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Talking With Chiwetel Ejiofor

Chiwetel Ejiofor, as seen in the recent HBO drama
Chiwetel Ejiofor, as seen in the recent HBO drama "Tsunami, the Aftermath." (By Kerry Brown -- Hbo)

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008; 11:30 AM

Chiwetel Ejiorfor has become an increasingly familiar face to movie fans. After a role in "Amistad" and a star turn in "Dirty Pretty Things," Ejiofor has appeared in numerous, varied films, including "Love Actually," "Four Brothers," "Serenity," "Inside Man," "Children of Men," "Talk to Me" and "American Gangster."

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Now the British actor is set to star as a martial arts instructor in David Mamet's "Redbelt," which opens in limited release on May 2. Ejiofor discussed that film, as well as his acting career, on Tuesday, April 1 at 11:30 a.m. ET.

A transcript follows.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: You worked with Don Cheadle in "Talk to Me" -- which, by the way, was amazing -- and now you're set to work together on "Toussaint." Was your past work together any consideration when you signed onto this new project?

Chiwetel Ejiofor: When I first met Danny Glover about "Touusaint," we hadn't done "Talk to Me" at that point. That was first time it was spoken about. They are still trying to find all the funding for that film, so I am not actually sure where it's at at the moment. So watch this space.

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Stanton Park, Washington, D.C.: Hi Chiwetel. My wife and I are big fans of the work you have done in the last few years. One thing we have noticed, though, is that in wider-release films (e.g. "Serenity," "Children of Men," "Inside Man"), you seem to play the role of the 3rd or 4th male lead character. Do you think you've become somewhat typecast as more of a supporting actor in "big" films? We have seen you star in "Dirty Pretty Things" and "Talk to Me," and we think you're capable of more than they (the powers that be in charge of the blockbusters) have let you do . . . Thanks and best wishes!

Chiwetel Ejiofor: That's very kind.

I think I enjoy working obviously as a lead, but also you know I feel I'm also a character actor as well, so I enjoy approaching various projects in all sort of capacities. Any film I have been able to do I feel very fortunate to have been a part of. But thank you for watching and your support.

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Washington, D.C.: What was it like to work with David Mamet?

Chiwetel Ejiofor: David mamet was great to work with. He was everything that I thought he would be as a director. He's incredibly articulate, an easy collaborator. Extraordinarily knowledgeable about film and writing.

I had read at some point in my life and was very aware of his plays, and studied some of his plays. I was a huge fan of his screenplays and some of the films he's directed and read some of his books. I got the impression he might be a stickler for dialogue and thought it might be a compllicated time shooting. But he was actually a very easy person to work with and I think everybody really pulled together and all had a great time on the shoot.

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Navy Yard: I can't think of one bad film that you have been in; so, I must ask this question: Do the good scripts find you, or do you seek them out? "Children of Men," "Dirty Pretty Things" ... I could go on and on. An amazing resume.

Chiwetel Ejiofor: Well, thank you very much! That's very kind.

I think both things happen. I've been very lucky to have some great scripts come my way and been very fortunate to work with some very exciting directors. Thank you for the compliment.

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Arlington, VA: Your new role in Redbelt seems very different from any of your other roles. How did you prepare and train for this one?

Chiwetel Ejiofor: I trained at the Gracie Academy in London for a month or so. And then continued training in L.A. at Renato Magno's gym with John Mashaeo and that's how I got into jujitsu and into the part and into the role. It was a lot of fun.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: What was your martial arts expertise before the film, or did you learn about martial arts for the film?

Chiwetel Ejiofor: I had no martial arts expertise before the film. I had done a little boxing as a teenager so I came to this brand new, which was exciting and challenging.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: How did you become an actor? Did you study acting? What would you recommend to others interested in becoming actors in how they should prepare themselves before entering the field?

Chiwetel Ejiofor: I became an actor by doing school plays and youth theaters, and then National Youth Theatre of Great Britain. And then I did study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.

For me that was a good way to enter the field, to work in the theater. Depending on what your interest in theater is, I always recommend working on plays. It's a great way to be introduced to the field, and also a great way to be seen by agents and representation. I'm also a great advocate for studying acting at a drama school or a college., Those are tried and tested ways, as well as a good basis to approach the work.

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Plainville, Conn.: Hi Chiwetel. i just wanted to say it's an honor to be able to e-mail you. To me you're an artist at the highest level. It appears that you want to have a social meaning and leave the audience thinking when they see your films versus locked commercial success. You don't seem to me to be the kind of artist thats going go be doing the equivalent of "Rocky 6" or "Rambo 8" or "Dirty Harry Part 5." Nothing wrong with commercial success, you need that, but it doesn't seem to be in your 100% equation in what you do. Am I right in thinking that?

