The tree where Solomon sees several men being lynched was actually used for lynching, and is surrounded by the graves of murdered slaves.
Director Steve McQueen had been toying with the idea of writing a script about slavery, featuring a black man who had been born free and was later forced into slavery, but McQueen was struggling with the script until his wife found Solomon Northup's biography and gave it to him. Shocked that he had never heard of Northup before, he decided to adapt the book instead.
In order to better portray an alcoholic, Michael Fassbender had his makeup artist paint his mustache with alcohol so that the other actors would react naturally to the smell, as they would to a man who had been drinking heavily.
At first, Chiwetel Ejiofor turned down Steve McQueen's offer to play the leading role of Solomon Northup, but then realized he had to get over his initial fear of taking on what McQueen thought would be the role of the actor's lifetime. Ejiofor prepared for his role by immersing himself in the Louisiana plantation culture and learning how to play the violin.
Before filming their more brutal scenes together, Lupita Nyong'o and Michael Fassbender performed a ritual of "making nice." According to Nyong'o, "We wouldn't say anything to each other, just a look in the eye and a grasping of hands. Our characters are in such opposition, but we as actors needed each other in order to be able to go the distance."
Steve McQueen's daughter told him to hire Sarah Paulson, after viewing her audition tape, because she found her scary.
In the movie, Ford purchased Solomon Northup and Eliza for $1000 and $700 respectively. Calculating inflation between 1841 and 2014, the equivalent dollar amount would be $27,000 and $19,000, respectively.
Brad Pitt was criticised for casting himself in a brief heroic role. Pitt claimed that he did not insist on being cast in the part, and it was easier to secure funding for the picture if he was in it.
Steve McQueen disclosed on The Colbert Report (2005) that when Solomon Northup's autobiography, "12 Years a Slave," was first published in 1853, it sold terribly due to other, more popular books released around the same time. He also said that the interest that the film has generated has put the book back on the bestseller list.
Michael Kenneth Williams had an emotional breakdown while filming what eventually became a deleted scene in the movie, as he related on the The Arsenio Hall Show (2013). The stress of recreating such painful material caused him to collapse to the ground after a take, where he screamed and cried for an extended period as one of the stunt coordinators comforted him.
On location, shooting in Louisiana took only thirty-five days with one camera, which prompted amazed laughter from an audience of Directors Guild peers, including interviewer Kathryn Bigelow, for the startlingly efficient direction of Steve McQueen.
It was not until after the book was published that the real Solomon Northup learned for certain that the two men who lured him to Washington really had drugged and kidnapped him - he'd thought of it, certainly, but he always had doubts until a judge read his book and recognized them (and it was subsequently found that they had used false names and were actually a pair of known/suspected con men).
Sarah Paulson was originally unable to accept the role of Mary Epps, due to scheduling conflicts with the second season of American Horror Story (2011). When series creator Ryan Murphy found out about this he rearranged the show's production schedule so that Paulson could work on both projects.
Tibeats mocks the black men by singing a hopeful song, urging them to run away lest they be caught by the "patty roller." This word, also spelled "patter roller" among other variants, was slang for patrolman. The Patrols, also called the Regulators, were semi-official secret police who kept slaves in line in antebellum times. These groups also served as a model for the post-war terror society Ku Klux Klan.
Feature film debut for actress Lupita Nyong'o. She went on to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the film.
In an October 2013 interview with NPR, Steve McQueen mentioned that Solomon Northup's 1853 book reminded him of "The Diary of Anne Frank" from nearly a century later. McQueen noted that he lives in Amsterdam and that Anne Frank is a national hero in his home country; when Northup's book resonated the same way with him, he then resolved he would not rest until he had turned it into a movie.
In Italy, promotional posters for the film featured Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender, instead of leading actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. When the media broke the story, with many organizations and other sources discussing the "racist" posters, the studio explained that Pitt and Fassbender are better known in Italy than Ejiofor.
