Some say that the eyes are a window into one's soul, and few actors are gifted enough to make an audience truly believe the plight of the characters they portray; despite their best efforts, their eyes often betray their abilities and we still recognize the actor playing the character. With his honest eyes, sincere smile, and unmistakable onscreen presence, actor Chiwetel Ejiofor possesses the rare ability to internalize his characters to an unusually realistic degree -- an ability that has gained him increasing recognition in the arena of world cinema.
Ejiofor was born to Nigerian parents in Forest Gate, East London; his father was a doctor and his mother a pharmacist. Though his calling may not have been readily apparent in his early childhood, by the time Ejiofor was 13, the aspiring young actor was taking to the stage in numerous school and National Youth Theater productions. His love of the stage growing with each passing year, by the time Ejiofor got to Dulwich College, his calling was clear. Soon attending the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, he gained a reputation as a formidable stage talent, and following appearances in high-profile productions at the Almeida Theater Company and the Royal National Theater, Ejiofor's talents found him drawn to the medium of television, where he would make his debut in the 1996 made-for-TV thriller Deadly Voyage.
It wasn't long before Ejiofor's talent caught the eye of legendary film director Steven Spielberg, and the following year, the up-and-coming actor was back on the high seas for Spielberg's historical drama Amistad. Of course, a role in such a high-profile release was bound to attract the attention of other filmmakers as well, and though Ejiofor would remain true to his theater roots, he would balance his stage work with roles in such films as Greenwich Mean Time (1999), It Was an Accident, and Mind Games (both 2000). Cast opposite Amélie star Audrey Tautou in Stephen Frears' 2001 drama thriller Dirty Pretty Things, Ejiofor essayed the role of a Nigerian immigrant living in London who makes a horrible discovery that puts his life in grave danger. It was glaringly obvious to any who had seen his performances that Ejiofor was one to look out for, and his winning performance as a hedonistic lawyer in the 2003 British miniseries Trust only served to cement the fact that his career was on the fast track. Remaining on the small screen for Twelfth Night, or What you Will and The Canterbury Tales (both 2003), Ejiofor would subsequently return to the big screen for Love Actually (2003) and Slow Burn (2004), a pair of films that virtually ensured him a high recognition factor and a bright future on stage and screen. He continued to work steadily in a variety of character roles. He anchored the dramatic sections of Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda in 2004. He showed of his remarkable versatility in 2005 with roles in the urban thriller Four Brothers, the science fiction film Serenity, and starring as a flamboyant cross-dresser in the comedy Kinky Boots.
In 2006 he worked with a pair of high-powered directors. He played the partner to Denzel Washington's hostage negotiator in the hit thriller Inside Man, and played a large part in Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men.
In 2007 he played opposite Don Cheadle in the biopic Talk to Me, and he was the lead in David Mamet's 2008 drama Redbelt playing a martial-arts expert. The next year he appeared in the disaster epic 2012, and he was in the Angelina Jolie action film Salt in 2010. In 2013, Ejiofor had a huge breakthrough playing enslaved Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave, earning him his first Oscar nomination.