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Chiwetel Ejiofor – A Biography by Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Chiwetel Ejiofor
Chiwetel Ejiofor by Gage Skidmore.jpg

Ejiofor at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con International promoting Doctor Strange
Born Chiwetel Umeadi Ejiofor[2]
10 July 1977 (age 40)
Forest GateLondon, England
Residence Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Nationality British
Education Dulwich College
Alma mater London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (no degree)
Occupation Actor
Years active 1985–present
Relatives Zain Asher (sister)

Chiwetel Umeadi Ejiofor,[3] CBE (/ˈɪtɛl ˈɛi.fɔːr/ CHOO-i-tel EJ-ee-oh-for; born 10 July 1977)[3][4] is an English actor.[5] 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.[6]

Ejiofor portrayed the characters Okwe in Dirty Pretty Things (2002), The Operative in Serenity (2005), Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave(2013), Dr. Vincent Kapoor in The Martian (2015), Karl Mordo in Doctor Strange (2016), and most recently Scar in the upcoming The Lion King (2019). 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.[7]

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.[8] He was elevated to Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2015 Birthday Honours.[9]


Early life

Ejiofor was born in London’s Forest Gate, to Nigerian parents.[10] His father, Arinze, was a doctor, and his mother, Obiajulu, was a pharmacist. His younger sister is CNN correspondent Zain Asher.[11]

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, and received scars that are still visible on his forehead.[12][13]

Ejiofor began acting in school plays at the age of fourteen at 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 at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Redbelt

Ejiofor made his film debut in the television film Deadly Voyage (1996).[14] He went on to become a stage actor in London. In Steven Spielberg‘s Amistad,[14] 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.[15]

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,[14] 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,[14] 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 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 film Serenity (2005).[14] Ejiofor played a revolutionary in the film Children of Men (2006).[14] His singing and acting performance in Kinky Boots received a Golden Globe Award[14] 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.[14]

In 2007, Ejiofor starred opposite Don Cheadle in Talk to Me,[16] 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”.[17] He was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance.[14] He also narrated for the BBC television filmPartition: The Day India Burned (2007), which was based on the Partition of India.

Ejiofor was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.[18] 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.[19] 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.[14]

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.[20]

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?'”[21] He accepted the role about 24 hours later.[22] 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.[23] 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).[24] 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.”[25]

Ejiofor in 2015

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.[21][23][25][26] 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.”[27] From Christopher Orr at The Atlantic: “Ejiofor has given notable performances in the past (Dirty Pretty ThingsSerenityTalk 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.”[28] 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.”[29] 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 VicJoe Wright, who directed the play, was to also direct the film.[30][31]

In 2014, Ejiofor starred in the Nigerian film Half of a Yellow Sun alongside Thandie Newton.[32]

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.[33] In 2016, Ejifor played Baron Mordo in the Marvel film Doctor Strange.[34] 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.[35] He was officially chosen on November 1, 2017 for the role of Scar(originally played by Jeremy Irons in the 1994 animated film) for the CGI live action remake, The Lion King (2019) directed by Jon Favreau.[36]

Personal life

Ejiofor is friends with fellow British actors Benedict Cumberbatch,[37] Idris Elba [38] and Andrew Lincoln, the last of whom he has been close to since they starred together in the play Blue/Orange in London in 2000.[39]

In 2015, Ejiofor was honoured with a Global Promise Award by The GEANCO Foundation, a non-profit welfare organisation in West Africa for his charity work in Nigeria.[40]

On 12 September, Ejiofor, as well as Cate BlanchettJesse EisenbergPeter CapaldiDouglas BoothNeil GaimanKeira KnightleyJuliet StevensonKit Harington and Stanley Tucci, was featured in a video from the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR to help raise awareness to 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, of which also includes a petition to governments to expand asylum to provide further shelter, integrating job opportunities, and education.[41][42]



