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Steve McQueen on Directing Michael K. Williams in ‘12 Years a Slave’: ‘He Lifted Everybody’

·2-min read

Steve McQueen, the British filmmaker whose most recent project is documentary series “Uprising” after the anthology series “Small Axe,” talked to Variety about the memories he cherishes of Michael K. Williams, who died on Sept. 6. The actor played Robert in McQueen’s 2013 film “12 Years a Slave,” which won the Academy Award for best picture in 2014.

“Oh, my God, Michael,” McQueen said. “I remember we were doing re-shoots, so we were very tired and we’d been shooting for a long time. Michael came on set, and he lifted everybody. Because you’re shooting and tired and things are lagging, but when Michael came on set, he was so focused, so concentrated, that he gave energy to everybody. I’m not just saying it because he just passed. I remember that. His focus — we had to get to his standard. Like, ‘Let’s stop lying around. Let’s bring it up again!’ He brought everybody’s focus and attention up.”

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“I remember he had a friend [on set], and he was smoking between takes. His friend would light him a cigarette, and he would kill a scene, just kill it,” McQueen continued. “The thing about Michael: [in] every take, he gave everything. He didn’t leave anything behind. Un-fucking-believable. Unbelievable. That scene when the three of them [Robert, Solomon Northup and Clemens Ray] are talking about a mutiny would not have been that scene if he hadn’t been in it. He wasn’t in the film for that long, but he made a huge impression.”

“I’m sorry that I didn’t get a chance to work with him again, to be honest with you. He was amazing. Incredible.”

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