Jennifer Arellano
October 16, 2013 AT 04:06 PM EDT

Though he appears for barely eight minutes in ’12 Years a Slave,’ the story of a born-free black man sold into slavery affected Brad Pitt so strongly that he calls the film his reason for acting and would even show the film, which has attracted attention for its harrowing scenes, to adopted son Maddox.

“It’s why I got into film in the first place,” said Pitt, who plays abolitionist Samuel Bass in the Steve McQueen-directed film, to NBC‘s Ann Curry.

“It’s one of those few films that cuts to the base of our humanity,” he continued. “And it was not ’til I saw Solomon Northup’s story that I fully, fully grasped the utter horror of losing your freedom, or denying another one their freedom, taking their freedom, splitting their family apart. It’s abhorrent.”

Pitt praised the film’s stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael Fassbender: “These guys had to keep themselves in just this perpetual state of angst and foreboding and longing. And they did it.”

Despite the violent and at times hard to watch nature of the film, Pitt told Curry he would let 12-year-old Maddox watch it: “Oh absolutely,” he said, “maybe my eldest I would right now.” But the other Pitt-Jolie brood would have to wait until they “get a little bit older and understand the dynamics of the world a little more.”

Before Curry could finish asking what how he hopes the film will affect audiences, he interrupted her, “I already know. I know what this film is,” he said. “I’ve been around film long enough…. I’m a moviegoer. It was a place that was a big escape to open my eyes up to the world when I was a little, little kid. I loved going to see film. So I think of it from that side of it and I know the impact of this film.”

Watch below.

12 Years A Slave hits opens Oct. 18.

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