He first came to my attention in Stephen Frear’s gritty Dirty Pretty Things, where his performance amazed and troubled me, earning him a position in my Best Performances of the New Millenium list. As Okwe, every facial expression he wore held a sad secret, or a wise truth. His unfufilled love for Audrey Tautou’s character was made more heartbreaking by the two characters silent, stoic performances. And the final phone call? The way his voice cracks with happiness? A scene that will haunt me forever.
Ejiofor also excels at other, very different roles. As the cross-dressing, Nina Simone singing Simon/Lola in Kinky Boots, he was lively, playful, and utterly hilarious. In the same year, he played the evil guy in Serenity, and was the best thing about the film. Giving a fantasy villain depth may seem like an impossibility, but Ejiofor rises to the task commendably to give us another well-played character. 2005 was clearly his year, as there was also 4 Brothers – not great, but you could tell he was having fun in his role.
He returned to the same Dirty Pretty Things-esque persona as the kind pianist inn Woody Allen’s Melinda & Melinda, excelling in the tragedy segement. I think this was smart casting on Woody Allen’s part, as he had not then yet astonished with his comedic turn in Kinky Boots, so I would have kept him in dramatic roles. He also manages to steal the show, no matter how small his role. In Inside Man, he had brilliant on-screen chemistry with Denzel Washington, and never once let Washington out-act him. Even in his few seconds in Love Actually, he impressed.
He has two upcoming films, weird sci-fi thing Children of Men, and another weird looking film called Tonight at Noon. I’m not eagerly anticipating either, but whatever the quality of the film, I can be sure that I will enjoy Ejiofor’s performance, for he is an excellent actor, controlled, brave, able to master any accent, and nuanced. And what a varied CV… I know this man is going to go far.
01. Dirty Pretty Things
02. Love Actually
03. Melinda & Melinda
04. Inside Man
05. Kinky Boots
01. As Okwe in Dirty Pretty Things
02. As Simon/Lola in Kinky Boots
03. As Ellis in Melinda & Melinda
04. As Orsino in Twelfth Night
05. As The Operative in Serenity