Director Steve McQueen and actor Chiwetel Ejiofor take on the true story of Solomon Northup, and Russell Crowe has his pick of new projects.
6 Feb 2012 - 11:55 AM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 9:30 PM

There's something irresistible about a cinematic partnership between a director and their favoured actor. The connection between the person behind the camera and the one in front of it can be electric, and the body of work that eventuates can be evocative and lasting. Think of Robert De Niro as the explicit side of Martin Scorsese's psyche in the 1970s and 1980s (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy), or Anna Karina bringing new life to the screen as the muse for Jean-Luc Godard in the 1960s (The Little Soldier, A Woman is a Woman, Alphaville); these are exchanges between artists where every close-up is freighted with significance.

[ Watch interview with Anna Karina ]

It's too soon to attribute the same worth to a current collaboration, that of English filmmaker Steve McQueen and the Irish actor Michael Fassbender, but their two films together – 2008's Hunger (screening Wed, Feb 8 at 9:35pm on SBS TWO) and this month's Shame – have both been major works with outstanding performances by the latter, firstly as the I.R.A. hunger striker Bobby Sands and then as a tormented New York sex addict. Now McQueen is preparing to shoot his third feature, and Fassbender will appear as one of the leads.

Adapted from the book of the same title, Twelve Years a Slave is the true story of Solomon Northup, an African-American who was born free in the United States' north but was kidnapped and taken to the southern slave states in 1841. With outside help, and a legal challenge by his wife, Northup was eventually able to win his freedom after 12 years witnessing what he subsequently chronicled in the book as terrible deprivations.

Fassbender won't be following the comical exploits of Robert Downey Jr's Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus and donning blackface, with the role of Northup going to Chiwetel Ejiofor (Salt). Fassbender may play Samuel Bass, the Canadian carpenter who helped rescue Northup, or one of his owners or kidnappers. Another starring role will be played by Brad Pitt, who is helping to produce the movie and obviously intends to continue his productive trend of working with leading directors.

WWRCD? That stands for What Would Russell Crowe Do? and it reflects a stark choice of projects the Australian actor (pictured) may have to make. Having already played the patriarch Jor-El in the forthcoming Superman reboot Man of Steel, and with the role of Inspector Javert opposite Hugh Jackman's Jean Valjean about to shoot in the Les Miserables remake to be helmed by The King's Speech director Tom Hooper, Crowe is reportedly up for the lead role in a Robocop remake to be overseen by Elite Squad filmmaker, Brazilian Jose Padilha or the part of the Old Testament boat builder in Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky's Biblical epic Noah. A cyborg law enforcer or the prophet who parted the Red Sea? If only there was a way to combine the two.