Paul Giamatti Talks TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE, Working with Director Steve McQueen, His Role As a Wealthy Slave Trader and How Difficult It Was to Play

     November 5, 2012


One of the films for 2013 that I’m most intrigued by is Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years A Slave, based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, a free man living in New York during the mid-1800’s that was kidnapped and sold into slavery and kept in bondage for 12 years in Louisiana before the American Civil War.  The cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor (as the lead character), Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt and Paul Giamatti, who recently spoke about the film and his role in it, while doing press for another upcoming film he has, the horror comedy John Dies at the End (which will be available on VOD on December 27th and in theaters on January 25, 2013).

Giamatti talked about how wild it was to be a part of such a historically terrifying story, that he describes as “a horror movie, in itself,” and said that he played one of the wealthiest slave traders in America, at that time, how difficult it was to do some of what his characters does to these people, and how amazing it was to work with the director, who wanted to create a world it which these actions were completely normal.  Check out what he had to say after the jump.

Question:  What was it like to do Twelve Years A Slave?

PAUL GIAMATTI:  It was pretty wild.  It was based on an actual slave narrative.  He wrote it after the Civil War, but it’s about a guy who was a free black man in New York, and he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in New Orleans.  He spent 12 years there, and then escaped again.  It’s pretty terrifying.  It’s a horror movie, in itself.  It’s really bizarre.

Who did you play in it?

GIAMATTI:  Most of the roles in it are real people.  I play a guy who was one of the wealthiest slave traders in America, at the time.  There are a million parts in it.  But, I receive him and train him, and then sell him to this other guy.  There’s a pretty harrowing sequence in a slave market that details how they actually processed him. 

What was Steve McQueen like to work with?

GIAMATTI:  He was amazing!  He is a really, really interesting guy.  The way it was shot, he is a very interesting dude.  This movie could be really freaky.  His whole take on it is to take any kind of modern sensibility off of it and just create a world in which it’s completely normal that people get chained up and beaten and sold to each other.  He wanted to create a sense in which it’s totally normal, so he’s not commenting on it, at all.  

steve-mcqueen-imageSo, he doesn’t whitewash it then?

GIAMATTI:  He doesn’t whitewash, at all.  I couldn’t believe some of the stuff that I had to do to some of these people.

How hard was that to do?

GIAMATTI:  It was weird.  For me, it was actually oddly easy.  For the people I was doing it to, I’m sure it was hard.  I had to handle these people in weird ways, like they were livestock.  These people were remarkable.  They were okay with it, but it was very weird.  You’re able to forget about it.  It’s a movie, and they call cut and it’s fine.  But, it should probably be pretty disturbing when it’s all put together.

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