By Matt Wiley
Already abuzz with raves from film critics and rumored to be a major contender for the upcoming film awards season, Fox Searchlight Pictures’ British- American historical drama “12 Years A Slave” has some ties right here in the New Tampa/Wesley Chapel area.
Appearing on the big screen in a film with the likes of stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (“Salt,” “2012”), Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender (“Prometheus,” “X-Men: First Class,”), Michael Kenneth Williams (HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”) and Paul Giamatti (“Sideways”) in her first speaking role in a feature film is Seven Oaks resident and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader Vivian Fleming-Alvarez.
Fleming-Alvarez also has appeared in “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 2” and “Springbreakers” in non-speaking roles, and also was on the Lifetime TV show “Army Wives.”
The film, directed by Steve McQueen (not the legendary late Hollywod actor), who also was the director of 2011’s “Shame” (also starring Fassbender) and produced by Brad Pitt and Dede Gardner (“World War Z,” “Killing Them Softly”), tells the true-story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841 to a plantation in Louisiana, where he remained a slave for 12 years. Ejiofor stars as Northup.
Fleming-Alvarez’s role is that of the “Mulatto Woman,” a favorite of the captain of the slave ship that transports Northup to Louisiana, which allows her to not be shackled during the journey.
“(My character) lives a privileged life on the ship,” Fleming-Alvarez explains. “She gets to walk around freely. She’s not chained.”
Fleming-Alvarez says that her lines involve calming an enslaved, distraught woman who is on the ship with her children, in order to try to keep the woman from being punished.
“You learn why she is distraught throughout the story, so I really don’t want to give anything away,” Fleming-Alvarez explains.
Fleming-Alvarez says that the process of getting the role was a hasty one. She says that she was in an acting class here in Tampa when she received a text from her New Orleans agent asking if she wanted to audition for the part. She says that she went home and did some research about the role and the time period, went out and bought a hoop skirt and large dress and actually filmed herself acting out how she thought the woman would act on a slave ship and emailed it to the producer.
“I sent out the audition tape and went to see the movie ‘Prometheus,’ which also has Michael Fassbender in it, the same night,” she says. “I thought, ‘Wow, there’s a chance I might be in a movie with him.’ I got home around 10 p.m. and got a message on my phone saying that the casting director (Meagan Lewis) wanted to meet with me in New Orleans the next day. I booked a flight that night, rented a car, flew out, met with the casting director and flew home the same night.”
She got a call to tell her how she did from her agent, who told her that she had gotten the part.
“I filmed in August of last year in New Orleans in full period costumes,” she explains. “It was a beautiful experience.”
Fleming-Alvarez says that she got to meet with several stars, including Williams, who many will recognize from HBO’s “The Wire” and as Chalky White on “Boardwalk Empire.”
“You don’t get to do too much idle chit-chatting because the film is so character-driven and everyone is in their process,” Fleming Alvarez explains, “but I did get to socialize with everyone during the wrap party. I’m proud to have been a part of the project and I’m relieved that my performance didn’t land on the cutting-room floor. This lets me leave a legacy for my two sons. Being part of this story that needs to be told is very impactful for me. I’m humbled.”
Be sure to look for Vivian Fleming-Alvarez in “12 Years A Slave,” which currently is playing at both the Muvico Starlight 20 off Highwoods Preserve Pkwy. in New Tampa, and the Cobb Theaters Grove 16 in The Grove shopping plaza off Oakley Blvd. in Wesley Chapel.