it has very lit­tle to do with me. I’m blown away by the re­ac­tion, but I feel it’s for him.”

Ini­tially, the 36- year- old Lon­doner says he wa­vered on whether or not to take the role.

“I first was very in­tim­i­dated and racked with self- doubt,” he says.

“I’ve never seen a film like that, from in­side the slave ex­pe­ri­ence. It took a mo­ment to get on board.”

In­deed, most of the ma­jor stu­dios also passed on the project un­til Brad Pitt’s pro­duc­tion com­pany, Plan B, stepped in.

“We wouldn’t have been able to make this film with­out Brad,” Ejio­for says of Pitt, who also briefly ap­pears in the film.

“Ob­vi­ously, he’s, you know, Brad Pitt, this ex­tra­or­di­nary kind of movie star, but he’s also a film fan and he supports ac­tors and he supports film­mak­ers.”

The film is dif­fi­cult view­ing. McQueen de­picts the in­dig­nity and the phys­i­cal and emo­tional bru­tal­ity of slav­ery in a man­ner that has rarely, if ever, been seen on screen ( in the screen­ing I at­tended, sev­eral peo­ple left in tears mid­way through).

Of some of the more bru­tal scenes, Ejio­for says he and the other ac­tors were essen­tially “down the rab­bit hole”, adding any dis­com­fort the cast felt while shoot­ing was ir­rel­e­vant.

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