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March 09, 2019 at 12:10 PM EST

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Just like the rest of us, Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor “was not prepared” the first time he watched 12 Years a Slave, a film from director Steve McQueen that marked a turning point for the actor’s career.

“You feel, you hope, of course, that it’s gonna be strong, that it’s gonna be a strong piece of work,” Ejiofor, who made his directorial debut and stars in Netflix’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, said in reflection of 12 Years a Slave on PeopleTV’s Couch Surfing. “I was just not prepared the first time that I watched the film, even knowing it so intimately.”

The work chronicled the pre-Civil War story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in upstate New York who is abducted and sold into slavery for 12 years. A hard-to-watch emotional gut punch of a film, 12 Years a Slave also put Lupita Nyong’o on the map with her first Oscar win.

“It took me a little while, even in a practical sense, of coming out of that experience, of being able to turn up at dinner parties and not just be talking about man’s inhumanity to man,” Ejiofor said. “It took me a little while to re-enter society.”

Just to clarify, “I’m okay now,” he added with a laugh.

RELATED VIDEO: Chiwetel Ejiofor discusses working with Spike Lee on Inside Man and the possible sequel  

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