An Interview with Steve McQueen

Director Steve McQueen discusses his third feature film, 12 Years A Slave.

You might have thought that London-born director Steve McQueen would be in high spirits mere hours after it was announced that he’d been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for 12 Years A Slave, but he isn’t, possibly as he’s still getting over a recent illness or, as he suggests towards the end of the interview, that he’s simply exhausted. “Yes, I have just heard about the nomination this morning. It’s good, yes. I suppose that it’s a surprise, as you never really know if these things are going to happen, you know?” Slave is McQueen’s third feature after the confronting Hunger (2008) and the ‘controversial’ Shame (2011), and it’s quite unlike either of those. Was it something that he wanted to do simply as it was so different? “No, that wasn’t it, really. I just wanted to make a movie about slavery. That was all, really. I was fascinated by the story of Solomon Northup [1808 -1863], and I just wanted to make it into a movie… It was my wife who first read the book, so she was the one who found it. It was this story about a former slave, who was made a free man, who’s then kidnapped and forced back into slavery. And my wife just said to me, ‘Why don’t you make this story?’… So that was it: I just wanted to make a movie about slavery.” Is Slave, which is mostly set in the mid-19th Century, also intended to be a movie about right now? Yes, I think so. It is meant to reflect upon what’s happening now… It is meant to comment upon what is happening now in terms of exploitation.” This is a much bigger and more elaborate production than the more intimate Hunger and Shame, and it’s also McQueen’s first in America, so how did it all happen, and was Brad Pitt, who worked as a co-producer and has a fine small role, a key player? “Brad was a key element in it. It wouldn’t have been made, I think, without him… So yes, he’s the one, and he helped get it all off the ground.” Slave star Chiwetel Ejiofor was also born in London, so was he maybe a friend of McQueen’s? “I did know him beforehand, and he’s a very good actor and he really wanted to do it… I was very grateful that he had no misgivings about taking the role on, and he just did it so well. He did a very fine job… Especially considering the demands of doing the film: we did it all in only 35 days with one camera.” Rated MA. Now showing.  

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