MOTW: A Biography of Chiwetel Ejiofor of "12 Years a Slave"

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In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.
Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures
February 27th, 2014

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Born on July 10, 1977, Chiwetel Ejiofor hails from East London. He got his start in a made-for-TV movie called "Deadly Voyage" in 1996, though he had an accomplished stage acting career prior to that. The first major film he starred in was the 1997 film "Amistad." Throughout his career, he has been nominated for many awards and has brought a handful of them home. Chiwetel Ejiofor is known for his distinct on-screen presence and his unique ability to convey a character's story in the most realistic fashion possible.

Chiwetel comes from Nigerian descent, and his parents both worked in the medical field and had prominent singing and acting careers. His mother, Obiajulu, raised him and his three siblings since his father, Arinze, was killed in a car accident that took place while the family was visiting their home country of Nigeria. This wreck did not leave the rest of the family unscathed; at only 11 years old, Chiwetel was hospitalized for over two months following the accident, and the damage left scars on his body.

By the time Chiwetel was 13 years old, his love for the limelight was apparent, and he took part in many school plays. Eventually, he even began acting for the National Youth Theater. As he fostered his passion and continued to grow as an actor, it became possible for him to attend the London Acedemy of Music and Dramatic Arts. Chiwetel's stage acting career began shortly after, as his talent and enthusiasm for acting became apparent during his time at the academy. He starred in productions with both the Almeida Theater Company and the Royal National Theater.

Recognizing his love for television acting, Chiwetel Ejiofor finally landed his first TV movie role in 1996. His thoughtful acting and high level of talent captured the attention of film directing legend Steven Spielberg, and this led Chiwetel to be cast for his big-screen debut in the historic movie "Amistad," which is about an uprising on a slave ship. With costars such as Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins and Mathew McConaughey, this film got much recognition and led Chiwetel to land numerous roles in other films. 

While his career has moved a long way from the small stages of the National Youth Theater, Chiwetel has not forgotten his roots. He continues to act in plays as well as on TV and in movies. One of the most notable plays he has been a part of is the Donmar Warehouse's production of "Othello" in 2008. His perfect portrayal of the classic drama earned him an Olivier and Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actor.

Chiwetel Ejiofor's award-winning career did not stop on the stage. In 2002, he won Best Actor at the British Independent Film Awards for his role in "Dirty Pretty Things," and in 2007, he won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor thanks to his role in "Talk to Me." These are only a few of his accomplishments, however, as Chiwetel has been the recipient of more than 25 awards during the course of his career and has been nominated for even more.

Other successful films Chiwetel has taken part in include "Salt," in which he played a role opposite of Angelina Jolie, "2012," which includes big names such as John Cusack and Danny Glover, and "Endgame," which also earned him an award. Part of his success as an actor is attributed to his unique ability to totally lose himself in a character in a way that impresses viewers. Very few actors have the skill to totally pour themselves into a character so completely. 

Chiwetel continues to show his acting chops as the lead role in major films such as "Half of a Yellow Sun" and "12 Years a Slave." His on-screen and on-stage versatility and his insatiable desire to bring characters to life make Chiwetel Ejiofor an unstoppable force in Hollywood, on stage and everywhere else.

Although he got his start on the stage and had a drive to be a television star, Chiwetel Ejiofor has become much more than that. His passion has led him beyond the small screen and onto the big screen on more than one occasion, and his ability to perfectly embody the characters he is cast for continues to land him roles in big-name films. His desire to be changed by his characters sets him apart from many other Hollywood actors, and this is evident in the way movie-goers no longer see him as just Chiwetel Ejiofor during a movie.