Chiwetel Ejiofor

Chiwetel Ejiofor Credit: Chiwetel Ejiofor in "12 Years a Slave." (Getty)

British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor may be beloved across the pond — the Officer of the Order of the British Empire has collected numerous awards for his work on stage and screen — but he’s now on the cusp of his big Hollywood breakout, thanks to a stunning starring role in Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave.”

Ejiofor leads the true-life tale as Solomon Northup, a free man from upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War South. A harrowing and deeply human film out Friday, Oscar buzz is already running rampant.

“It’s amazing to even be having these conversations,” Ejiofor said. “It’s slightly surreal.”

Ejiofor is less concerned with his trophy-winning chances and more interested in the enduring legacy of the unbelievable fact-based tale, pulled from Northup’s own book on the subject.

“I knew nothing about Solomon’s story. Nothing,” Ejiofor said. “[It is] one of those major stories around the world. The hope is that now we don’t lose this story again.”

Ejiofor wants to share Solomon’s story because he believes it to be an extraordinary story of the human spirit, but also of human respect and what that really means, and what it means when there is an absence of it.”

“I am thrilled that we made it and that we’re here and that we’re getting a chance to show this extraordinary story to audiences,” he said.

Co-star Alfre Woodard, who appears in the film as a former slave, agrees with Ejiofor’s take on the importance of the material.

“I think it should be put on the curriculum of every high school,” Woodard said.

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