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Steve McQueen and '12 Years a Slave' team backstage at the 2014 Academy Awards

"12 Years a Slave" producers Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Dede Gardner, Steve McQueen  and Brad Pitt at the 2014 Academy Awards in Los Angeles
"12 Years a Slave" producers Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Dede Gardner, Steve McQueen and Brad Pitt at the 2014 Academy Awards in Los Angeles
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The 86th Annual Academy Awards took place on March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Here is what these Oscar winners said backstage in the Academy Awards press room.


Best Picture

Steve, it must be very difficult to stay calm on a day like this, and to see you jumping like that. What did you all do today to keep it together, to try to keep your nerves? Brad, you've been through this before. What did you all do this morning to get ready for this big day?

Steve McQueen (director/producer): I'm as cool as a cucumber right now. Absolutely. You saw the jump, of course. I mean, everyone's talking about the jump, but it's just really truly, I was just so ecstatic, so happy for us all.

And, you know, it's one of those moments in life where it might not ever happen again, and you're living it, and you're there. It's not a dream. It's a reality. So emotions, physicality just takes over. So, you know, Van Halen: Jump.

Brad Pitt (producer/co-star): I had to clean up dog poop today in my bedroom.

This has being hailed as an historic win tonight. Can each of you explain why that is?

Pitt: One, I love this movie, just as a film, as a lover of film, the filmmaking, this heroic story of a man in this inhumane situation trying to get back to his family. I love this film. I love the filmmaking. It's counterintuitive to the way we're making films today.

It's a real achievement by Mr. McQueen here. I love this movie. I think it's important. I think it's important because it deals with our history. It's important that we understand our history not for any kind of guilt, but that we understand who we were so we can better understand who we are now and why we're having the specific problems we're having or the successes we're having, and most importantly, who we're going to be. So it's important for that.

But, listen, at the end of the day we just hope that this film remains a gentle reminder that we're all equal. We all want the same. We want dignity and opportunity for ourselves and our family, and that another's freedom is every bit as important as our own. And that's it, and that's everything.

Steve, at the BAFTAs, you spoke about being a child on the school bus going past the Ealing Film Studios and thinking about your future career. What would you say to the kids on the bus tomorrow who are thinking about wanting to get into the film industry and will be inspired by what's happened to you tonight?

McQueen: Yeah. I would say, yeah, go ahead. Just go for it. Do it. Make it a reality. Just go. It's just one of those things where dreams do come true in that way. It's not a fantasy. It can actually be a reality. So just go and do it. I will say that.

And, yeah, so I remember the Ealing Studios walking past it and having Alec Guinness' movies “The Man in the White Suit,” Peter Sellers' movies and so forth, and “You’re Right Jack.” So it's just one of those things where, you know, walking past the studio obviously rubbed off. So, yeah, anyone's who's going past with a 65 bus, you know, think about it. It can happen.

Why do you think that Solomon Northup's story is especially important right now in our society?

Dede Gardner (producer): I actually don't think it's especially important now. I think it was important when it happened, and I think it was important for every year between now and then. And I know everyone shares our feeling of great sadness for the years that the book fell out of print and incredible joy that it's back on the shelves and now going to be in the libraries of every high school in America. So I don't think it's especially important now, but I deeply appreciate that now is the moment that's received it, you know?

Lupita Nyong’o got the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, but all of the other actors and actresses in “12 Years a Slave” did a great job on the film. Do you want to say something for the cast members?

Pitt: Sure. I mean, we had an exquisite cast that were all drawn because of, one, the story and, two, because of Steve. Lupita is an absolute gem, grace incarnate, and a rare find; and I so look forward to seeing what she does in the future. She's very, very special.

But I also want to mention Chiwetel [Ejiofor's] performance, because, for me, the restraint and the elegance in trying to maintain his dignity throughout these scenes, I'm telling you as an actor it's exhausting, and he was just pitch perfect. And, for me, as a fellow actor watching that performance is incredibly, incredibly inspiring to me.

And I think everyone fell in line to tell the story. Everyone was behind it, including the day players in from New Orleans who were also really committed and gifted; and we also have to thank the great city of New Orleans.

It's been 75 years since “Gone With the Wind” won the Best Oscar, which obviously told the story of slavery from a very different perspective. Steve, you're the first black director to win an Oscar for Best Picture. How important are those benchmarks to you?

McQueen: Well, it obviously it's a mark of development. It's a mark of how we see that particular time in history now; and it's just obviously a progression. The background characters are now in the foreground, and their history, and their lives, and their, you know, how they lived are being sort of recognized in a way more than it had ever been before, I suppose.

And I think it's indicative of what's going on now. I think people are ready for this narrative. I think possibly before, obviously it was, of course, quite painful; and I think people now want to look at that history, want to embrace it, want to accept it in order to sort of, as Brad said, to move forward. You know, if we don't know our past, we'll never know our future. Thank you.

Brad, how will you and your lovely date be celebrating your win tonight?

Pitt: Steve's my date. No. My better, other worldly half is here. We're all going to go out together and just enjoy the time. It's been a long run, and this is very, very, very exciting moment for us. It's a real joy and something to ruminate on and really understand what it all means.

At the same time, when the film was complete, I had this also this extraordinary feeling knowing that this is a film that has legs, that will be around and be speaking to people for many, many years, and that's the biggest pride. So we're all going to be together and just love each other up.

As artists, what do you do to keep finding stories that deal with the humanity that we all share and also keep people of color learning and working, not just in front of the camera, but behind the camera? How do we keep that momentum?

Anthony Katagas (producer): I would just say that I think “12 Years” has had a wonderful reception around the world, not just the United States, but in the rest of the world. And I think that that's a great development, because it suggests that the universality of the story is what's important.

I think it's starting to kind of break down some of these ideological concepts of what is a domestic story, what is an international story, which kind of story is for what audience. And hopefully, this movie is not just an end in itself, but it's a means to the larger end that you're talking about. You know, you work for a venerable newspaper that's been doing that kind of work for years, and we hope that we can be part of that trend for years to come as well.

For more info: Academy Awards website


Academy Awards interviews

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