Jan. 13, 2014 at 11:24 AM ET
Going in to Sunday night's Golden Globe Awards, the film "12 Years a Slave" had seven nominations. At the end of the night, it nabbed the most important win of them all — best drama. And the critically acclaimed effort is bound to rack up more nods when Oscar nominations are announced later this week. But according to the people who made the movie, awards aren't the real win.
Director Steve McQueen and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o and Michael Fassbender sat down with TODAY's Savannah Guthrie and explained that just being able to make the harrowing drama was better than any accolade.
"The reason why all four of us are sitting here is because of Solomon Northup, a lost American hero," McQueen said of the man born free and later kidnapped and sold into slavery. "I'm so happy that we, as a group, as a community of filmmakers, got together to make this film, to hold him up and say, 'Thank you.'"
Ejiofor, who plays Northup, explained what drew him to be part of it all.
"It's so powerful to me," he said. "This is a story that centers around the love that this man has for his family, and how the need to connect with them can get him through the most extraordinary circumstances."
For his co-star Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave" marked her first time on the big screen. But she knew it would be special before filming even began.
"When I first read the script, I understood something in my gut about this character that I didn't understand in my head, and that doesn't happen very often," she said.
Of course, the perspective was a bit different for Fassbender, who took on the role of ruthless slave owner Edwin Epps. There was no sympathy to be had for Epps, but the actor still found a way to connect to him.
"I think as human beings, we're all made of the same stuff," he said. "So a character that does such despicable acts, like Epps, I think people are very quick to go, 'You know, that person's evil. It's like a monster,' because they're afraid maybe there's elements of him inside themselves."
According to IMBD.com, "12 Years a Slave" has been nominated for a total of 130 awards so far, including four Screen Actors Guild Awards and 11 British Academy Film Awards, and has won 97 honors.