Seven Things You Didn’t Know About 12 Years A Slave Star Chiwetel Ejiofor

With a Golden Globe and BAFTA nomination already under his belt, Chiwetel Ejiofor is heavily tipped for an Oscar nod when this year’s nominations are unveiled on Thursday. Thanks to his critically acclaimed performance in 12 Years a Slave, the Brit has seen his star power shoot up in recent months, so who is the East Londoner who’s set Hollywood alight?

He’s best pals with Idris Elba

Growing up in London, Chiwetel dreamed of being a stage actor, attending the National Youth Theatre and two years later earned a scholarship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He was only a few months into his studies though when his big break came, with an invitation to audition for Steven Spielberg’s 1997 epic Amistad.

It was at the audition for the movie (at the tender age of 19) that he met Idris Elba, the star of Luther and other Oscar hopeful Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. The pals have seen themselves pitted against each other at the Golden Globes, with both expected to receive an Oscar nomination too.

Chiwetel starred as Keira Knightley’s husband in Love Actually

He married Keira Knightley

In 2003 Chiwetel joined the ensemble cast of Richard Curtis’ smash hit romantic comedy Love Actually. It was a small part but the actor starred opposite some big British talent playing the husband of Keira Knightley with best man played by The Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln.

He’s played a drag queen

With a career spanning 20 years, Chiwetel has played a huge range of parts but one of his most memorable roles came in the 2005 movie Kinky Boots. The actor played the lead, the all singing, all dancing drag diva Lola. His friend and Serenity co-star Nathan Fillon recalls Chiwetel’s preparation for the role: “He would break out into song in public — and loudly! He was enjoying sauntering around, and his whole face would transform and it was brilliant to watch. If any of my friends were to do that, I would ask them to stop. But by the end of the night, I was requesting songs.”

He’s an awards show veteran

Chiwetel may have only become a household name in the past few months, but he’s actually been on the awards show circuit for years. The talented star had already nabbed three Golden Globe nominations before this year, including one for Kinky Boots, with his double nod in 2014 (for 12 Years and mini-series Dancing on the Edge) bringing that tally up to an impressive five.

Chiwetel with his girlfriend Sari at the Golden Globes (Splash News)

He’s taken

The actor is happily loved up with his Canadian actress girlfriend, Sari Mercer, with the couple splitting their time between Britain and LA. Chiwetel proudly showed off gorgeous Sari at the Golden Globes on Sunday.

He’s used to people messing up his name

Chiwetel is the first to admit that his name is impossible to pronounce, but whatever you do don’t call him by his childhood nickname – “Chewy”.

“It was a nickname from school I didn’t really like, and it managed to follow me around. Finally I was like, ‘I don’t want to be a d**k, but … ’ I try to do it with humor, if I can”, the actor admitted to Variety recently.

The British actor has been surrounded by Oscars buzz (WENN)

He turned down 12 Years a Slave

Chiwetel may have given the performance of his career in 12 Years, but director Steve McQueen has revealed that his favourite for the part initially turned down the lead of Solomon Northup:

“I knew he was the man to do it. I don’t know if he knew he was the man to do it, but I did,” McQueen tells Variety, admitting that he had no backup plan when Chiwetel turned him down: “I just had to give him time,” he says. “He called me a few days later and said, ‘I can’t get this out of my mind. I have to do this.’”