Year Title Role Director Notes
1997 Amistad Ensign James Covey Steven Spielberg
1999 G:MT – Greenwich Mean Time Rix John Strickland
2002 Dirty Pretty Things Okwe lander Stephen Frears
2003 Love Actually Peter Richard Curtis
2004 She Hate Me Frank Wills Spike Lee
Red Dust Alex Mpondo Tom Hooper
Melinda and Melinda Ellis Moonsong Woody Allen
2005 Four Brothers Victor Sweet John Singleton
Serenity The Operative Joss Whedon
Slow Burn Ty Trippin Wayne Beach
Kinky Boots Simon / Lola Julian Jarrold
2006 Inside Man Detective Bill Mitchell Spike Lee
Children of Men Luke Alfonso Cuarón
2007 Talk to Me Dewey Hughes Kasi Lemmons
American Gangster Huey Lucas Ridley Scott
2008 Redbelt Mike Terry David Mamet
Slapper Himself Short film; writer, director
2009 Endgame Thabo Mbeki Pete Travis
2012 Dr. Adrian Helmsley Roland Emmerich
2010 Salt Darryl Peabody Phillip Noyce
2013 Savannah Christmas Moultrie Annette Haywood-Carter
12 Years a Slave Solomon Northup Steve McQueen
Half of a Yellow Sun Odenigbo Biyi Bandele
2015 Z for Zachariah John Loomis Craig Zobel
The Martian Vincent Kapoor Ridley Scott
Secret in Their Eyes Ray Kasten Billy Ray
2016 Triple 9 Michael Atwood John Hillcoat
Doctor Strange Karl Mordo Scott Derrickson
2018 Come Sunday Carlton Pearson Joshua Marston Post-production
Mary Magdalene Peter Garth Davis Post-production
Sherlock Gnomes Gnome Watson (voice) John Stevenson Post-production
2019 The Lion King Scar (voice) Jon Favreau Filming


Year Title Role Notes
1996 Deadly Voyage Ebow Television film
2001 Murder in Mind DS McCorkindale Episode: “Teacher”
2003 Twelfth Night Orsino Television film
2003 Trust Ashley Carter 6 episodes
2003 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
2013 Phil Spector Mock Prosecutor Television film
2017 Red Nose Day Actually Peter Television short film


Year Title Role Notes
1995 Othello Othello Bloomsbury Theatre
1996 Othello Othello Theatre Royal, Glasgow
1997 Macbeth Malcolm Bristol Old Vic
1999 Sparkleshark Russell Royal National Theatre
2000 Blue/Orange Chris Royal National Theatre
2000 Romeo and Juliet Romeo Montague Royal National Theatre
2000 Peer Gynt Young Peer Royal National Theatre
2002 The Vortex Nicky Lancaster Donmar Warehouse
2007 The Seagull Boris Alexeyevich Trigorin Royal Court Theatre
2007 Othello Othello Donmar Warehouse
2013 A Season in the Congo Patrice Lumumba Young Vic
2015 Everyman Everyman Royal National Theatre

