Reflecting on what they accomplished, Nyong’o gushes with gratitude. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be involved in a project of this magnitude right out of drama school,” she says. “For this story in particular, I didn’t know that I didn’t know these things about slavery.” The film’s revelations don’t come necessarily through new information but rather through McQueen’s unrelenting observation of slave brutality. Even after we think we’ve got it, he stays and holds on a moment of abuse – not out of perverse fascination, but rather understanding that experience is a much more profound teacher than knowledge itself. “I’m just glad to be a part of this,” Nyong’o adds, of something “that will retain and spread these things that otherwise would not be done.”

For Ejiofer, it’s his years of experience on stage and screen that inform him of just how special this film is. “It’s so hard to imagine another opportunity like this,” he says. “I was struck by the responsibility of telling Solomon’s story, of delving into this world, and a responsibility of telling a story deep inside the slave experience. But then instead of being a responsibility it became a privilege, a real privilege to bring Solomon’s story to people, to bring that story to life.” 

It was a privilege that became very personal. “I was moved by the depths of his soul,” Ejiofor confesses, “his lack of judgment, of hatred. He starts off in a battle for his freedom but then realizes he’s in a battle for his mind.  Hatred isn’t going to help him, so he cuts it loose. Trying to get as close as possible to Solomon Northup, to go down that path, it was a rewarding path.”

*This Article First Published 10/14/2013