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March 2005
Melinda and Melinda: An Interview with Chiwetel Ejiofor

Melinda and Melinda: An Interview with Chiwetel Ejiofor

By Wilson Morales

Chiwetel Ejiofor first gained worldwide attention years ago for his amazing performance in Dirty Pretty Things and since then he's been working with some directors who have blessed him with good roles. Very recently he appeared in the ensemble films, Love Actually, and She Hate Me, with the latter being directed by Spike Lee. His next film, Melinda and Melinda, Chiwetel plays a pianist who romances two women in the film. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Ejiofor talks about the differences between Spike Lee and Woody and his upcoming projects.

You go from working with Spike Lee to Woody Allen. How does that work?

CE: Yeah, it was good. Actually, it was the other way around. I was here when I got the call from Spike, who asked me to do a few days on She Hate Me.

What are the major differences between the two in terms of style?

CE: I don't know. I mean-I think they're actually quite similar in terms of they're both very direct. They have a very strong vision of what they want to achieve and allow access to get on with it. I think that for both Woody and Spike, they're two filmmakers that as soon as you can sort of enter any of their films, you just instinctively know that it's one of their movies. So I think there's a lot of similarities between them.

So if we're comparing Spike to Woody, can we compare Woody to Joss Whedon? You just did Serenity, so I'm sure that's a very big change of pace, I'm thinking.

CE: Definitely That was a very sort of big jump in terms of Joss' mind in terms of science fiction is very different. There is of course with both of them an extraordinary amount of detail that goes into everything, but Joss is such a kind of-there's just this kind of scale of it is extraordinary. It deals with universes and so on. It's the world of sci-fi but very kind of intelligently put together and it was an extraordinary experience as well as I get to fight.

What kind of action stuff do you do?

CE: In Serenity? Just general martial artsy and [hanging on?] wires.

How did the call come about when Woody first called you?

CE: I met somebody who said that Woody was going to call, and then it happened, so I came out here to meet him and we had a very brief chat, which I think lasted about three minutes, and that was it. I didn't think at the time that he had met me for long enough to be able to cast me in the film, but he did anyway, so I was very excited to start.

So how is it on the Woody Allen set? Is it shooting one take and then moving on? How many days of shooting did you shoot? Etc.

CE: I shot for about three weeks, maybe three and a half weeks. Yeah, it was all done in different bits and pieces and it was just a very relaxed atmosphere actually. There was a great deal of trust of the actors and so you just felt that you could turn up and do what you had in mind, whatever that was. And often times, that was kind of enough, and then Woody had very specific things that he wanted to bring out and he would. He would pursue that.

How would you define the relationship between Woody and the actor? What is your take on that?

CE: Well, I kind of personally enjoy, you know, being allowed a certain sort of freedom. I'm just not one of these actors that need to be in constant contact, to be constantly talking to a director. I just assume that if nothing is being said that everything is fine. I just need to get the ticket home. That's what I assume, and I enjoy sort of working like that actually, so Woody is like that so if he's happy with everything, you move on. I understand that sometimes people find that a little strange, but it's not-personally, I enjoy it.

Since Dirty Pretty Things, you've been taken more low-key roles and this is the first movie you're back doing leading roles. Have you just been doing things that haven't come out yet?

CE: Yeah, I've been working pretty solidly, and you know, I enjoy working with specific filmmakers. I'm not necessarily-the nature or size of a part is not a primary consideration for me. I just enjoy working with people that I want to work with on scripts that I like. And so, I think that's something that will be very reflective of the work that I do. Occasionally, I'll do more and sometimes, I'll do much less. That's just the way that I enjoy doing.

Is it easy to find roles in England today? Or is it easier to find roles here?

CE: Well, I've been working in England now just recently and there's a lot less films being made in England, but some of the quality of the stuff that is being made is very high, so it's always enjoyable to work in England, but I think definitely there's more work elsewhere, certainly in the States.

What else have you shot?

CE: Kinky Boots.

Kinky Boots? And whose boots are kinky?

CE: Well, my boots are kinky.

Really? Wow.

CE: Yeah, it's a film based on a true story of a guy in North Hampton in middle England trying to save a generations old shoe factory.

You're also working with John Singleton. Is that movie finished? What's that experience been like and what is it about?