Awards and nominations


  1. Jump up^ Thomas, Kate (27 October 2015). “Royal seal of approval: 12 Years A Slave actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is appointed a CBE for services to drama by the Duke of Cambridge”News release. London. Daily Mail. Retrieved January 10, 2016.
  2. Jump up^ Jenelle Riley (2013-12-17). “Chiwetel Ejiofor: 12 Years a Slave Star A Name to Remember”. Variety. Retrieved 2017-05-09.
  3. Jump up to:a b “BFI | Film & TV Database | EJIOFOR, Chiwetel”. Ftvdb.bfi.org.uk. 16 April 2009. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  4. Jump up^ born in 1977, as stated by Ejiofor at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_UDXHRlCRs, at 9:30 mark
  5. Jump up^ “Columbite Tantalite: a film that fuses Congo’s past and present struggles”The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  6. Jump up^ “A Season in the Congo: interview with Chiwetel Ejiofor”The Telegraph. UK. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  7. Jump up^ “2014 Emmy Awards: ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Fargo’ Lead Nominations”. variety. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
  8. Jump up^ “‘Kinky Boots’ actor Chiwetel receives OBE from Queen”Hello. UK. Retrieved 19 December 2008.
  9. Jump up^ “2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours” (PDF). The London Gazette.
  10. Jump up^ 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…
  11. Jump up^ Danny Walker (17 January 2014). “Oscars: Watch Chiwetel Ejiofor’s sister Zain Asher cry on live TV following Oscar nomination – Mirror Online”mirror.
  12. Jump up^ Raphael, Amy. “Almost famous”The Guardian, 3 November 2002. Retrieved 9 July 2007.
  13. Jump up^ 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 April2010.
  14. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j “Chiwetel Ejiofor Biography”Biography.com. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  15. Jump up^ “Chiwetel Ejiofor Profile”Metacritic. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  16. Jump up^ Talk to Me, FocusFeatures.com. Retrieved 29 July 2007.
  17. Jump up^ Press reviews: Othello, BBC. Retrieved 5 December 2007
  18. Jump up^ “No. 58729”The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 June 2008. p. 10.
  19. Jump up^ Ejiofor, Chiwetel (18 June 2008). “Can you bring it down a notch, Bill?”The Guardian. London. Retrieved 17 August 2010.
  20. Jump up^ McCracken, Kristin (11 September 2013). “Interview: Steve McQueen Talks ’12 Years A Slave,’ ‘Django Unchained’, Pitt & Fassbender & More”. The Playlist. Retrieved 6 November2013.
  21. Jump up to:a b 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.
  22. Jump up^ Horn, John (6 September 2013). “In ’12 Years a Slave,’ Steve McQueen juxtaposes beauty, brutality”Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
  23. Jump up to:a b Wallenger, Christopber (19 October 2013). “Chiwetel Ejiofor breaks through in ’12 Years a Slave'”Boston Globe. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
  24. Jump up^ Mandell, Andrea (17 October 2013). “’12 Years’ captures brutality, reality of slavery”USA Today. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  25. Jump up to:a b 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.
  26. Jump up^ Mandell, Andrea (16 November 2013). “Oscar buzz follows Fassbender, Ejiofor in ’12 Years'”USA Today. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  27. Jump up^ Gleiberman, Owen (7 September 2013). “Toronto 2013: ’12 Years a Slave’ is a landmark of cruelty and transcendence”Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
  28. Jump up^ Orr, Christopher (18 October 2013). “The Searing, Visceral 12 Years a Slave”The Atlantic. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
  29. Jump up^ 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.
  30. Jump up^ 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.
  31. Jump up^ Alberge, Dalya (14 September 2013). “Young Vic turns film studio as it remakes stage hits for cinema”The Guardian. London, UK.
  32. Jump up^ Soffell, Jenny (21 October 2013). “‘Half of a Yellow Sun’: Thandie Newton, typhoid and a tale of civil war”. cnn. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
  33. Jump up^ “Chiwetel Ejiofor set for drug dealer role”, BBC News (Entertainment & Arts), 9 June 2014.
  34. Jump up^ Mannie Holmes. “Doctor Strange at D23: Kevin Feige Confirms Chiwetel Ejiofor As Baron Mordo”Yahoo Movies UK.
  35. Jump up^ Benjamin Lee. “Chiwetel Ejiofor to play Peter the apostle in Mary Magdalene film | Film”. The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-05-09.
  36. Jump up^ “Chiwetel Ejiofor Will Voice Scar in The Lion King”. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
  37. Jump up^ “‘Doctor Strange’: Chiwetel Ejiofor Confirms His Appearance, Excited To Work With Benedict Cumberbatch”. IB Times. Retrieved 12 January 2016.,
  38. Jump up^ “I love Idris Elba — we’ve been friends for 20 years, says rival award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor”. Evening Standard. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  39. Jump up^ “Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor Agree Mark in Love Actually is a Creep”. Cosmopolitan. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  40. Jump up^ Mannie Holmes (22 September 2015). “Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Oyelowo Talk Nigeria’s Girls, Uzo Aduba & Diversity at Fundraiser”. variety.com. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  41. Jump up^ “2016 Stories – #WithRefugees”. Retrieved 2016-09-14.
  42. Jump up^ “What They Took With Them – #WithRefugees”. 2016-09-07. Retrieved 2016-09-14.
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