12 Years a Slave covers a lot of ground, from the quiet New York town of Saratoga Springs to the humid plantations of rural Louisiana. And right now, the film’s celebrated cast and director are even more far-flung: “I think Steve McQueen’s on a plane at the moment, and Michael [Fassbender]’s in New Zealand or something, and Lupita [Nyong’o]’s in Paris,” 12 Years star Chiwetel Ejiofor tells EW. (The actor himself is currently in London, where he landed today after 12 Years’ French premiere.)
But though they’re spread across the world, each one has something to celebrate: They’ve all been nominated for Golden Globes for their work in McQueen’s devastating movie, based on the true story of Solomon Northup – a free New York resident who was captured and enslaved in 1841. Ejiofor received a Best Actor in a Drama nod for his work as the stoic Northup. And that’s not his only reason to celebrate today: the British star was also recognized for his work in Dancing on the Edge, a BBC period drama about a black jazz band in the 1930s that aired on Starz in the U.S.
“It’s really amazing,” Ejiofor says.
“It’s been terrific just sort of opening up 12 Years and getting it out there. For Dancing on the Edge, I think Steven Poliakoff is just an exceptional writer and director, and so I was just completely thrilled for the show and myself. For the rest of the cast, for Lupita and Michael in 12 Years – I think they’re both just exceptional actors. And Steve McQueen and [12 Years screenwriter] John Ridley, [12 Years composer] Hans Zimmer – I just think it’s a really amazing group of people to work with anyway, and so it’s just wonderful to see them acknowledged in this way.”
Ejiofor plans to celebrate his nominations in a “low-key” manner, perhaps just at a quiet dinner with friends – and phone calls to his globetrotting 12 Years family, whenever they can get squeezed in. Awards season, he says, allows the film’s creators and audience to do two things: “You want to embrace the story of this film, and you want to embrace Solomon Northup and what he teaches us, and what the film talks about in terms of human respect and human dignity, and a real look at the past and its influence,” Ejiofor explains. “And then the other side of it all is that we are also a part of an artistic community, and the work should be celebrated in that way. That’s in the end why we do what we do – people see the films, and also we all embrace the community of it, and the artistry of it. I think this year has been so exceptional for films as well, and that’s just good for everybody.”
Well, almost everybody; this year’s strong slate necessarily means that several deserving films have been shut out of the top awards. Among them: Fruitvale Station and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, both of which were snubbed by the Golden Globes this morning. But Ejiofor, at least, is taking a diplomatic approach to the exclusion of these films – both of which illustrate aspects of the African-American experience, much like 12 Years. “I think both of those films are really exceptional work,” he says. “Obviously, you’re just not going to get everything that might deserve to be on there. That’s just the way it happens. I think it’s a shame for them – but I think that the work is really exceptional.”