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Ejiofor, Chiwetel (1977-)


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An actor of notable intelligence, wit and versatility, Chiwetel Ejiofor has established himself in a comparatively short time as one of the most interesting performers of his generation. He was born on 11 June 1977 in Forest Gate, and while attending Dulwich College he became involved with the National Youth Theatre. His acting debut was an inauspicious bit part in a BBC/HBO TV movie, Deadly Voyage (1996), but it brought him to the attention of Steven Spielberg, who cast him in the small but important role of a young ensign in Amistad (US, 1997). Although the film was not as successful as expected, Ejiofor's performance was strikingly mature for such a young actor.

He had more significant roles in the British films G:MT Greenwich Mean Time (d. John Strickland, 1999) and It Was An Accident (d. Metin Hüseyin, 2000), the latter being his first lead, though neither film made much impact. He had more success as a stage actor, appearing in Joe Penhall's play about mental illness, Blue/Orange, at the National Theatre and in Noël Coward's The Vortex at the Donmar Warehouse. However, the role that brought him to public prominence was Okwe, the decent, conflicted protagonist of the immigrant drama Dirty Pretty Things (UK, d. Stephen Frears, 2002). Ejiofor's subtle, quietly heroic performance won him both the British Independent Film and Evening Standard awards.

His classical ability was showcased by his appearances as Orsino in Tim Supple's inventively multicultural adaptation of Twelfth Night (Channel 4, 2003), and then opposite John Simm in The Knight's Tale, part of the BBC's modern-dialogue re-imagining of The Canterbury Tales (2003). His appearance in Love Actually (UK/US, d. Richard Curtis, 2003) was brief and insubstantial, perhaps verging on the tokenistic, but he was far better served by his performance in Woody Allen's 'return to form' Melinda and Melinda (US, 2004). In this, playing opposite Radha Mitchell's 'tragic' Melinda, he again showed his seemingly effortless ability at encapsulating compassion and strength

A Hollywood career beckoned, but with variable results. His appearance in the Spike Lee misfire She Hate Me (US, 2004) was fleeting and insignificant, but he demonstrated his versatility by playing the flamboyant villain in John Singleton's Four Brothers (US, 2005), as well as virtually stealing the show as the heartless English-accented nemesis 'The Operative' in Joss Whedon's Serenity (US, 2005). He also showcased an unexpected side as the transvestite cabaret artiste Lola in the gentle, low-key comedy Kinky Boots (d. Julian Jarrold, 2005). His reunion with Lee, as Denzel Washington's partner, in the crime thriller Inside Man (US, 2006), was pleasant but unremarkable, but an appearance in Alfonso Cuarón's adaptation of P.D. James' The Children of Men (UK/ Canada/ US, 2006) promises to be a step forward.

Alexander Larman

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