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Best of British Biographies – Chiwetel Ejiofor

Some actors are best known as dramatic actors, others can turn their hands to comedy. Nowadays a growing arena is the one set aside for action specialists. Then there is the, much smaller, group who can competently pull off a musical performance. To be able to have a foot in every camp makes for a very special actor indeed. One such actor is Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Chiwetel was born during 1977 in the north eastern suburbs of London, Forest Gate. He was the product of a medical family; his father was a doctor and his mother was a pharmacist.  Who knows whether or not there was any torment as to the direction his career should take? Well…he does, obviously. All I’ll say is that he has two sisters. One of whom is a GP and the other is a CNN correspondent so the two areas both get represented.

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The family was struck by tragedy when Chiwetel was eleven. There was a family wedding back in Nigeria and the Ejiofors went off on a family trip. Whilst there, a car carrying Chiwetel and his father was involved in a head on collision with a lorry. Chiwetel was the only survivor and he still carries visible scars on his forehead.

It Is The Place Where They Finally Kill Us

As is so often the case, Chiwetel started acting in his junior school, Dulwich Prep School; his first known part was as the gravedigger in Hamlet. In English schools, being what they are, nearly everyone’s first dramatic experience is in either Shakespeare or an amateur dramatisation of Dickens. Whether that is why the majority of us fall out of love with both authors until we reach a higher level of maturity…

1997 – Amistad

Fortunately though, some English schoolchildren do manage to see the magic and beauty of our native literature from an early age. They then learn how to breath life into it so that the time difference between writing and performing just evaporates. I’m never sure whether it’s purely the skill of the cast or the aforementioned higher level of maturity that means I now enjoy Shakespeare far more than at any other point in my life.

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Do You Admit The Brazilian Prostitutes Were A Mistake?

Chiwetel continued acting during his secondary school when he went to Dulwich College. He also joined the National Youth Theatre. After that he applied for and joined the London Academy for Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). He was only there for a few months though as he started getting noticed and cast in theatre, film, and TV roles.

2003 – Love Actually with Andrew Lincoln

He was first seen by a larger audience with a role in a play made as part of the Screen 2 series for BBC2. He played Ebow in Deadly Voyage, a play about stowaways on a Russian cargo ship and the extreme steps the crew take to avoid the punishment that carrying them incurs. While making this Chiwetel was also appearing on the stage in London.

Tell Me I Have Not Inspired Something Burgundy!

This was where an unknown American director saw him and cast in an independent film alongside some other unknowns. Well, actually, the director was Steven Spielberg, the film was Amistad, and the other unknowns included Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Stellan Skarsgård, Anna Paquin, Nigel Hawthorne, Pete Postlethwaite, Anthony Hopkins, and Morgan Freeman.

2005 – Kinky Boots

So…not such a bad big screen debut. A mere twenty year old slip of a lad rubbing up against such august shoulders! He obviously learnt a lot from them as he left LAMDA after his first year but that didn’t mean that work dried up. He kept popping up on screens and stage until he landed a role in a RunPee favourite at Christmas – Love Actually. Playing the part of Peter, the guy whose best man (Andrew Lincoln) is secretly in love with his wife (Kiera Knightley).

Let Him Do His Spite

From then on the work starts flooding in. I’m just going to stick to the films of his that I’ve seen otherwise this will turn into a book in its own right! In 2005 he played the small but pivotal part of Victor Sweet in Four Brothers. In this he proved that no-one could typecast Chiwetel Ejiofor as an archetypal nice guy. Victor Sweet disproves nominative determinism by being the nastiest, scariest, most mean gangster going.

2007 – Othello with Ewan McGregor

And, as if to tear up any idea of typecasting, 2005 saw him in Kinky Boots. In this comedy he plays the drag queen Lola who saves a struggling shoe factory by helping them to produce fetish footwear; this is based on a true story. The revelation, for me, was the drag act scenes. Chiwetel performed the songs himself and that boy can carry a tune! He also landed all the comedy lines expertly as well. It seems I should have added cross dressing to my first paragraph!

These People Were Chosen By Geneticists?

