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Chiwetel Ejiofor: Stage King With A Difference



Against all odds, Nigerians do well once given the chance, and especially well, when they are on foreign soil where opportunities abound and hard work is rewarded. That is the story of Chiwetel Ejiofor, one of Nigeria’s best, doing marvelously well in Hollywood and his country of birth, England. 

Since making his debut on screen in the television film, Deadly Voyage (1996) the talented actor has continued to thrill movie fans with one exciting performance after another. 

Originally from eastern Nigeria, Ejiofor was born in London on July 10, 1977. His father, Arinze, who died in 1988 was a medical doctor while his mother, Obiajulu, was a pharmacist.

Ejiofor began nurturing his passion for arts as early as from his junior school days as a teenager. At the time, he played several roles in his school’s plays including playing the gravedigger in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He continued to fan into flame, his desire to become better as an actor by acting during his senior school days too. So that when it was time for young Ejiofor to choose a career afterwards, it was easy for him to accept to be trained as an actor in different schools across London including National Youth Theatre and London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, which he was forced to abandon at the end of the first year after being cast in Steven Spielberg’s film, Amistad. 

Since Amistad, he has continued to feature in numerous movies and win several awards. One of his movies, Dirty Pretty Things (2002) won him three awards for Best Actor at the British Independent Film Awards, the Evening Standard Film Awards, and the San Diego Film Critics Society Awards.

His other movies include Love Actually (2003) Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda (2004) Kinky Boots (2005) Inside Man (2006) Children of Men (2006) American Gangster (2007) and Talk to Me (2007) which won him an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Ejiofor also appeared in such notable films as Endgame (2009), Channel 4’s moving drama set in South Africa for which his performance earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries; Roland Emmerich’s action feature 2012 (2009).

Apart from acting in movies, Ejiofor also commits to television where he has featured in a number of prestigious stage productions. In 2008 for instance, his portrayal of the title role in Michael Grandage’s Othello was so good it won him best actor at the 2008 Laurence Olivier Awards and Evening Standard Theatre Awards. The same performance also gave him nominations in the South Bank Show Awards and the What’s On Stage Theatregoers’ Choice Awards in 2009.

Following his television debut in the series episode Screen Two: Deadly Voyage (1996), Ejiofor has complimented his film and theatre work on the small screen in productions including Murder in Mind (2001), created by the award-winning writer Anthony Horowitz, Trust (2003), Twelfth Night, or What You Will (2003), and Canterbury Tales (2003). His television appearance in the hard hitting emotional drama Tsunami: The Aftermath (2006) alongside Toni Collette, Sophie Okonedo and Tim Roth earned him a nomination for a Golden Globe Award as well as an NAACP Image award.

His other stage roles include Roger Michell’s Blue/Orange in 2000 which received the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Play, and the same year, he portrayed Romeo, in Tim Supple’s Romeo and Juliet.

Ejiofor was voted Outstanding Newcomer at the London Evening Standard Awards in 2000 for his performance in Blue/Orange, a play about a mental patient who claims to be the son of an exiled African dictator; he was also awarded the Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer at the 2000 London Critics Circle Theatre Awards (Drama) and nominated for a 2001 Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Of all the roles that he has played both in film and television, the one role that Ejiofor is renowned for is his portrayal of Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave. The 2013 film that was named the best film of that year by several media outlets, was directed by Steve McQueen.

In 12 Years a Slave, Ejiofor, who had been quietly building up an impressive resume of supporting roles landed a lead as the New York State-born free African-American man who was kidnapped in Washington in the period drama film and an adaptation of the 1853 slave narrative memoir. The film went on to give him an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award nominations, along with the BAFTA Award for Best Actor.

His recent films include 2015’s The Martian and Secret in Their Eyes, where he acted alongside pretty woman, Julia Roberts. Then there is the 2016 crime thriller, Triple 9, and the action adventure Marvel’s Doctor Strange, also a 2016 movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

Ejiofor has worked alongside prominent Hollywood actors including Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Common, John Cusack, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton and many more.

As a contributor to English cinema, Ejiofor has also been recognised. 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.

The Nigerian-British thespian is set to join Angelina Jolie again, in Maleficent 2, an upcoming sequel to the 2014 American Dark Fantasy film, Maleficent, produced by Walt Disney Pictures. The film is set to be released in 2022.