Chiwetel Umeadi Ejiofor
10 July 1977
|Education||London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art|
|Relatives||Zain Asher (sister)|
Chiwetel Umeadi Ejiofor (/ / CHOO-ə-tel EJ-ee-oh-for; born 10 July 1977) is a British actor and filmmaker. After enrolling at the National Youth Theatre in 1995 and attending the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, at age 19 and three months into his course, Ejiofor was cast by Steven Spielberg to play a supporting role in the film Amistad (1997) as James Covey.
Ejiofor portrayed the characters Okwe in Dirty Pretty Things (2002), Lola in Kinky Boots (2005), Victor Sweet in Four Brothers (2005), The Operative in Serenity (2005), Adrian Helmsley in 2012 (2009), Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave (2013), Vincent Kapoor in The Martian (2015), Karl Mordo in Doctor Strange (2016) and Trywell Kamkwamba in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019). He voiced Dr. Watson in Sherlock Gnomes (2018) and Scar in the 2019 remake of The Lion King and featured in the fantasy film Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. For 12 Years a Slave, he received Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations, along with the BAFTA Award for Best Actor. He was nominated for a 2014 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his performance on Dancing on the Edge.
Ejiofor has received numerous awards and nominations for acting, including the BAFTA Orange Rising Star Award in 2006, two Golden Globe Award nominations, and the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance in Othello in 2008. In 2008, he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the arts. He was elevated to Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2015 Birthday Honours.
Ejiofor was born in London's Forest Gate, to middle-class Nigerian parents of Igbo descent. His father, Arinze, was a doctor, and his mother, Obiajulu, was a pharmacist. His younger sister, Zain, is a CNN correspondent.
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, and Ejiofor was badly injured, receiving scars that are still visible on his forehead.
Ejiofor began acting in school plays at his junior school, Dulwich Prep London (known at the time as 'Dulwich College Preparatory School'), where he played the gravedigger in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. He continued acting at his senior school, Dulwich College and joined the National Youth Theatre. He got into the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art but left after his first year, after being cast 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 as Desdemona.
Ejiofor made his film debut in the television film Deadly Voyage (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 Ensign 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 in Blue/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 playing Nicky Burkett in Jeremy Cameron's It Was an Accident (2000). In 2002, he starred in Dirty Pretty Things, for which he won a British Independent Film Award for best actor. In the following year, he was part of the ensemble cast of Love Actually, starred in a BBC adaptation of Chaucer's The Knight's Tale and also starred on 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 the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. He starred alongside Hilary Swank in Red Dust (2004), portraying the fictional politician Alex Mpondo of post-apartheid South Africa.
He played the central role 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 also received acclaim for his performance as a complex antagonist The Operative in the film Serenity (2005). Ejiofor played a revolutionary in the film Children of Men (2006). 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 1970s. 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 the Donmar 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. He also narrated the BBC television film Partition: The Day India Burned (2007), which was based on the Partition of India. He starred as Mike Terry in the 2008 cult film Redbelt that received favourable reviews.
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 film 2012 (2009). 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 Darryl Peabody in Salt (2010), and the Golden Globe Award-nominated leading role of band creator Louis Lester on the BBC Two drama series Dancing on the Edge (2013), which played on Starz in the United States.
In 2013, Ejiofor took on the role of 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 hairstyle, 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 The 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.
As of September 2013, Ejiofor was slated to portray Patrice Lumumba in a film adaptation of Aimé Césaire's A Season in the Congo, a role in which he had performed on stage at the Young Vic. Joe Wright, who directed the play, was to also direct the film.
It was announced in June 2014 that Ejiofor would play real-life drug dealer Thomas McFadden in film based on the book Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America's Strangest Jail, written by McFadden and Australian journalist Rusty Young. In 2016, Ejiofor co-starred with his friend Benedict Cumberbatch and played Baron Mordo in the Marvel film Doctor Strange. That same year, it was announced that he would play Peter in the upcoming film Mary Magdalene, written by Helen Edmundson and directed by Garth Davis. On 1 November 2017, he was officially chosen for the role of Scar for the computer animated remake, The Lion King (2019) directed by Jon Favreau. Played by Jeremy Irons in the 1994 animated film, Ejiofor described Scar as more "psychologically possessed" and "brutalized" than in the original. Ejiofor stated, "especially with Scar, whether it's a vocal quality that allows for a certain confidence or a certain aggression, to always know that at the end of it you're playing somebody who has the capacity to turn everything on its head in a split second with outrageous acts of violence – that can completely change the temperature of a scene." He also said that "[Scar and Mufasa's] relationship is completely destroyed and brutalized by Scar's way of thinking. He's possessed with this disease of his own ego and his own want." Favreau said of casting Ejiofor, "[He] is just a fantastic actor, who brings us a bit of the mid-Atlantic cadence and a new take on the character. He brings that feeling of a Shakespearean villain to bear because of his background as an actor. It's wonderful when you have somebody as experienced and seasoned as Chiwetel; he just breathes such wonderful life into this character." Ejiofor narrated the 2019 documentary film The Elephant Queen.
