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Chiwetel Ejiofor - Biography

Chiwetel Ejiofor was nominated for an Oscar for his role in 12 Years a Slave

Chiwetel Ejiofor attends "The Woman King" UK Gala Screening at Odeon Luxe Leicester Square on October 03, 2022 in London, England.
Francesca Shillcock
Senior Features Writer
Updated: November 28, 2023
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He chased after Angelina Jolie in Salt, tried to save humanity in $570m disaster epic 2012 and was Denzel Washington's second in command in American Gangster. Yet 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen's 2014 awards season darling is the film that has made Chiwetel Ejiofor an A-List name. It has also earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Polished, handsome and radiating a gentle charisma, the British talent looks every inch the movie star. A scar on his forehead dating from a crash when he was 11 only adds to the powerful impression. It also bears testament to one of the most distressing events of his life; his father a Nigerian-born doctor, who sang his own songs, died aged 39, in the accident.

"I am a bit daunted by him still," said the actor, who was born in 1977. "It has always been a growing and changing relationship for me. I may reach an older age but I will never be the older man." It's obvious that his father would be proud.

Chiwetel Ejiofor's early life

From London's Dulwich College, Chiwetel went on to the National Theatre and prestigious drama school LAMDA, leaving when he got a call from Steven Spielberg, who picked him for Amistad.

Chiwetel, though, didn't hang around to find out if the rest of Hollywood was as impressed with him. "I had a very happy jaunt to LA at 19. And I imagined it would make a great story or memory," he said of that time. But I wasn't going to stick around because I really wanted to do plays. And I was very definite and forthright about that. I shook hands and headed home. I wanted to work in the National Theatre and the RSC."

Starring opposite Ewan McGregor in Othello underlined his mastery of the stage and won him an Olivier award. Notable films followed with Dirty Pretty Things and Love Actually where he was part of love triangle featuring Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln. In 2008, his efforts were recognised with an OBE from the Queen.

He hesitated to take historical drama 12 Years a Slave. He explained: "You wait all your life for a great script to come through the door. You're hassling your agent and then it comes, and you read it and your first reaction surprises you. Your first reaction being, 'Can I do this?'"

It turns out he could, a happy eventuality which put him in the company of co-stars Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch. Despite the heavy subject matter, off screen the cast were very close-knit, hitting New Orleans social scene together.

In more recent years, his credits have included: The Martian, The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Locked Down and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

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