Chiwetelu Umeadi "Chiwetel" Ejiofor, born 10 July 1977) is a British actor of film, television, and theatre. After enrolling at the National Youth Theatre in 1995, and then subsequently gaining a scholarship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, aged 19,
and only three months into his course, Ejiofor was chosen by Steven Spielberg to play a small part in Amistad as James Covey.
He has received numerous awards and nominations for acting, including the BAFTA Orange Rising Star Award in 2006, five Golden Globe Award nominations, and the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance in Othello in 2008. In 2008, he was presented with an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the arts. Ejiofor is known for his portrayal of Okwe in Dirty Pretty Things(2002), The Operative in Serenity (2005), Lola in Kinky Boots (2005), Luke in Children of Men (2006), Dr. Adrian Helmsley in 2012(2009) and Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave (2013), for which he received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations, along with the BAFTA Award for Best Actor.
Ejiofor was born in London's Forest Gate, to Nigerian parents His father, Arinze, was a doctor, and his mother, Obiajulu, was a pharmacist. His younger sister is CNN correspondent Zain Asher. In 1988, when Ejiofor was 11, during a family trip to Nigeria for a wedding, he and his father were driving to Lagos after the celebrations when their car was involved in a head-on crash with a lorry. His father was killed, but Ejiofor survived. He was badly injured, and received scars that are still visible on his forehead. Ejiofor began acting in school plays at the age of thirteen at Dulwich College and joined the National Youth Theatre. He then got into the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art but had to leave after his first year, after getting a role in Steven Spielberg's film Amistad. He played the title role in Othello at the Bloomsbury Theatre in September 1995, and again at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow in 1996 when he starred opposite Rachael Stirling, who playedDesdemona.
Ejiofor made his film debut in the television film Deadly Voyage in 1996. He went on to become a stage actor in London. In Steven Spielberg's Amistad, he gave support to Djimon Hounsou's Cinque as interpreter Ens. James Covey. In 1999, he appeared in the British film G:MT – Greenwich Mean Time. In 2000, he starred in Blue/Orange at the Royal National Theatre (Cottesloe stage), and later at the Duchess Theatre. That same year, his performance as Romeo in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was nominated for the Ian Charleson Award. Ejiofor was awarded the Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer at the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards in 2000. For his performance inBlue/Orange, Ejiofor received the London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Outstanding Newcomer in 2000 and a nomination for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2001. Ejiofor had his first leading film role in 2002's Dirty Pretty Things, for which he won a British Independent Film Award for best actor. In the following year, he was part of theensemble cast of Love Actually, starred in a BBC adaptation of Chaucer's The Knight's Tale and also starred in the BBC series Trust. Also in 2003, he starred in the lead role of Augustus in the radio production of Rita Dove's poetic drama "The Darker Face of the Earth", which premiered on the BBC World Service on 23 August of that year, marking theInternational Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.
He starred alongside Hilary Swank in 2004's Red Dust, portraying the fictional politician Alex Mpondo of post-apartheid South Africa. He played the central part of Prince Alamayou in Peter Spafford's radio play I Was a Stranger, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 17 May 2004, and he played the god Dionysus, alongside Paul Scofield's Cadmus and Diana Rigg's Agave, in Andrew Rissik's play, Dionysus, based upon Euripides' Bacchae, also broadcast by the BBC. He played Mike Terry, in the cult film Redbelt that received favourable reviews. He also received acclaim for his performance as a complex antagonist The Operative in the 2005 film Serenity. Ejiofor played a revolutionary in the 2006 film Children of Men. His singing and acting performance in Kinky Boots received a Golden Globe Award and British Independent Film Award nomination. He was also nominated for the BAFTA Orange Rising Star Award in 2006, which recognises emerging British film talent. Ejiofor's performance in Tsunami: The Aftermath received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film in 2007.
In 2007, Ejiofor starred opposite Don Cheadle in Talk to Me, a film based on the true story of Ralph "Petey" Greene (played by Cheadle), an African-American radio personality in the 1960s and '70s. He performed on stage in The Seagull at the Royal Court Theatre from 18 January to 17 March 2007, then later that year reprised his role as Othello at theDonmar Warehouse, alongside Kelly Reilly as Desdemona and Ewan McGregor as Iago. The production received favourable reviews, with particularly strong praise for Ejiofor. "Chiwetel Ejiofor produces one of the most memorable performances of Othello in recent years" He was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance.
Ejiofor was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours. In the same year, he made his directorial debut in the short film Slapper, which he also wrote, based on an idea by editor/director Yusuf Pirhasan. Ejiofor appeared alongside John Cusack in the 2009 film 2012. The film went on to gross over $700 million, and is among the list of highest-grossing films of all time and placing 5th of top films of 2009. He played CIA officer Peabody in Salt (2010), and the Golden Globe Award-nominated leading role of band creator Louis Lester in the BBC Two drama series Dancing on the Edge (2013), which played on Starz in the US.
In 2013, Ejiofor took on one of his most notable roles to date, Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave. The film was based on Northup's memoir, edited in 1968 by historians Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon, of Northup's experience as a free black man in New York, who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery in Louisiana. On casting, director Steve McQueen said: "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.” At the Toronto International Film Festival,
Ejiofor said he briefly hesitated about playing Northup. "You wait all your life for a great script to come through the door. You're hassling your agent and all that, and then it comes and you read it and your first reaction surprises you. Your first reaction being, 'Can I do this? He accepted the role about 24 hours later. As part of his preparation, Ejiofor learned to play the violin, collected slave stories, maintained a slave's edge up, and engaged in some of the physical labour that Northup did like picking cotton.]Since he had not worked with McQueen before,
Ejiofor also observed the working dynamic between the director and co-star Michael Fassbender, who worked with McQueen on Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011).On playing Northup, Ejiofor did feel a responsibility, not being American, to get the story of Solomon Northup as current he could, adding "I've been very grateful to show the film to his descendants and see them be so proud of it."
12 Years a Slave opened to wide acclaim, with many critics citing Ejiofor's performance and declaring him an almost-certain Academy Award nominee for Best Actor. From Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly: "It is Chiwetel Ejiofor's extraordinary performance that holds the movie together, and that allows us to watch it without blinking. He plays Solomon with a powerful inner strength, yet he never soft-pedals the silent nightmare that is Solomon's daily existence." From Christopher Orr at The Atlantic:
"Ejiofor has given notable performances in the past (Dirty Pretty Things, Serenity, Talk to Me), but this is by far his most essential role to date. Stoic, watchful, compromising himself just enough to stay alive, he is the point of stillness and decency around which spin the madnesses of the film." In his Hollywood Reporter review, Todd McCarthy wrote, "Ejiofor is terrific in a demanding character who's put through the wringer physically, mentally and emotionally." On 16 January 2014, Ejiofor was officially nominated for Best Actor for the 86th Academy Awards on 2 March.
In 2014, Ejiofor starred in the Nigerian film Half of a Yellow Sun alongside Thandie Newton. The film recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and London International Film Festival and is set for worldwide release in 2014. He also plays Patrice Lumumba in a film adaptation of Aimé Césaire's A Season in the Congo, a role in which he performed at the Young Vic in 2013. Joe Wright, who directed the play, will also direct the film