Monday, July 20, 2009

Going Soft with Chiwetel Ejiofor

If Gaby Wood's longish profile-interview with Chiwetel Ejiofor is any indication, the star of Redbelt and Talk to Me has got the equilibrium thing down pretty well. Ejiofor was in the New York area for his role in Philip Noyce's Salt, a thriller that also stars Liev Schreiber and Angelina Jolie, of whom he says, "She is very beautiful, but you know, you get used to it." Born in London in 1974 to Nigerian immigrants, Ejiofor's breakthrough movie role was in Stephen Frears's 2002 Dirty Pretty Things, in which he played a Nigerian immigrant--a former doctor--living under the radar in London. His other recent roles include that of Thabo Mbeki, who would go on to become president of South Africa, in Endgame, a TV drama about political negotitations during the dying days of apartheid. Wood writes that it "was the second time Ejiofor had been to South Africa. It took him a while to get over the first, a trip he made in 2004 to shoot the film version of Gillian Slovo's book Red Dust. In that, he played a torture victim, and was, as he now says, 'slightly traumatised'. He explains: 'I just wasn't expecting... I don't know, it was crazy not to have been expecting to come across a really complicated racial situation...There were people in our crew who had burned down villages in Zimbabwe, for example. You know, if you have a torture scene and somebody in the room says: "Yeah, that's exactly how you do it", it's a complicated set.'"

Ejiofor attended the National Youth Theatre, where as a teenager he played Othello, a role he played onstage two years ago to great acclaim. "I always thought of the play as a sequel to Romeo and Juliet," he saya. "I think Shakespeare's so astute in his understanding of people being vulnerable, you know. And that love is so easy to corrupt. I think so many of Shakespeare's plays are about how fragile love is - how perfect and beautiful it is, but also how terrifying and easy to manipulate it is." Wood kept an apartment in New York for a while but deemed living in the city too "claustrophobic." Now he keeps places in London and Los Angeles. Of the latter, he says, "I think for a little while I maybe wanted to loathe it, but actually it turned out that I was just lying to myself, and I was having quite a good time!" he laughs. "You know, you're there thinking: 'Where's the fire? What exactly is the problem here? Oh yeah, it's too nice. I'm going soft.'"

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