What you need to know about 12 Years A Slave star Chiwetel Ejiofor and why he almost passed up the project
CRITICS and co-stars alike laud British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as an “actor’s actor.” A theatre artiste, who made a name for Critics and co-stars alike laud British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as an “actor’s actor”. A theatre artiste, who made a name for himself playing the lead in Bloomsbury Theatre’s Othello in 1995, Ejiofor made his television debut with the film Deadly Voyage. He then moved to the big screen with Steven Spielberg’s Amistad. The 36-year-old is now part of Hollywood’s A-list after his Oscar-nominated performance in 12 Years A Slave—where he plays Solomon Northup, a free man and an avid violinist, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841 Louisiana. “It’s been the most extraordinary experience as an actor and probably as a person. To be in such close contact with Solomon Northup and his journey has been a remarkable experience. I was so moved to meet his descendents when they came to see the film,” he says.
Ejiofor says he will always be grateful for the role. “It was complex and there were a lot of elements to it. But more than being difficult, it was a privilege.” Talking about the buzz that the movie has been generating, he says, the warmth and the reception has been amazing. ‘‘But still, there is that funny thing about hype that makes your instincts say, ‘I don’t want people to pay that much attention to it.’ I would say to anybody watching it, just make up your own mind about it. I think it’s all about a kind of balance. It’s great that the film is receiving the attention that it’s receiving. But at the same time,the heartbeat is a bit quieter and meditative—it’s about a man’s journey through this incredible time, so in way, it’s a double-edged thing,” he says.
Ejiofor admits that playing a character that existed in real life gave him pause, initially. “There was a 24-hour period where I wasn’t really sure because I thought it was a huge responsibility to get involved with,” says Ejiofor. “I didn’t know if I was up to it, there were all these voices in my head. But then, you’ve just got to squeeze the life out of these voices, or at least try to shrink them. I managed to do that and said, ‘I want to be in it.’ From that point on, (director) Steve (McQueen) and I were just 100 per cent off to the races.” And though the movie focuses on slavery, Ejiofor tells us how it also has an international appeal. “By definition, there’s an international element even to American slavery, because the slaves weren’t from America. I learned about (slavery) in terms of Africa, West Indies, Britain, and America. So I always had that in my head. Even though 97 per cent of the people involved in this movie are Americans, there is an element of something international about it,” he says
12 Years A Slave has had a great impact on viewers. And, Ejiofor admits, on him too. “When I first read the script and then the book, I found it devastating. It was heartbreaking to look behind the curtain of that period in history. This story really does put you in Solomon’s mindset, so that you start to understand what he was going through and what he was witnessing. I really began to feel what this kind of emotional journey would mean to someone. After that, it was impossible to lose it. It penetrated me to the point that I still feel it. It’s quite a thing.”
— Team Indulge