Chiwetel Ejiofor has worked with some of the best directors in the business today. He got one of his first major acting roles with Steven Spielberg at the age of 19 in Amstad in 1995. In addition, Ridley Scott with American Gangster and Joss Whedon in Serenity. Before he worked with Steve McQueen on 12 years a Slave.
For years he was the sidekick or the supporting character to the main lead in many of these films. Quite often criminally underrated. He slipped under the radar. He had the presence and the ability to step up to the lead role. Thankfully it came with 12 years a slave.
His first major lead and he gave such a great performance. A performance that brought academy and bafta nominations. For many he was the favourite. He lost out to Matthew McConaughey. For many he should have won and his director Steve McQueen articulated why he was so good.
“Chiwetel Ejiofor was always going to be Solomon Northup for me. I was looking for someone that had that genteelness, that kind of humanity. Knowing that humanity was going to be tested under certain duress and circumstances, I needed a person who could actually keep hold of that, even through periods of extraordinary trying and extraordinary situations where it would be tested to its absolute limit. He was the only person”
McConaughey’s performance was a career best for him. But it doesn’t match to Ejiofor’s performance. McConaughey went to bigger things. Ejiofor headed back to the stage. Ejiofor is brilliant on the stage and quite rightly is rewarded handsomely for it. However his talent and work rate is sorely missed from the big screen.
He has recently popped up in Love actually sequel in a supporting role. Again he did a supporting role alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange. Hollywood cries out that age of leading man is over. But the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor can fill that leading man role. But he has been criminally underused.
He doesn’t have the charisma of Will Smith or the charm of Robert Downing Jr. But he has the intensity and presence that other leading men lack. If he was offered the roles that Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro were offered over the years you’d wonder how well he would do.
He’s an actor who thrives on the stage and thrives on screen when given the opportunity. He was once told due to his African name he would only be given African roles. It’s time he’s given a leading role on a regular basis. His one major leading role garnered an academy nomination. Contrast to McCoaughey who floundered for years before he eventually got going.
There is endless similar stories of other actors who floundered for years before eventually the performances came. Ejiofor has spent years honing his craft for that one opportunity. He got it and took it with both hands. It’s now time to let him grace our screen in that leading role on a regular basis.
His fellow actor Tom Hiddleston summed it up well. He’s been one of the greatest actors of his generation for some time,” Hiddleston says. “It gives me so much pleasure to see that the world is starting to catch on.”