In 2019, Ejiofor made his feature directorial debut with The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, adapted from the memoir of the same name from William Kamkwamba, about a boy who built a wind-powered water pump in Malawi.
On 12 September 2016, Ejiofor, as well as Cate Blanchett, Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Capaldi, Douglas Booth, Neil Gaiman, Keira Knightley, Juliet Stevenson, Kit Harington and Stanley Tucci, featured in a video from the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR to help raise awareness of the global refugee crisis. The video, titled "What They Took With Them", has the actors reading a poem, written by Jenifer Toksvig and inspired by primary accounts of real refugees, and is part of UNHCR's #WithRefugees campaign, which also includes a petition to governments to expand asylum to provide further shelter, integrating job opportunities, and education. Ejiofor is a supporter of Crystal Palace F.C.
|1996||Deadly Voyage||Ebow||Television film|
|2001||Murder in Mind||DS McCorkindale||Episode: "Teacher"|
|2003||Twelfth Night||Orsino||Television film|
|Trust||Ashley Carter||6 episodes|
|The Canterbury Tales||Paul||Segment: The Knight's Tale|
|2006||Tsunami: The Aftermath||Ian Carter||Television film|
|2007||Partition: The Day India Burned||Narrator|
|2011||The Shadow Line||Jonah Gabriel||7 episodes|
|2013||Dancing on the Edge||Louis Lester||6 episodes|
|Phil Spector||Mock Prosecutor||Television film|
|2017||Red Nose Day Actually||Peter||Television short film|
|TBA||The Man Who Fell to Earth||Thomas Jerome Newton||Main role, upcoming series|
|1996||Theatre Royal, Glasgow|
|1997||Macbeth||Malcolm||Bristol Old Vic|
|1999||Sparkleshark||Russell||Royal National Theatre|
|2000||Blue/Orange||Chris||Royal National Theatre|
|Romeo and Juliet||Romeo||Royal National Theatre|
|Peer Gynt||Young Peer||Royal National Theatre|
|2002||The Vortex||Nicky Lancaster||Donmar Warehouse|
|2007||The Seagull||Boris Alexeyevich Trigorin||Royal Court Theatre|
|2013||A Season in the Congo||Patrice Lumumba||Young Vic|
|2015||Everyman||Everyman||Royal National Theatre|
Awards and nominations
- Jenelle Riley (17 December 2013). "Chiwetel Ejiofor: 12 Years a Slave Star A Name to Remember". Variety. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- "BFI | Film & TV Database | EJIOFOR, Chiwetel". Ftvdb.bfi.org.uk. 16 April 2009. Archived from the original on 13 January 2009. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
- "British Airways safety video – director's cut". British Airways. 18 July 2017. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
- Davies, Serena (9 July 2013). "A Season in the Congo: interview with Chiwetel Ejiofor". The Telegraph. UK. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
- "Nigerian-British actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor, joins Angelina Jolie in Maleficent 2". Punch Newspapers. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
- "2014 Emmy Awards: 'Game of Thrones,' 'Fargo' Lead Nominations". variety. 10 July 2014. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
- "'Kinky Boots' actor Chiwetel receives OBE from Queen". Hello. UK. Retrieved 19 December 2008.
- "2015 Queen's Birthday Honours" (PDF). The London Gazette. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 June 2017. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
- Donald Clarke (20 February 2016). "Chiwetel Ejiofor: 'Weapons and tactics are a way of entering a guy psychologically'". irishtimes.com. Retrieved 27 June 2021.
- Hattenstone, Simon (10 July 2004). "The rainbow's end Arts". The Guardian. London.
Life, he says, was always precarious for his parents in Nigeria – they belonged to the Christian Ibo tribe...
- Vernon, Polly (13 February 2016). "Chiwetel Ejiofor: racism and Hollywood". The Times. The Times UK.
