Chiwetel Ejiofor, 36, won this year’s Bafta Best Actor award and was Oscar-nominated for his performance in 12 Years a Slave. His other notable roles include a critically acclaimed Othello.
What was your earliest ambition?
I wanted to be an actor ever since I got on stage for the first time, aged 13. Before that, I thought I might follow in the medical footsteps of my parents: my father was a doctor, my mother a pharmacist.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
Dulwich College. It has a great tradition of theatre and the Edward Alleyn Theatre there was where I first started finding a real love of drama. Then I got a scholarship to Lamda – I was there very briefly but it was a formative time. I had done a couple of auditions for Amistad and didn’t feel it was going to go any further – and then the call came about heading to Los Angeles to work with Steven Spielberg. It was surreal: exciting, challenging, overwhelming.
Who was or still is your mentor?
Different members of my family, at different times of my life, for different reasons.
How physically fit are you?
Healthy. I can run a good few miles. I box a little.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Talent, a work ethic and an ability to really focus – and to fail and fail better next time. Those make the difference.
How politically committed are you?
There is some political content in the work that I do – engaging with what human respect and human dignity mean.
In school, too long ago to remember.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
To a degree.
Do you have more than one home?
Yes. A main place in LA.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
A Manet, if you can rustle one up!
What’s your biggest extravagance?
I love to sail.
In what place are you happiest?
London and LA are both places I feel I can call home. It’s a nice balance of Californian calm and that slightly more engaged, electric London vibe that I’ve always loved.
What ambitions do you still have?
I don’t have any specific goals aside from doing work that I enjoy and that I think people can get something out of seeing. I’m still at an early stage in my working life.
What drives you on?
In my professional life, striving to achieve artistic work of worth.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
There isn’t one achievement I look back on and see as the pinnacle of my life, though I’d like to one day. But I don’t imagine I’ll find that within work – it’s more likely to be in my personal life.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
The disappointments I feel are at a societal level – that certain things aren’t achieved.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
He would think I was incredibly fortunate. And would hope I could appreciate that.
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
To be able to start again, doing the same thing, would be amazing in its own way. You’d look at the profession and the choices and make new decisions. Or maybe I’d learn a whole new skillset: maybe I’d teach history.
Do you believe in assisted suicide?
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I haven’t made up my mind.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Chiwetel Ejiofor stars with Thandie Newton in Biyi Bandele’s screen adaptation of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, in cinemas now
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