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

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The 29th Annual Film Independent Spirit Awards took place on March 1, 2014, at the beach in Santa Monica, Calif. Here is what these Spirit Award winners said backstage in the Spirit Awards press room.

12 YEARS A SLAVE

Best Feature

Best Director (Steve McQueen)

Best Supporting Female (Lupita Nyong’o)

Best Screenplay

Best Cinematography

Brad, what was it like to work with Steve McQueen on “12 Years a Slave”?

Brad Pitt (producer/co-star): We were actually banging on Steve’s door after his first film. We’re a big fan of what he’s doing and what we thought he might be doing in the future, having no idea it would lead to this kind of project. This is a movie that I personally love. Putting everything aside and today aide, I love this film. It’s why I wanted to get into film.

You could hear it when Steve first started talking about it. You could hear it when [“12 Years a Slave” screenwriter] John Ridley finished the script. You felt it when the cast got together. And to be a part of that doesn’t come along that often. And it’s a real privilege to be a part of. And I thank Mr. McQueen for bringing us all together and telling Solomon [Northup’s] story. It’s been a great, great experience.

And I also want to thank our actors. Incredible, incredible performances, led by Chiwetel [Ejiofor] and Lupita Nyong’o and Michael [Fassbender], down to the extras in New Orleans. The whole thing has been a unique and very, very special experience. I shouldn’t be standing in front of Steve. We’re all here because of you.

Steve, can you talk about the crew’s contributions to “12 Years a Slave”?

Steve McQueen (director/producer): It starts with hair and makeup, catering, the camera department, the sound department, the electricians — every single plug in the wheel was working. Without that, nothing gets done. They lay the foundation for the project. And it was just a wonderful group of filmmakers that were passionate about making this film, “12 Years a Slave.”

Brad, what was it about Solomon Northup’s story that made you want to get involved with this movie?

Pitt: Certainly, there’s the issue of slavery. It’s interesting that it took a Brit to ask the question, “Why haven’t more films been made in America on our history?” But ultimately, I found it an incredibly moving, heroic story of a man trapped in completely inhumane circumstances and the question, the drive to maintain his dignity, when everyone else around him is trying to crush it is incredibly moving to me, it’s universal. It’s the love of the family, really. And they kept him going.

Steve, can you talk about putting together the ensemble cast for “12 years a Slave”?

McQueen: It was a delight, it was a pleasure. As a director working with this talent and finding things and experimenting and fumbling over things, when you’ve got a great … As a musician, when you improvise and find stuff, and it becomes something else other than what you could ever expected, it’s one of those wonderful moments. That’s what film’s about: magic.

Lupita, can you talk about playing a tortured character such as Patsey in “12 Years a Slave”?

Lupita Nyong’o (co-star): First of all, I just want to say what a joy it was to have the opportunity to embody such an incredible woman. Yes, there’s a lot of pain to Patsey, but there’s also so much beauty. And the one thing I’ve taken as a lesson is just to be present. And it’s the one thing that’s gotten me through this crazy period of time.

Brad, were you intimidated by the risky subject matter of “12 Years a Slave”?

Pitt: No, not at all. The cast starts defining itself as we talk about the story. The cold reality is that this is difficult material to get made, t get money for. And the risk was maybe a distraction in a film like this. And it seem to be able to fit the best and still help with what we needed to do to put the film together. And we, quite honestly, worked it out that way, and Steve didn’t mind.

Lupita, what was the hardest thing you had to do emotionally to prepare for your role in “12 Years a Slave”?

Nyong’o: I think, for me, this being my first film and working with actors and Steve, whom I had really grown to deeply respect and admire. For me, the first and hardest thing to get over was my self-doubt.

For more info: Spirit Awards website

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