Wednesday, March 12, 2014

New Orleans Man Stars in "12 Years a Slave"

by Maniko Barthelemy

Parker, Rob Steinberg's Character Confronts Slave Owner in "12 Years a Slave"
It’s Hollywood’s Cinderella story from conception to cast and completion. “12 Years a Slave” may have shocked the world by winning three Oscars; Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, (Lupita Nyong'o) and Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley).  After months of chatter, controversy and comparisons to “Roots” the ‘70s television miniseries based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel and films like “The Butler” and “DJango Unchained,” “12 Years” is in a distinguished league of films. It is indeed a Hollywood script but because you know it’s based on a true story, it undeniably leaves a mark on your heart and mind.

You empathize with a man whose life unravels from a treasured American dream to a terrifying American horror story.  “A lot of my friends can’t watch it because it’s a difficult subject matter and they don’t want to relive the subject matter,” says Rob Steinberg.

Steinberg plays Parker, a shopkeeper, in the film. Parker is a friend and savior of sorts for the main character, Solomon Northrup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Northrup, a free man and respected New York musician is scammed, kidnapped, sold to plantations over 12 years and renamed Platt Hamilton. From New York to Washington, D.C., Georgia and finally Louisiana, Solomon’s hell seems never-ending. “My agent called me about the audition. I didn’t do a lot of discovery but we put it on tape and got a call to read for the director,” says Steinberg.
Steinberg is used to lights, camera and action. The Tulane University graduate hit the entertainment business during the late ‘80s. “I started out in the music business as a manager,” says Steinberg. His transition from one entertainment career to another came in 1989. “I started taking classes in LA, got a few parts in stage plays and then my career starting picking up when I moved to New Orleans four years ago,” said Steinberg.
His most recent role is likely the most unforgettable. After seeing Steinberg’s taped audition, executives wanted him to audition live for the director, Steve McQueen. To project the best passionate connection to Parker, Steinberg read the book, which chronicles the true story of Northrup’s turbulent and cruel life as a slave. Despite despair, Northrup worked, waited and prayed the truth would come out. “I knew a lot about slavery but I didn’t know there were bands of men around the country kidnapping free people into slavery,” says Steinberg. To understand the director’s style, Steinberg watched several of McQueen’s previous films.
He got the part. The first day onset Steinberg got a jolt of emotions he didn’t expect. “Walking on-set and seeing people in the period costumes, does something to you. You’re certainly not just acting and you definitely want to get it right,” says Steinberg.
The Louisiana-shot film went from creation to completion in 30 days. It will make you cringe, cry and cheer by the time the rollercoaster ends. After years of failed attempts at regaining his freedom by detailing his captivity in letters but being betrayed by people he thought sincerely wanted to help right a wrong, Northup gets a break. While working on a Louisiana plantation he meets Canadian abolitionist Samuel Bass, played by Brad Pitt. Bass doesn’t like slavery, believes Northrup’s heartbreaking story and takes a chance. He secretly carries letters from Northup to his friends and family in New York.
Parker gets one of the letters and goes to New Orleans to bring Northup home. “There’s that powerful scene at the end where he (Solomon) returns to his family in New York tearfully apologizes for his appearance. We shot four or five takes with me in the room but they were so powerful my character in the scene seemed odd, so we cut it out,” says Steinberg.
On the heels of the success “12 Years,” Steinberg says his work is growing in an impressive direction. He has roles in several independent movies set for release this year and is sharing the small screen on the soap opera “The Young & The Restless.”

“12 Years” released in October 2013 cost $20 million to make and has so far earned $158 million in box office ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo.  

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