In an interview for magazine The Age Entertainment, Gary Maddox speaks to Chiwetel Ejiofor about his Nigerian identity, the Biafran war and ‘Half Of A Yellow Sun’.
Chiwetel Ejiofor has become an instantly recognisable house hold name globally since his role in slave movie ’12 Years A Slave’, which garnered him an Oscar nomination for the best actor category.
The actor lost the award to Mathew McConaughey, but still, he remains cheerful.
”I didn’t feel excluded from the celebration because of the best actor award not going to me”. And I did feel like Matthew McConaughey gave an incredible performance. So I wasn’t disappointed in the sense of ‘the good Lord gypped me’.”
His story has been told in different ways but in this interview, the actor explores his Nigerian ties and why he jumped at the opportunity to be part of the cast of ‘Half Of A yellow Sun’.
He tells of his parent’s journey to Britain as his parents fled to London to escape the Biafran war which killed up to 3 million people.
”It was a very important book in my family,” Ejiofor says. ”It was the first book that really dealt with the Biafran War with such detail and such knowledge of being inside the experience.
”My mother loved the book for a long time, so that’s how I got to read it many years ago. So when Bi (Biyi Bandele), told me that he was adapting it and wanted me to look at it, I was just very excited to do it.”
Even though the actor grew up in the UK, he still has a very strong affinity to the Nigeria. He tells Maddox, ”I feel very Nigerian as well as British.”
”I’ve spent a lot of time in Nigeria – family trips when I was younger, then personal trips as I got older. So it’s a place that has a very deep relevance and significance to me.”
”This particular story was so important because the Biafran War was one of the reasons that my parents left in the first place, which was the reason I was born in Britain.”
”Also, it told very much the story of my grandfather, who was around the same age – his early 40s maybe – when the war started. Odenigbo is an Igbo professor, and my grandfather was an Igbo accountant and therefore they experienced the war in the same way – as this complete destruction of everything you own, everything you have and, in the end, just travelling from village to village.
”My mother was 13, 14 at the time, so he was travelling with her and the other children. They had eight – so a lot of kids – and they were just moving to avoid the Nigerian forces who were literally blowing up the villages as a way of destroying half the Igbo population.”
Chiwetel was 11 when he lost his dad in a car accident while on a trip to Nigeria. Speaking about the fatal accident, the actor said, ‘It’s a very formative age where most people aren’t really in that conversation about life and death and the significance and the transience of the whole thing. You become slightly more equivocal and philosophical at a slightly younger age.’
”The only useful outcome of the whole thing is that you’re aware of how precious life is.”
Read The Full interview here