In a November 2013 interview with the LA Times, Michael Fassbender (Edwin Epps) explained the sinister meaning behind a scene that occurs late in the movie: "When the slaves come back from Judge Turner's, (director) Steve (McQueen) was like, 'What do you think if you don't have your pants on?' I was like, 'That's great, and maybe we should have something else, like the little girl. It says so much with him holding her hand, not wearing pants: He's priming the next Patsey. So you find those little elements that add to the character and tell things without any exposition."
The tree where Solomon Northup sees several men being lynched was actually used for lynching and is surrounded by the graves of murdered slaves.
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.
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 Fassbender momentarily passed out after filming the rape scene.
Steve McQueen: (casting) Michael Fassbender.
This nonfiction story, based on a memoir written in 1853, was also the source for the 1984 made-for-TV movie, American Playhouse: Solomon Northup's Odyssey (1984), which starred Avery Brooks.
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 earlier. 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.
First Best Picture Oscar winner with Arabic numerals in the title, rather than Roman numerals or a spelled-out number.
This is the third film collaboration of Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt. They previously both appeared in Inglourious Basterds (2009) and The Counselor (2013). It is also the third collaboration between Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen, after Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011).
Michael K. 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.
Film debut of Lupita Nyong'o.
The film won the ADAM, UPC Audience Award at Amsterdam Film Week 2013.
12 Years a Slave 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 Eighty 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) & Argo (2012).
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.
Steve McQueen: (long takes) Patsey being chained and whipped by Epps lasts around four minutes.
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.
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.
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.
Along with Gravity (2013), this is the first film to tie for Best Picture at the Producer Guild Awards.
Of the seven titles directed by Steve McQueen through July 2013, this movie is the first which does not have a one-word title.
On location shooting in Louisiana took only 35 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.
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.