The next year saw him in Children Of Men   Inside Man so he can tick off Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, and Willem Dafoe off his “utterly fabulous and talented people I’ve worked with” list. Actually, I don’t know if he has one of those but I just know that, were I in his line of work, I would have one.

2009 – 2012

But it’s not just on the silver screen that you get to play along side famous names. In 2007 played Othello in, obviously, Othello at the Donmar Warehouse. Famous names? Ewan McGregor was Iago, Tom Hiddleston was Cassio, and Michelle Fairley was Emilia. Among the three nominations for Laurence Olivier Awards that production garnered, Ejiofor won.

Circle Back! Circle Back!

It wasn’t long before the blockbusters started knocking on his door. 2009 saw Chiwetel starring as  Adrian Helmsley in 2012. This was a big ($200 million) budget disaster film. Adrian is the science bod who has worked out that the Earth is about to end but either can’t get people to believe him or finds out that other people have already made plans to save themselves from annihilation. There was some nonsense about it being based on a Mayan prophesy but that’s, well,  nonsense.

2010 – Salt with Liev Schrieber and Angelina Jolie

The following year saw him playing the straight laced, rule following CIA agent mononymously referred to as Peabody in the Angelina Jolie feature, Salt.  When it’s alleged that a spy is based within his building he is the one who has to track down and apprehend them. Obviously there are twists and turns along the way but Chiwetel negotiates them with aplomb.

I Don’t Want To Survive. I Want To Live

It wasn’t long before the BIG, big time arrived. 2013 saw him teamed up with director Steve McQueen on 12 Years A Slave. This is a period piece set in antebellum USA which sees Solomon Northup as a free black man from New York State being abducted, sold into slavery, and his twelve year fight to regain his freedom.  This film was nominated for nine Oscars and won three including the Best Picture award. Chiwetel was nominated for Best Actor as Solomon Northup.

2013 – 12 Years A Slave

It’s probably no surprise that the behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe would come knocking on Mr Ejiofor’s door. And so it was that day came when they were casting Doctor Strange. Chiwetel got the role of Baron Mordo, a role that reappears in the ongoing episodes of that branch of the franchise. How far it goes, I’m not sure; I haven’t seen Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness yet!

Power Has A Purpose

Nearly fifteen years after his last bit of voice work he got another couple of voice only gigs to keep his delicious baritone busy. The first was the very funny Gnomeo & Juliet 2: Sherlock Gnomes; both I and my granddaughter enjoyed it! A year later and he was voicing the villainous Scar in the live action, well…CGI, version of The Lion King. 

2016 – Doctor Strange with Tilda Swinton

Also, that year saw him reunited with Angelina Jolie in Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil. His “utterly fabulous and talented people I’ve worked with” list has started getting swapsies! In this outing he plays Conall, a Dark Fey, like Maleficent, who has rescued her but ends up coming to a sticky end before the final reel.

You’ve Seen My Research

Then 2020 rolls around and we find that Chiwetel has landed another role in a superhero type series…the second one is in pre-production! That is the Netflix funded adaptation of the graphic novel, The Old Guard. In this He plays Copley, a former CIA agent trying to track down the titular Old Guard and what happens to him after he tries.

2020 – The Old Guard

And roles are still, err, rolling in for Chiwetel Ejiofor. The one I’m most looking forward to, though, is the new TV adaptation of The Man Who Fell To Earth; famously David Bowie’s first starring film role. In tribute to the Thin White Duke the episodes are named after Bowie tracks. Obviously Bowie had that other worldly look which naturally meant he could just fall into the role of an alien. 

How Chiwetel will pull that off I am very keen to see.

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One response to “Best of British Biographies – Chiwetel Ejiofor”

  1. Awesome stuff as always. I’m glad to know more about Chiwetel’s childhood, but sorry to hear about the tragedy.

    Methinks you may not have watched the TV science fiction show FireFly. If that’s the case then I envy you, because you’re going to have such a great time. There is, regrettably, only one season of FireFly, but it went on to have such a vociferous cult following that a big screen movie was made where Chiwetel has a lead role.

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