Chiwetel Ejiofor talks ’12 Years a Slave’ Oscar chances – and how to pronounce his name
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
Less than five minutes into a private press conference for Steve McQueen’s new film “12 Years a Slave,” an interviewer had already mispronounced star Chiwetel Ejiofor’s first name... twice.
After the reporter was corrected by a hovering publicist, Ejiofor quipped, “I’ve heard worse,” drawing a roar of laughter from the assembled media. It was exactly the kind of light, tension-diffusing note that the otherwise very serious discussion needed to start off on. (His full name is pronounced “Chew-it-ell Edge-ee-oh-for,” by the way.)
In “12 Years a Slave,” Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a free African-American man who is kidnapped, sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War South, and spends more than a decade working on Louisiana cotton and cane plantations.
Part of what makes McQueen’s star-studded film so extraordinary is the fact it’s based on a true story: The real-life Northup published a memoir detailing his terrible experience in 1853. The director’s violent and soul-crushing big-screen adaptation of Northup’s tale premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday night to rave reviews, and is already getting a tonne of awards season buzz -- Ejiofor is now regarded by many as the frontrunner for Best Actor at the Oscars.
When asked about all that Oscar buzz, the 36-year-old London native demurred slightly. “Making this film has been an extraordinary journey,” Ejiofor said. “I’m delighted right now -- anything else is gravy.”
He also deflected the Academy Award chatter by talking about what attracted him to the project to begin with. “Solomon’s Northup’s story is one of kind,” he said. “It’s a real insight into a time and a place, a first person narrative/historical document that should be in every school in the world.”
Ejiofor’s co-star (and frequent Steve McQueen collaborator) Michael Fassbender agreed, and said that doing justice to the story of Solomon Northup was a “massive responsibility.”
“The main thing was to honour the spirits that lived these lives,” Fassbender said.
Alfre Woodard, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Steve McQueen, and Sarah Paulson. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
The “X-Men: First Class” actor plays Edwin Epps, Northup’s second owner – a vicious, Bible-thumping cotton farmer who despises the slave for his strong will and intelligence.