Steve McQueen
Credit: Francois Duhamel

Waking up to nine Oscar nominations is a good way to start your day, even if you are thousands of miles away from your family. Such was the case for Steve McQueen on Thursday morning when his harrowing drama 12 Years a Slave earned nine Academy Award nominations, including nods for Best Picture and Best Director, and acting recognition for his three leads: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o.

“I am exhilarated, ecstatic,” he told EW via phone. “Getting all those nominations, I’m so very happy.”

While the British director admits that he finds the promotional duties that accompany a movie of this subject matter and pedigree grueling, he has been energized by the quality of the discussions that have followed the screenings he’s attended.

“The subject matter conjures up such an interesting debate with the audience that every Q&A has been like a town hall meeting in a way,” McQueen said. “Everyone is talking about the past, present, and future. It’s become much more social and much more passionate in a way. We made a film that was based in 1851, but it’s actually talking about what’s happening today, so it’s been immensely stimulating.”

One event held for members of the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles especially inspired McQueen — particularly when the great-great-great-granddaughter of the real-life Solomon Northup, whom Ejiofor portrays in the film, introduced herself to the audience in the theater.

“We had this Q&A which was very intense and everyone was very engaged, and at the end of it when we were about to go, this 15-, 16-year-old girl stands up and says, ‘I’m Solomon Northrup’s great-great-great-granddaughter.’ I announced to the audience who it was, and the place erupted. It was incredible, just incredible.”

McQueen will be spending one more week in Los Angeles before he can return home to his wife — who was the first to find Northup’s memoir — and his children. They are the next great project he intends to focus his time on.

12 Years a Slave
  • Movie
  • 134 minutes