Actress Lupita Nyong’o Talks Preparing for Violence in Film ’12 Years a Slave’

The highly anticipated film hits theaters on October 18.

By Jamilah King Oct 07, 2013

Steven McQueen’s highly anticipated slave-themed drama "12 Years a Slave" makes its United States debut on October 18, but the film has already become to the talk of the industry for its unbridled approach toward capturing the brutality of slavery. At a recent screening at the Toronto Film Festival, some movie-goers walked out of the theater because they couldn’t stand the film’s brutality.

The film stars Chitwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, a black man who was born free in New York but was captured and sold into slavery. Newcomer actress Lupita Nyong’o, who recently won the New Hollywood Award, takes up a prominent role in the film and is a central character in one of its most brutal scenes, in which Solomon is forced to whip another slave on the plantation. 

Nyong’o talked to Shadow & Act’s Jai Tiggett about her role in the film. 

S&A: The most painful and memorable scene to watch is that in which Epps asks Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to whip your character, and as he starts to do that, Epps takes over because he doesn’t like Solomon’s effort. McQueen doesn’t show the violence, but rather suggests it through your character. It’s not only emotionally stirring, but McQueen makes us watch for what seems like an eternity, which makes it even more uncomfortable. Tell me about filming that scene. 

LN: All throughout filming 12 Years a Slave, there was a focus like no other. Everyone took ownership of this film and gave their all. So there was always a reverence, a vibration on set, as Michael [Fassbender] says a lot. It was like a sound that you could hear, a focus. And on that particular day I remember getting on set and feeling like I was covered. Everyone knew that this was going to be a hard day, not just for me, but for everyone involved. And we just went about getting it done. In the autobiography, Solomon [Northup] describes that day as the "darkest day of all time." But I felt safe going to that depth of despair in that environment. And I also felt the humiliation quite similar to what Patsey must have felt, though obviously hers was much worse. 

You can read the rest of the interview over at Shadow & Act.

Nyong’o sat down with another one of the film’s stars, Alfre Woodard, to talk more about its upcoming release.