Steve McQueen on '12 Years': "A Lot of People Didn't Want the Movie Made"

AP Images

The British director also reveals that the Oscar-winning film "had to be made in Hollywood"

After the critical and commercial success of 12 Years a Slave, it might seem incredible to think that the film faced a number of obstacles before making it to the big screen. But the story of Solomon Northrup almost never happened, as "a lot of people didn't want the movie made," director Steve McQueen revealed in an interview with FT Weekend published Friday.

Known for his frankness, McQueen said that he understood why people didn't want a story like 12 Years, at least, initially: "[P]eople want to close their eyes on some subjects. They want to keep on going; they don't want to look behind them."

Read more '12 Years a Slave' Director Steve McQueen to Get European Film Academy Honor

As with his film Hunger, about IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands, McQueen is a firm believer in understanding history in order to progress as a society. He told FT Weekend: "I don't think people had looked into the subject matter very much, that relationship between slave and slave-owner. … That is what I wanted to do. It is such a huge part of history, and there was a certain kind of examination or reflection it hadn't been given. It is very, very important to look back in order to move forward."

Earlier in the interview, McQueen talked about how 12 Years could only be made in Hollywood: "12 Years could not have been made anywhere else. … It had to be made in Hollywood. I couldn't raise the money in Europe. And I was extremely lucky that people trusted me and trusted my vision. Brad [Pitt] was amazing. I was lucky enough to work with people who understood what I was trying to do. They gave me their trust. I had final cut, and that was that."

Read more '12 Years a Slave' Director Steve McQueen Meets With U.S. Ambassador to United Nations

McQueen's next project marks a return to the world of contemporary art for the British director, who now lives in Amsterdam. (McQueen is a Turner Prize-winning artist and represented Britain at the 2009 Venice Biennale.) Ashes is a short film shot on Super 8mm, showing at London's Thomas Dane Gallery from Oct. 14. The short tells the tale of a young fisherman on a Caribbean island who meets a tragic end at the hands of some drug dealers.

Twitter: @gentlemanabroad