Chiwetel Ejiofor ('Dirty Pretty Things')
"It's Time For A New Superhero"
From Stephen Frears, the Oscar-nominated director of ’The Grifters’ and ’Dangerous Liaisons,’ comes a spellbinding dramatic thriller that is as unusual as it is human. ’Dirty Pretty Things’ follows Nigerian-born Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in his struggle to escape the events of his past by fleeing to London, a city that will not afford him an identity. Once a doctor, the troubled and sleep-deprived Okwe now toils as a London cab driver and hotel clerk. When Okwe discovers that his hotel is the site of a shady black market operation, he must fight to save his life and the lives of others while maintaining his anonymity.
Chiwetel Ejiofor has already received raves for his captivating performance in ’Dirty Pretty Things.’ He received the Best Actor award in both the London Evening Standard Awards and the South Bank Show Awards. He was also nominated for Best British Actor in the London Film Critics Circle Awards.
Ejiofor is also a graduate of London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He is an accomplished stage and film actor, recently completing a sell-out run at London’s National Theatre as Christopher in ‘Blue/Orange.’ For his performance, he won Outstanding Newcomer award in the London Evening Standard Awards 2000, the Most Promising Newcomer in the Critics Circle Awards in 2001 and a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Olivier Awards 2001. He undertook the role of Romeo in the National Theatre’s first ever production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to much critical acclaim, garnering a nomination for the Ian Charleston Award 2001.
Plucked from drama school at the age of 19 to appear in Steven Spielberg’s movie ’Amistad,’ his film work includes ’It Was An Accident,’ in which he starred as luckless ex-con Nicky, and ’Greenwich Mean Time,’ where he played Rix, a graduate trying to make it in the music business.
Chatting now with the well-spoken British actor at the beautiful Townsend Hotel in downtown sunny Birmingham, I first wondered if his first starring role in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Amistad’ had left an indelible mark on him. ”Well, it was pretty exciting,” he genuinely smiles. ”I think I was on my way back from choir at the time and that phone call really made my day.”
For Noel Coward’s ‘The Vortex’ you read up on him. So what, if any, research did you do for this part? ”Well, partly because of the fact that it’s set in a hospital, I had to do a lot of medical research. I talked with surgeons and hung out a bit in a mortuary, … as you do,” he laughs. ”We found out a lot about that side of things … a lot of suicides, apparently in the mortuary itself. And then there was this whole thing about getting to know the Immigration process and talking to people that have different levels of status with their Visa’s and such and then I seemed to be talking to a lot of cab drivers. They just seemed to have the best insight.”
To me, this movie’s underlying social comment is extraordinarily powerful, but do you think that American audiences will be able to get past what’s on the screen and understand the message beneath? ”I’m sure, but people would have to understand that in any major city these are the things that are happening constantly. I guess you could miss certain aspects of the film and just see what you want to see, but that’s just one way to look at the movie … and isn’t wrong either! It’s darkly comedic at times, and romantic and even political. It’s full of social realism and social commentary also.”
What does this movie title, ’Dirty Pretty Things’ represent to you? ”Well, the character ‘Sneaky,’ at one point in the first scene in the hotel, when there’s a dirty job to be cleared up he tells them that their job is to make everything look pretty again. Which is kind of a literal reference to the title.”
You have described the role of Okwe as “a classic hero” – explain that further ”He’s kind of a superhero, because he’s got this kind of super power. And he’s amongst this other world where nobody has this kind of power and when he needs to use his power in order to defeat the bad guys he’s assertive. He doesn’t believe in his power, but he gets to unleash it anyway.”
Which scene would you choose that, for your mind, was your most powerfully-acted and why? ”I think it was the graveyard scene because there’s so much in that scene about separational frustration. And I think the dialogue that is heard and said throughout that scene is based around both love and survival.”
Is it harder to concentrate on your character when you make a film and scenes tend to get shot out of order? ”I think it depends on the part. With this film, because the script and text was so complicated it was just important to place all the moments and know beforehand what was going to happen. To know what was going to happen to the character at any given moment.”
For ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ alone you’ve won Best Actor award in both the London Evening Standard Awards and the South Bank Show Awards and was also nominated for Best British Actor in the London Film Critics Circle Awards – how does that effect an actor both personally and professionally? ”I don’t know really, Of course, it’s really nice that people like and appreciate the stuff that you do, but I’m not under any illusions though. Because everything that I’ve won an award for could only have been there through a various number of people. And whether people choose to recognize that or not is down to them. I’m aware there are a certain number of aspects that go into this whole thing, so you’ve just got to hope you continue to do well and do the best you can.”
What’s the next movie project for you? ”I’m just shooting a movie up in Montreal called ‘Slow Burn’ which I’m enjoying and having a great time with. It’s a thriller that’s written and directed by Wayne Beach and stars Ray Liotta, Mekhi Phifer, LL Cool J and so far is a lot of fun to do,” he smiles again.
Was it Cary Grant in ‘Once Upon A Honeymoon’ that set you off on your path today? ”Wow, that’s extraordinary,” he compliments me with an amazed smile. ”You dug deep for that! Yes, I remember seeing the film and being amazed by Cary Grant’s character, but it was a long time ago,” he smiles broadly again.
In the BBC TV show ‘Trust’ you worked with, amongst others, Robson Green and Ian McShane – So, what did that whole experience proffer you? ”Yeah, it was really good. I mean, the thing about working for the BBC is that everything is very, very quick. It’s lightening speed the way they get through their stuff so it has it’s challenges, but it was great and a lot of fun.”
So, are you now famous and do people stop you in the grocery store?! ”I really don’t know what famous means,” he laughs the loudest yet. ”I mean, what defines it? I don’t know. And, yes, I do occasionally get stopped in the supermarket, but generally by people I know,” he beams broadly for the final time.
Interviewed By Russell A. Trunk
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