Chiwetel Ejiofor: “I am an immigrant, a refugee. I had to be reborn in order to survive”

The facet of philosopher is not one of the best known of Chiwetel Ejiofor. For theater lovers, his popularity stems from his legendary performance as Othello at the Donmar Theater in London, or his role in Romeo and Juliet at the National Theatre, also in the British capital. For moviegoers, his fame is due to the fact that he is an actor whose career, which he has endowed with an unmistakable dignity and vulnerability, encompasses everything, from the Oscar-winning drama 12 Years A Slave, even roles in comedies (Love Actually, Stepping strong) or in films in which he plays computer-generated animals (the remake from The Lion King). In 2019, we got to know his side as a screenwriter and director in The boy who tamed the windand this year we will see the highest grossing Chiwetel in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Marvel, in which he plays the supervillain Karl Mordo.

At the cinema He gives his interpretations an intensity and rawness that have caught the attention of some of today’s best directors: Steve McQueen, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Alfonso Cuarón, Ang Lee. Among the actors, he has a reputation for always wanting to go a little further; sometimes much further. Alfre Woodard, actress with whom he shares a cast in 12 years a slave (2013), a film directed by Steve McQueen, recounts that in one scene “he ran at full speed from a distance 300 meters from where I was and arrived with his tongue hanging out, covered in sweat and with a feverish look. He was so knackered that I got out of the role out of fright”. (Ejioford rehearsed that scene three times with equal intensity before shooting it.)

“What makes Chiwetel such a wonderful actor is his razor-sharp intellect, how hard he works, and how much he prepares for each role,” actress Naomie Harris tells me. “No one is better prepared than him or has a deeper understanding of the character and the project than he does.”

In person, he displays a cheerful and festive side that very few people know about. “He is always the first to relax the atmosphere or get fully involved in whatever is needed at that moment. Even though he’s laughing at his own jokes, you can’t help but laugh with him,” says Benedict Cumberbatch, the Doctor Strange of the Marvel movies. “Chiwetel always wins people over, whether he has to shoot scenes with a lot of fighting or a lot of dialogue. But to choose a trait that defines his wonderful personality would be doing a disservice to the deep, complex, exuberant person that he actually is.”

They say knowing what you don’t want is a sign of wisdom, and he’s all too aware of what he doesn’t know. But let’s go to those we don’t know about Chiwetel Ejiofor. He is 44 years old. When he goes to karaoke he usually chooses Johnny B. Goode, by Chuck Berry. She really likes dogs (she has a Pyrenean shepherd named Clay) and his favorite emoji is the eagle (she’s a Crystal Palace FC fan). He drinks two cups of coffee a day at most. He can change a fuse “more or less well,” but he’s still not entirely comfortable on Zoom. He has read the Bible (in pieces as a Catholic-raised child, and in full as part of his role as a preacher in the Netflix movie Eat Sunday, 2018) and considers that it is important to highlight what is positive in the teaching of religion.

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Chiwetel Ejiofor: “I am an immigrant, a refugee. I had to be reborn in order to survive”