It's no secret Steve McQueen is a fan of Michael Fassbender.
The British director has only made three feature films and Fassbender has been at the helm of all of them, including his role as an IRA prisoner starving himself to death in 2008’s "Hunger" and a man suffering from a sex addiction in 2011's "Shame."
But during a press conference Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) for his new movie "12 Years a Slave," in which Fassbender also plays a prominent role, McQueen went even further with his praise for the German-born actor.
"I think he’s the most influential actor of his generation. He’s like a pop star. Kids want to be that person."
"12 Years a Slave" depicts the incredible true story of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man living in Saratoga Springs, New York in 1841, who gets captured and sold into slavery.
In the movie, which is based on a memoir written by Northup, Fassbender plays Edwin Epps, a ruthless plantation owner in the Deep South who demeans and tortures his slaves. To get into character Fassbender read Northup’s book, worked with a dialect coach and went to New Orleans six weeks before the film began shooting to try and soak up the atmosphere.
Despite the unspeakable acts his character committed, Fassbender says he tried to depict Epps as a human being and not just an evil slave owner.
"A lot of people are going, 'Oh my God, Epps is so evil.' I don’t understand that. He’s not. He’s a human being who's caught up in something so complicated and so unjust but not evil. I don't even understand that word."
Epps also falls in love, and brutally takes advantage of, one young slave named Patsey, played by Lupita Nyong’o.
"The point of departure for the character really was the relationship with Patsey, it was kind of the focal point, the fact that he was in love with her and didn’t know how to process that information so he therefore tries to quash it by beating her and the violence towards her."
For Nyong’o, getting through the difficult scenes required support from the other actors, in particular Fassbender, whom she shared the most violent scenes.
"It took trusting each other and feeling safe to go to those places so in the case of me and Michael, we made nice before we did our scenes and then after. I trusted him and felt safe with him, that’s what allowed me to be able to go there," says Nyong’o.
McQueen says that is exactly the kind of environment he tries to create on set.
"It was a family . . . we are here to support each other making this piece of work, and these actors are exceptional artists so it was joyous at the same time as being very sort of consoling."
"12 Years a Slave" also stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Adepero Oduye, Sarah Paulson and Alfre Woodard and features a cameo appearance by Brad Pitt, who is a producer on the film.