Chiwetel Ejiofor: Yes, definitely. I enjoy great material and I find it exciting to work on films and plays that I feel can really engage an audience on different levels. Having said that, I have nothing against vast swaths of people seeing the movies. But I can live with it if they don't.

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Washington, D.C.: You've had the opportunity to work alongside so many amazing actors: Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in "American Gangster," Don Cheadle in "Talk to Me," Clive Owen and Michael Caine in "Children of Men." What have you learned from such talented co-stars? Who else do you want to work with?

Chiwetel Ejiofor: I think you learn something different from each individual actor. But all the people you mentioned are obviously incredibly talented and have all been pleasant work with. The most detailed working relationship I had was with Don Cheadle on "Talk to Me." I consider him to be an exceptional talent and amongst the greatest people I have worked with.

There are so many actors, every year there are more and more people who come out and are hugely talented. So there is an ever increasing number of people I'd like to work with, far too many to mention by name.

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Washington, DC: What has been your favorite role to take on in all of the movies you have been in and why?

Chiwetel Ejiofor: There are just different parts of every role that are exciting and sort of interesting. Whenever you're doing a project, it always feels like the most important project you have ever done. It's always good to have that feeling, and not being thinking this isn't as good as x or as challenging as y.

The hope is that they all have something you are excited by and challenged by.

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Washington, DC: In your role as Victor Sweet in Four Brothers, was it difficult for you to play such a ruthless character? Do you enjoy playing the villian?

Chiwetel Ejiofor: I certainly enjoyed playing that villain. It's hard to know why. I think it's because I had just finished playing Lola in "kinky Boots" and literally got on a plane and flew over to play Victor Sweet. It was just a great change in a very short space of time and I really relished it.

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Anchorage, AK: Mr. Ejiofor,

No question beyond a simple thanks for the quality of your work. My wife and I have found a particular strength in your work for "Tsunami: The Aftermath." A week after watching that work together we lost our son to SIDS. The film and the loss are deeply connected and we found ourselves discussing the strength and dignity of your character. Thank you.

Chiwetel Ejiofor: Thank you for your touching message. I am very sorry for your loss.

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Philadelphia, PA: I am a huge fan of your work. Could you answer a few questions for me:

How do you pronounce your name? Is it true that you go by the nickname "Chewy?"

What other projects are on the horizon?

You do such a wonderful job with both comedy (I loved Kinky Boots!) and of course Inside Man, Dirty Pretty Things, Talk to Me and Serenity all showed very different, yet all very serious characters... which do you prefer?

I'd also love to know if you are straight, single and planning on visiting Philadelphia - but perhaps that's too forward.

Chiwetel Ejiofor: The pronunciation of my name is Chew-eh-tell Edge-ee-oh-for. No, I don't go by Chewy at all, although people have called me that over the years, but I am not a fan of it.

I'm going to do a film about the end of apartheid by Pete Travis called "Endgame."

I enjoy doing everything, comedy and drama. I just look for the characters really and what they offer.

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British?: Wow...what process do you go through to have such an amazing, regular American accent? Thanks, and I love ALL of your work!

Chiwetel Ejiofor: That's very kind, thank you.

Growing up in London there was a loot of American television so I was always familiar with some American accents. When I first started doing them, I often used a dialect coach. Really, I think the more you do it, the better you get at it.

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Springfield Virginia: Congratulations on winning the "Larry." How does it feel to be the first rank of British actors?

Chiwetel Ejiofor: Well, thank you very much. It was a great honor to receive the Olivier and that certainly felt great.

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Arlington, Va.: Favorite Shakespearean play and/or role?

Chiwetel Ejiofor: Having just done it in London, I have to say Othello in "Othello" because it's so tragically beautiful with exceptional language and passion.

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Silver Spring MD: Have you found that it is easier for black actors/actresses to find more fame abroad vs. the US? Actors such as yourself and Thandie Newton should really get more attention here.

Chiwetel Ejiofor: That's interesting. I haven't found that it's easier to get more attention abroad at all, actually. But I have enjoyed working in the States for the time that I have been. And basically hope to continue more or less in the capacity that I am.

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RTP, N.C.: No question, but a comment -- you're one of the most watchable actors I've seen in years. Your performance in "Dirty Pretty Things" was nothing short of amazing and placed you on my radar (wow, who's THAT guy? what else has he done???). Keep up the good work!

Chiwetel Ejiofor: Thank you very much.

All I can say is thank to everyone for the questions. Hope you enjoy "Redbelt" and take care.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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