Along with Gravity (2013), this is the first film to tie for Best Picture at the Producer Guild Awards.
This is the third film collaboration of Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt. They previously appeared together in Inglourious Basterds (2009) and The Counsellor (2013). This is also the third collaboration between Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen, after Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011).
Paul Giamatti, who played slave trader Freeman, also played 1st U.S. vice president / 2nd U.S. president John Adams in the HBO TV-series "John Adams". President John Adams was the only founding father becoming president who never owned a slave in his life.
Vera Farmiga auditioned for Mistress Epps but Sarah Paulson was cast. Farmiga admitted that she wanted the role so much, but was happy for Paulson.
Taran Killam often impersonates Brad Pitt on Saturday Night Live (1975). Though both actors appear in this film, they never met nor worked together in it. Pitt's Plan B company produced the movie, and Pitt's role was only a small one.
The film cast includes two Oscar winners, Lupita Nyong'o and Brad Pitt and six Oscar nominees, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Paul Giamatti, Quvenzhané Wallis, Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender. Both Pitt and N'yongo won for this film, for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress respectively. Eijofor and Fassbender were also nominated for this film, for Best Actor and Supporting Actor respectively.
First Best Picture Oscar winner with Arabic numerals in the title, rather than Roman numerals or a spelled-out number.
12 Years a Slave (2013) is the first film from a black director to win the Academy Award for Best Picture; second film in a row, following Argo (2012), to win Best Picture and a screenplay Oscar without the Best Director Oscar; fifth film with a numbered-title to win Best Picture, following It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), The Godfather: Part II (1974) and Around the World in 80 Days (1956); twelfth movie to win Best Picture with only three Oscars, a list that includes Casablanca (1942), Midnight Cowboy (1969), The Godfather (1972), Rocky (1976), Crash (2004) and Argo (2012).
This movie marks the reuniting of Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis, both from Louisiana, where the film was shot, who had been acclaimed just months before for their first acting roles when they costarred in Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). However, they do not share any scenes together.
One of the first versions of the screenplay was written by both Steve McQueen and John Ridley.
Of the seven titles directed by Steve McQueen through July 2013, this movie is the first which does not have a one-word title.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die," edited by Steven Schneider.
Paul Giamatti was playing an unscrupulous slave trader, Freeman, who cared for nothing but money. In Planet of the Apes (2001), his character, Limbo, was portrayed as the simian "orangutan" human slave trader, who exhibited the exact same character features: greedy, unscrupulous and savage.
Brad Pitt, who played a cameo role as Bass, was originally approached for the Michael Fassbender part but turned it down.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor appeared together in Doctor Strange (2016).
Brad Pitt (Bass) and Scoot McNairy (Brown) previously worked together on Killing Them Softly (2012) as Jackie & Frankie respectively.
There are several Marvel characters in this movie: Chiwetel Ejiofor - Pratt/Solomon (Mordo - Dr. Strange), Benedict Cumberbatch - Ford/title character (Dr. Strange), Michael Fassbender - Epps/Magneto (X-Men), and Lupita Nyong'o - Patsy/Nakia (Black Panther).
Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti would both later go on to act in Love & Mercy (2014), the story of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys with Dano as Wilson and Giamatti as Eugene Landy.
Both Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o who star in this film both later star in a Disney live action remake by Jon Favreau. Nyong'o played Mowgli's wolf mother in The Jungle Book while Ejiofor would play Scar in the live action remakes of The Lion King.
Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano and Bill Camp also appear together in Love & Mercy (2014).
Four of the cast also appear in Arnold Schwarzenegger films. J.D Evermore (Chapin) and Douglas M. Griffin (Sailor) both appeared in 'Maggie' (2015), with Griffin also having a turn in 'Terminator Genisys' (2015). Scott McNairy (Brown) is appearing in '478' (2016), and Taran Killam (Hamilton) is directing and appearing in 'Why We're Killing Gunther (2017). In addition, Garrett Dillahunt (Armsby) played Cromartie in the spin off 'Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles' (2008).