When British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor was 19, and studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, he was chosen by Spielberg to play a small part in ‘Amistad’, and as other actors have experienced before, this was a call he could not overlook.
His acting career is filled with awards and recognitions: The BAFTA, Golden Globe and the Lawrence Olivier award for his performance in a stage production of Othello. In 2008 he was presented with an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts, all of this cementing his indelible imprint in the art of acting.
After years of participating in films as diverse as ‘Kinky Boots’, ‘Serenity’ and ‘American Gangster’, Ejiofor was offered the role of a lifetime as real-life Solomon Northup, a free man that is caught and enslaved in Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’. Initially he turned down the offer for fear of the extreme physical and psychological requirements, but as he accepted, he immersed himself in the Louisiana plantation culture and learned to play the violin.
This is a performance that towers a career full of interesting characters in films from well-recognized filmmakers as Stephen Frears, Woody Allen, Alfonso Cuaron and Spike Lee among many others.
The following is a list of some of his performances in his most relevant films.
12 Years a Slave
(2013) Directed by Steve McQueen
As free man Solomon Northup is caught and brought to the south to serve as a slave, Ejiofor conveys the nightmarish notion of a man of culture and full consciousness being treated like less than a human being in the South of the US. Isolated from his family and stripped of any rights, Ejiofor’s intense stare and corporal tension become both a visceral experience and a social commentary. McQueen commented of his casting choice: "Chiwetel Ejiofor was always going to be Solomon Northup for me. I was looking for someone that had that genteelness, that kind of humanity. Knowing that humanity was going to be tested under certain duress and circumstances, I needed a person who could actually keep hold of that, even through periods of extraordinary trying and extraordinary situations where it would be tested to its absolute limit. He was the only person.”
For a full review of McQueen Oscar Nominated film, please click on the following link:
Dirty Pretty Things
(2002) Stephen Frears
Ejiofor plays Okwe, an illegal kind-hearted Nigerian immigrant physician that runs into a scandalous secret in the harsh streets of London. The film sustains a continuous sense of tension, with Ejiofor at its heart.
(2006) Directed by Julian Jarrold
Ejiofor received his first Golden Globe nomination playing sassy drag queen Lola, who helps Charlie diversify his inherited shoe factory’s production to keep his business from drowning.
(2007) Directed by Ridley Scott
Here Ejiofor plays Huey, brother to Denzel Washington Frank Lucas, a new gang leader who controls Harlem’s crime scene while detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is following their every step.
Half of a Yellow Sun
(2013) Directed by Biyi Bandele
The story of Odenigbo a Nigerian man who struggles to survive during the independence conflict to establish a Republic.
(2005) Directed by John Singleton
Ejiofor plays Victor Sweet, an ominous figure related to the murder of Evelyn Mercer, mother to the four brothers of the film’s title, and who will end up seeking justice.
(2006) Directed by Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s very popular action film about an elaborate bank heist in Manhattan that is intercepted by detectives Frazier and Mitchell (Denzel Washington and Chiwetel Ejofor) who require the help of expert “fixer” Madeleine White (Jodie Foster) to bring the case to a happy end.
Melinda and Melinda
(2004) Directed by Woody Allen
Is life naturally comic or tragic? The film is cut in two halves, one being a comedy and the other a drama, starring the same actress (Radha Mitchell) as Melinda and a different set of actors for each genre, to prove the big differences of style and mood. Ejiofor is Ellis, Melinda’s love interest in the Drama section proving that an interracial relationship is not a comedy staple.
(2009) Directed by Pete Travis
The film centers on the intense relationship created between philosophy professor Willie Esterhuyse (William Hurt) and Thabo Mbeki (Ejiofor), director of information for the African National Congress, as they discuss the end of apartheid. The film was screened at the Sundance Film Festival before it was broadcasted on as a TV production. Both Hurt and Ejiofor were Travis’ first choices for their roles.
Children of Men
(2006) Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Immersed in a futuristic nightmare where the last-born child is being targeted to save humanity, this is a choral film where every actor plays a part in the scheme of things. Ejiofor lends his desperate posture to add to the gritty texture of Cuarón’s vision of a future that seems more like a scene from the past.