Praise aplenty for the cast of "12 Years a Slave"

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In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.
Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures
February 28th, 2014

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Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir, "12 Years a Slave", provides vivid insight into his harrowing journey from freedom into slavery and back again. Steve McQueen's 2013 film of the same name captures the essence of Northup's tale with stunning realism. The cast, a group of actors spanning a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, convincingly recreates the world of slavery into which Northup was thrust. The flood of praise and awards received by the cast of "12 Years a Slave" is a testament to a truly persuasive ensemble effort.

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Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Chiwetel Ejiofor

Solomon Northup himself is played by experienced film and theater actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. Ejiofor made his first big splash in 1997's "Amistad" after catching the eye of Steven Spielberg. His long list of credits includes both critically acclaimed films, such as "Kinky Boots" in 2005, and box-office monsters, such as "2012" in 2009. Despite this prolonged success, "12 Years a Slave" is Ejiofor's biggest statement yet, earning him nominations for Best Actor from numerous organizations, including both the Golden Globes and Academy Awards.

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Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender first caught the attention of Hollywood in his role as Burton "Pat" Christenson in the miniseries "Band of Brothers." He has since gone on to act in an impressive list of commercially lucrative films, such as "300" in 2007 and "Inglorious Basterds" in 2009. Fassbender has a long history of working with Steve McQueen well before "12 Years a Slave". He acted for McQueen in both "Hunger" in 2008 and "Shame" in 2011. As a result of their 2013 collaboration, Fassbender has received a heap of adulation and award nominations, including an Academy Award nod for Best Supporting Actor, for his portrayal of southern slave owner Edwin Epps.

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Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Sarah Paulson

In "12 Years a Slave", Paulson plays Mary Epps, wife of Edwin Epps. She is a deeply troubled woman who takes out much of her anger on a slave named Patsey. Prior to her role as Epps, Paulson primarily worked as a theater and television actress. Her most critically acclaimed film performance was as Nicolle Wallace in the HBO film "Game Change" in 2012. She received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for that performance.

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Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Lupita Nyong'o

In her American film debut, Lupita Nyong'o plays the part of Patsey, a highly coveted young slave. A testament to the across-the-board quality of "12 Years a Slave", Nyong'o, despite having never appeared on the big screen before, was nominated for the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Previously, Nyong'o's only professional film experience was as a production assistant on multiple sets, including "The Constant Gardener" in 2005 and "The Namesake" in 2006.

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Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Paul Giamatti

Giamatti plays the role of Theophilus Freeman, an especially morally bankrupt slave owner. Giamatti has been acting consistently since his first role in 1991 as Larry Canipe in "Past Midnight". His transformation from character actor to household name happened in 2004, when his portrayal of Miles Raymond in "Sideways" earned him numerous major award nominations. Giamatti, who has always been wonderful in the bad-guy role, continues his streak of solid performances in "12 Years a Slave".

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Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Benedict Cumberbatch

Solomon Northup is ultimately sold by Paul Giamatti's character to plantation owner William Ford, who is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. He has had major success in both television and film. His role as Sharlock Holmes in the television series "Sherlock" garnered him enough attention to land roles in major motion pictures like 2012's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey". In addition to his acting skills, Cumberbatch is a talented musician, even recording a song entitled "Can't Keep it Inside" for the official soundtrack to the 2013 George Clooney film, "August: Osage County". 

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Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Paul Dano

Dano plays the role of John Tibeats. In one of the most powerful scenes in the movie, Solomon Northup is nearly lynched and left helplessly hanging by John Tibeats. Dano had already acted in 26 movies before "12 Years a Slave". His breakout role came in 2006 as a voluntarily mute teenager in "Little Miss Sunshine". He then went on to garner rave reviews and a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as two twin brothers in "There Will Be Blood" in 2007. 

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Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Brad Pitt

Pitt's primary contribution to "12 Years a Slave" is as one of the film's producers. He did, however, play a small role as a sympathetic carpenter named Bass.

In total, "12 Years a Slave" received nine Oscar nominations. In addition to the numerous individual awards received, the entire cast has been honored by dozens of institutions for their work as an ensemble. Ultimately, a powerful screenplay with good direction only succeeds if the cast is able to convincingly inhabit the world of the story.