The standing ovation at the Princess of Wales Theater on King Street was long and enthusiastic following the Canadian premiere of Steve McQueen's antebellum period drama "12 Years a Slave." Once the applause ebbed, producer/co-star Brad Pitt told the audience: "If I never get to be in a film again, this is it for me."
Pitt had high praise for the director, saying "Steve was the first to ask the big question why weren’t there more films about the American history of slavery." McQueen — last seen in Toronto with his 2011 sex-addiction drama "Shame," which also starred Michael Fassbender — had this to say: "I wanted to see that story on film. There hadn’t been a story of this nature before."
Fassbender, also on stage, remarked on the ensemble nature of the film that is clearly a contender for best picture at the Academy Awards. "We were all kind of linked to each other," said the handsome Irish star who plays a vicious slave-owner. "It was total dependence." That level of commitment was reflected in the big cast turnout that included Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano and Adepero Oduye.
Ejiofor ("Salt," "2012") leads the cast in the title role of Solomon Northup, a Northern freeman, husband and father ripped from his routine, sold as property and brutalized. He will unquestionably be nominated for Best Actor in a fearless role with enormous emotional range.
When the festival moderator asked about the physicality of McQueen’s films — from an Irish hunger striker in “Hunger,” to Fassbender’s sex machine in “Shame,” to McQueen's current project — Chiwotel responded: "It was very intense to go to those places… it was clear that Solomon’s story was full of that, also beauty and hope and hope for human respect."
Ejiofor’s costar, Lupita Nyong'o, who plays a fellow cotton-picker repeatedly ravaged by Fassbender’s Master, agreed: "Yes, it was hard to go there, but it was necessary."
McQueen closed out the night, saying: "There are actors and there are artists. These are artists: surprising, thrilling, dangerous and brave."
Learn more about the true story behind '12 Years a Slave':