A role like Solomon Northup is long overdue for an actor like Chiwetel Ejiofor. He’s been quietly building up an impressive résumé of supporting roles for the past decade or so, but having the opportunity to take on such a challenging lead role in 12 Years a Slave, and the almost certain Oscar nomination that will come with it, is sure to make him a known lead player, at long last.
His work in 12 Years is absolutely outstanding, and since it’s a movie that’s so dependent on solid performances that make this dark world an immediate one for us, he bears the weight of its success on his shoulders, and carries it the entire way. More people are going to know his name by the time awards season rolls around, and for those that already do, they’ll likely finally learn how to pronounce it (“CHEW-wi-tell EDGE-ee-ah-for,” I’m told).
Ejiofor first gained attention by starring alongside Audrey Tautou in the woefully forgotten Stephen Frears movie from 2002, Dirty Pretty Things. It wasn’t until 2007’s Talk to Me that I recognized him again, but playing essentially the straight man up against Don Cheadle’s animated portrayal of Petey Greene, he didn’t leave a lasting impression; in fact, I may have, in my ignorance, found him to be the weak point of the movie.
He has a style that’s a little different from most actors we see in movies today, almost a kind of throwback to the type of classical British theatre actors of days past (Ejiofor actually won the 2008 Laurence Olivier Award, which seems appropriate). But his collaboration with Steve McQueen has made me feel foolish for doubting him. And more foolish for forgetting he’s done solid work in so many movies I’ve enjoyed.
Here are 5 movies you’ve probably seen Chiwetel Ejiofor in before 12 Years a Slave.
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