Early in his career, Steve McQueen balked at the descriptor "artist." When asked about his profession, he told the Guardian he would reply, "I make work. I make stuff." That stuff has swiftly propelled the 45-year-old to the ranks of coveted Hollywood directors. "12 Years a Slave," his third feature film, won the Academy Award for Best Picture and introduced scores to the British filmmaker's elegant, unflinching style.
The film, a devastating historical portrait, may be Mr. McQueen's most accessible. He came from London's video-art world; his first two films, "Hunger" and "Shame," are grave meditations on politics and sex. He kept his minimalist aesthetic as he crossed into the mainstream, shooting "12 Years a Slave" in 35 days on a meager budget. But he still hasn't embraced the mantle of lone auteur. With each film, he's worked with actor Michael Fassbender and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt -- in one interview, he called them "my band."