- Danny Walker (17 January 2014). "Oscars: Watch Chiwetel Ejiofor's sister Zain Asher cry on live TV following Oscar nomination – Mirror Online". mirror.
- Raphael, Amy. "Almost famous", The Guardian, 3 November 2002. Retrieved 9 July 2007.
- Husband, Stuart (11 November 2007). "Chiwetel Ejiofor: it's always the quiet ones..." The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 16 January 2008. Retrieved 28 April 2010.
- "Chiwetel Ejiofor Biography". Biography.com. Archived from the original on 3 April 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
- "Chiwetel Ejiofor Profile". Metacritic. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
- Talk to Me Archived 2 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine, FocusFeatures.com. Retrieved 29 July 2007.
- Press reviews: Othello, BBC. Retrieved 5 December 2007
- "No. 58729". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 June 2008. p. 10.
- Ejiofor, Chiwetel (18 June 2008). "Can you bring it down a notch, Bill?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 17 August 2010.
- McCracken, Kristin (11 September 2013). "Interview: Steve McQueen Talks '12 Years A Slave,' 'Django Unchained', Pitt & Fassbender & More". The Playlist. Archived from the original on 5 December 2013. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
- Kennedy, Lisa (27 October 2013). "Chiwetel Ejiofor takes us down a rabbit hole in '12 Years a Slave'". The Denver Post. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
- Horn, John (6 September 2013). "In '12 Years a Slave,' Steve McQueen juxtaposes beauty, brutality". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
- Wallenger, Christopber (19 October 2013). "Chiwetel Ejiofor breaks through in '12 Years a Slave'". Boston Globe. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
- Mandell, Andrea (17 October 2013). "'12 Years' captures brutality, reality of slavery". USA Today. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
- Simon, Jeff (3 November 2013). "Chiwetel Ejiofor on one of the great film performances of 2013 in '12 Years a Slave'". Buffalo News. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
- Mandell, Andrea (16 November 2013). "Oscar buzz follows Fassbender, Ejiofor in '12 Years'". USA Today. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
- Gleiberman, Owen (7 September 2013). "Toronto 2013: '12 Years a Slave' is a landmark of cruelty and transcendence". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
- Orr, Christopher (18 October 2013). "The Searing, Visceral 12 Years a Slave". The Atlantic. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
- McCarthy, Todd (31 August 2013). "Chiwetel Ejiofor on one of the great film performances of 2013 in '12 Years a Slave'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
- Jagernauth, Kevin (16 September 2013). "Joe Wright To Direct Chiwetel Ejiofor in Adaptation of Play 'A Season in the Congo'". The Playlist. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
- Alberge, Dalya (14 September 2013). "Young Vic turns film studio as it remakes stage hits for cinema". The Guardian. London, UK.
- Soffell, Jenny (21 October 2013). "'Half of a Yellow Sun': Thandie Newton, typhoid and a tale of civil war". cnn. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
- "Chiwetel Ejiofor set for drug dealer role", BBC News (Entertainment & Arts), 9 June 2014.
- Mannie Holmes. "Doctor Strange at D23: Kevin Feige Confirms Chiwetel Ejiofor As Baron Mordo". Yahoo Movies UK. Archived from the original on 28 September 2015.
- Benjamin Lee (14 July 2016). "Chiwetel Ejiofor to play Peter the apostle in Mary Magdalene film | Film". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
- "Chiwetel Ejiofor Will Voice Scar in The Lion King". Retrieved 7 August 2017.
- "What To Expect From The Characters In The Upcoming 'The Lion King' Adaptation - Entertainment Weekly". Entertainment Weekly/YouTube. April 25, 2019. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
- Snetiker, Marc (29 April 2019). "The Lion King's Chiwetel Ejiofor on the diabolical psychology of Scar". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
- "The Lion King Press Kit" (PDF). Walt Disney Studios. 11 July 2019. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
- Jaworowski, Ken (17 October 2019). "'The Elephant Queen' Review: Magnificent Images of Majestic Animals". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
- Shapiro, Ari (28 February 2019). "Chiwetel Ejiofor's Directing Debut Takes Him To Malawi To Capture 'The Wind'". NPR. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
- Holmes, Mannie (22 September 2015). "Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Oyelowo Talk Nigeria's Girls, Uzo Aduba & Diversity at Fundraiser". Variety.com. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
- "2016 Stories - #WithRefugees". UNHCR. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
- "What They Took With Them - #WithRefugees". UNHCR. 7 September 2016. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
- Raphael, Amy (2 December 2007). "The sort of actor born, not made". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
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