Chiwetel Ejiofor (10 July 1977 -)
A British actor who has found his mark in American movies, Chiwetel Ejiofor – pronounced Chew-eh-tell Edge-ee-oh-for if you’re not sure – has appeared in a number of high-profile features since he caught the attention of Steven Spielberg, and was cast in Amistad (1997). Since then he’s had the serious good fortune to appear in movies directed by the likes of Ridley Scott (twice), Woody Allen, Spike Lee (also twice), Roland Emmerich, and Joss Whedon. By his own admission he’s attracted to strong, dramatic stories, hence the reason Love Actually (2003) is one of the very few comedies to grace his CV, but it is that intensity and drive he can bring to a movie that makes his performances so memorable, even in something as disappointing as Secret in Their Eyes (2015). He’s best remembered for his award-winning portayal of Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave (2013), but fortunately it’s not a movie or a role that has pigeon-holed him since, and with his upcoming appearance as Baron Mordo in Marvel’s Doctor Strange (2016), it’s clear that he’ll continue to make a variety of dramatic movies, and in any genre. Here are five more movies that he’s appeared in over the years. Together, all of them confirm his range as an actor – as if this was needed – and all of them are well worth seeking out if you haven’t done already.
Talk to Me (2007) – Character: Dewey Hughes
A movie about the life and times of ex-con and radio personality Ralph “Petey” Greene (played by Don Cheadle), sees Ejiofor playing his friend and manager. He gives an inspired (and award-winning) performance that perfectly complements Cheadle’s, and the movie’s examination of one of America’s most turbulent periods – the late Sixties, early Seventies – is faithfully depicted. Even if the episodic nature of the narrative stops the movie from being as powerful as it could have been, Ejiofor’s portrayal of Hughes is nothing short of outstanding.
Dirty Pretty Things (2002) – Character: Okwe
A British movie that deals with issues of immigration and racism, Dirty Pretty Things is bolstered by yet another award-winning performance by Ejiofor. As a Nigerian doctor forced to leave his country and who finds front of house work at a hotel that hides a terrible secret, Ejiofor brings an honesty and sincerity to his portrayal that never once falters. He’s particularly good in his scenes with Audrey Tautou (as a Turkish Muslim seeking asylum), and does a superb job of maintaining Okwe’s fatalistic-yet-hopeful character, even when the odds that he’ll find happiness are stacked against him.
Endgame (2009) – Character: Thabo Mbeki
The second true story in this list, Endgame concerns itself with the secret talks held between the African National Congress and the Afrikaner National Party as they tried to reach an agreement to end apartheid. As Mbeki, Ejiofor gives yet another excellent performance – this time alongside William Hurt’s professor of philosophy, Willie Esterhuyse. The relationship that evolves between the two men serves as an example of what life in South Africa without apartheid could be like, and as the passionate, demanding Mbeki, Ejiofor is on such good form he’s almost hypnotic.
Serenity (2005) – Character: The Operative
Ejiofor’s first encounter with science fiction couldn’t have been more enjoyable – for him and for fans of the short-lived TV series Firefly. As the mysterious and determined Operative, Ejiofor elevates the character’s seemingly banal, villain-101 demeanour into something much more interesting and calculated. He also fits in well with the established cast, and proves more than capable of holding his own against the likes of Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk, while also creating a role that is memorable for being unexpectedly layered.
Kinky Boots (2005) – Character: Lola/Simon
There’s much fun to be had in this, the tale of a Northampton shoe manufacturer whose livelihood is threatened by falling sales – until owner Charlie (played by Joel Edgerton) comes up with the idea for making bespoke boots for drag queens. As one of those drag queens, Ejiofor mixes comedy and drama with ease, and reveals a fine singing voice into the bargain. It’s effectively a supporting role, but when he’s on screen, Ejiofor holds the viewer’s attention like no one else – and that’s not just because of the outfits he’s called on to wear.