An extremely versatile actor, Ejiofor, 36, has appeared as a drag queen in Kinky Boots, a CIA agent in Salt, and a jazz pianist in Melinda and Melinda. To play the role of Solomon Northup, a free man who is duped and then sold into slavery, Ejiofor, who is English, prepared for 10 months. In one of the movie’s most powerful scenes, he is left for what feels like an eternity to hang from a tree by a noose, his toes barely touching the ground. “When we filmed that sequence, it was around 108 degrees,” Ejiofor recalled. “In that moment, I understood how slavery decimated men’s will and their souls.
Prada suit and shirt; Balenciaga shoes.
In 2011, Oduye, who grew up in Brooklyn, won awards for her portrayal of a young lesbian struggling with her identity in the film Pariah. In 12 Years a Slave, she plays Eliza, a free woman who, like Northup, is sold into slavery. Separated from her young children, she refuses to accept the circumstances of her life. The 35-year-old actress, who had auditioned to be an extra in Pariah, brings a stubborn sense of misery and outrage to Eliza’s plight. “Her situation would destroy anyone,” Oduye said.
12 Years a Slave is Fassbender’s third collaboration with Steve McQueen: In Hunger, he starved himself to play the IRA activist Bobby Sands; in Shame, he portrayed a successful New York advertising executive who is addicted to sex. This time, the 36-year-old Irish-German actor appears as Edwin Epps, a violent, alcoholic, and deeply religious Louisiana plantation owner who receives the slave Northup as payment on a debt. Instead of making Epps an unmitigated horror, Fassbender portrays him as a conflicted, seductive, and vindictive man who longs to rule his world absolutely. “Epps fears Solomon,” Fassbender said. “He knows that Solomon may be smarter than he is. His violence stems from that sense of inadequacy.”
Dior Homme suit and shirt; Tom Ford shoes.
McQueen saw more than 1,000 aspiring actresses in his search to cast Patsey, the beautiful beleaguered slave who is both the object of Epps’s adoration and the source of his torment. “I had almost given up,” McQueen explained. “And then Lupita walked in. Immediately, I knew she was the one. She had the innate grace that I was looking for.” Nyong’o, 30, who was born in Mexico, raised in Kenya, and is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, had not yet acted in a feature film. The role has been a runaway success for her in more ways than one: Lately, she has become a darling of the fashion world—and a particular favorite of Prada.
Styled by Felicia Garcia-Rivera. Hair by Anna Bernabe for Hanz de Fuko Haircare and Chanel Homme; grooming by Jordan Long for Clarins at Exclusive Artists; makeup by Fulvia Farolfi for Chanel; manicures by Alicia Torello for Zoya at the Wall Group.