CE: It's a film called Four Brothers, which is a kind of revenge-thriller that we shot in Toronto, which is pretty cold. It really was! Actually, I got there and they said that I missed the really cold bit. But it was great! I'm just a great fan of John's work and it was very exciting. It's a good project.

Are you one of the four brothers?

CE: No, I'm playing a nasty-

Oh, you're a villain in that?

CE: Yeah

Is it fun to do that? What do you draw on to be a villain?

CE: Yeah, I think it's great! I mean, I think that's one of the great things about the profession is that you're able to tap into various different parts of yourself, and it's always exciting to do that. Villains are always pretty interesting to play. They're kind of exciting. So yeah, that's it really.

Are you a villain or a good guy in Serenity?

CE: A villain.

Is there a villainous phase coming?

CE: Maybe, yeah, but there are no villains in Kinky Boots. Are you going to start something else?

CE: No

Are you going back home to England?

CE: Yeah, London. I think I'm going to spend a little time out here because I like it and then head home at some point.

It seems like there are two completely different movies in here. Did you hang out with the people from the other half of the film ever? Or did you keep to your own cast?

CE: Only hang out with these people..and look sad. NO, no, we all hung out a little when we started shooting, which was good fun, although I didn't know anything about the other story for some reason. Radha just wouldn't tell me. She really kept it to herself.

So Radha wouldn't even disclose the other characters?

CE: She wouldn't disclose it to me. I was only half joking when I asked her, but she said "no."

What was it about her that was appealing? Even though she's pretty well known in some quarters, did you know who she was?

CE: Yeah, I had seen a couple of films of hers, and I thought she was an excellent actress, so I was very excited and then also because I wasn't extensively familiar with her work, working with her was great! Especially the monologue stuff is, I think there's so few monologues written in films that are so erudite and brilliantly performed as Radha's job in this one. It was great being in the room basically.

Can you play the piano?

CE: A little bit, but I wasn't playing specifically in the movie. No, I don't think the songs had even been cleared at that point, so I was just trying to do something that could be generally fitted into whatever was actually playing.

What do you think happens to the characters in your segment if you had to take a guess?

CE: I think what Ellis does is he just carries on being him.

Do you think he still carries on with the wife?

CE: Yeah, I'd imagine for some time, but I don't think..I never saw it as a lasting thing.

Did you feel any extra responsibility to get Woody up to speed on the African American experience? He said he had not done a lot of films-etc.

CE: Not really. Pianists and the whole vibe is very kind of cool and interesting and erudite, and I didn't feel that I could add anything in terms of that, so we never really had that conversation and rightly so. It's not really a factor.

Do you think that Ellis is scared off by the fact that he finds out that Radha is pretty much out of her mind? Is that what sends him away or is he just the kind of guy who's going to go and keep wandering anyway?

CE: I think he's just looking for a muse, so I think-actually, that sort of stuff is much more interesting to him like the complexity is much more up his street. In the end, he doesn't find in her what he requires in terms of his music and so on, so he kind of moves on.

Have you seen the film?

CE: Yeah

Were you kind of surprised at how the comic elements were since you weren't familiar with that?

CE: Yeah, I mean it was great! I saw the film the first time I saw it---which is an odd experience watching the film the first time, especially if you don't know what is going to happen and you're in the movie-so the first time was a little strange. I saw it Fox. The second time I saw it was at the London Film Festival and that was a brilliant experience, and the comic elements just worked so well and it was great to see it with a group of people and it was a lot of fun!

Did the script have both sides?

CE: No, I just got the sides. I just got Ellis' lines and the other lines that Ellis responds to. So I had no idea what-

So obviously the dramatic is the best part because you're in it. But where do you fall? Do you fall on the comedy side or the drama side of the question?

CE: I don't know. I think I fall in between. There are comic elements in drama and dramatic elements in comedy. I think I fall in the middle there, although a lot of stuff I've done has been dramatic and I've really enjoyed that, but what's greater than comic timing and entertaining dialogue?

Do you want to do some theatre in London?

CE: Yeah, it's always just sort of a matter of time before an actor like myself who hasn't been in the theatre since I started acting sort of requires getting back onto stage. That sort of time is approaching fast, I can feel it.

Sophie (Okonedo) raved about you. Do you think you'll work together again?

CE: Oh, definitely, yeah I can't wait. She was robbed!

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