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August 19 2010

Why isn't Salt star Chiwetel Ejiofor up there with Russell Crowe? Guardian film blog writer calls Chiwetel "one of the best British actors of his generation" and laments his use as a "utility player."

Seriously, this guy should be super famous by now. He's a very talented actor, and he's incredibly good looking. Honestly, I have a giant man crush on him. We just need someone to cast him in a lead role in a mainstream film, like a Marvel superhero film, or a good Oscar bait drama.
Yeah, it's beyond my comprehension why he isn't getting more significant roles. He's a fabulous actor, with true range, and he's kind on the eyes. He needs to get the lead role in some small film, perhaps, to show he can carry a picture, and then he might be able to convince those who are casting major roles in major films to hire him. I sorta thought that when he had the lead in that HBO film on the tsunami that he would be able to use that to jump up to the big time. But that didn't happen. Maybe he needs a new agent? Dunno.
Kinky Boots should have been his leap into the A-list. It wasn't the best film ever, but he was brilliant in it.
Imo he's a great actor, but there's something unusual about him which prevents me from placing him in any of your typical leading man roles (he's got this certain intensity to him that, to me, just shouts Shakespeare... duh) and I'm guessing I'm not alone - notice how vague the author is when it comes to what could make a breakout role for him. He just needs someone to come up with something that fits him well, and - like I said - not sure what that'd be.
Why? Let's start with the obvious.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is a harder name for an Anglophone to pronounce or remember than Russell Crowe. I'm a good speller and I have to look it up every time. If Chas Edge were the man's stage name, or if he even had a nickname, he'd have a better shot at becoming a household name.

Although we have a few examples of A list black actors who regularly get the lead, I suspect that when a plum role is being cast, the default is often to cast a white actor.
I gotta agree with janef...Chiwetel Ejiofor is too much of an "ethnic" name for the target audience to link on to. George Clooney? Brad Pitt? Russell Crowe? All simple and easily pronounceable names...probably a major reason why Martin Sheen uses a stage name instead of "Ramón Antonio Gerard Estévez." It's utter ridiculousness, but I can only speculate at the number of well known actors and actresses who became famous under different names that what they were born with, simply because a studio head or director thought their birth name didn't have have the right kind of sound to it or it was too hard to say.

And having recently seen "Salt," I have to back up the main assertion that Ejiofor did a great job but his skills were kinda wasted in that his CIA counter-espionage agent was a role that didn't need super amounts of "POW!" to pull off well.

[ edited by BlueEyedBrigadier on 2010-08-19 19:31 ]
The previous two posters have a point, which I wish wouldn't exist. But, that's Hollywood, and an old, old story about who gets to be on he "A-list" and why talent isn't necessarily the final factor.
Thing is, do we even know if he wants to be on the "A-list" ? Seems like that's a fairly big assumption and he could well be the sort of actor that pops up in a mainstream movie every now and then but apart from that is happy being a bit choosier about which roles he plays, mixing TV and films with stage work etc. (in the last 6 years he's worked with Woody Allen, Alfonso Cuaron, Spike Lee, Ridley Scott and David Mamet among others - that's not bad going for a guy who's apparently struggling for roles).

Relatedly, the article seems slightly contradictory in that it talks about headlining big Hollywood films while at the same time bemoaning the fact that he isn't playing roles that really stretch him. But how many headline roles in big Hollywood films are great acting opportunities ?

Course, I don't know the bloke, could be he's seething with frustration at not playing leads in huge summer movies and he might well be working his bollocks off trying to get those roles but meeting a brick wall (possibly related to his name or the fickleness of Hollywood fame or whatever). I hope not though.
[...] I can only speculate at the number of well known actors and actresses who became famous under different names that what they were born with, simply because a studio head or director thought their birth name didn't have have the right kind of sound to it or it was too hard to say.

No need to speculate (one of my personal favorites would be poor Krishna Bhanji - aka Ben Kingsley - who changed his name after being called "Kristina Blange" at an audition for a highschool play.)

And, like Saje said, it could just be he has standards.

WARNING: The preceding comment links to a possibly lethal dose of useless trivia.
I love Ejiofor -- have since I saw him in his breakout role, Stephen Frear's Dirty Pretty Things, which is still my favorite performance of his. But that doesn't mean I think he has it in him to be a big star.

His career looks like he's OK with being a talented utility player, for one. And while he's a great actor, most people are kinda sort of aware that acting ability is not the necessary ingredient for stardom.

I've read a little of Jeanine Basinger's work about the nature of Hollywood stardom (she was Joss's prof. at Wesleyan) and she theorizes that stars are not just talented actors. The biggest stars somehow embody a persona so fully and completely that the audience psychologically responds to them in whatever role they play. And if the persona is something that resonates especially fiercely in that particular time period, they might just become a great star, given the right roles in the right movies.

Think of Bogart. The man was a great actor, but his stardom encompassed more than his acting ability. There were equally fine actors in the past who never could manage to project a persona that the audience believed so fully and that matched the expectations of what people thought about man should be: brave, cynical, experienced, hard-bitten.
On the Ben Kingsley thing: going by his stage name alone, I assumed he was a pretty standard European or European-descent star, and was extremely irked that a white guy landed the role of Gandhi.

So while Ejiofor may not be landing roles because of that name, at least he's not sending any wrong messages. (Not that I blame Kingsley in the slightest.)
Anybody see Talk To Me or Tsunami: the Aftermath? He was incredible in both.
Will not be sucked in by TVtropes again, nooo!

Sucks most when audience members (okay, mostly fanboys and cinephiles) have gotten to know an actor by his or her original name, and then they change it mid-career. Like Paul Wasilewski (now Paul "Wesley"), originally probably best known for Wolf Lake and now the lead on Vampire Diaries (he changed it just before getting Vamp Diaries), that one kind of annoyed. Wasilewski isn't even hard to say, plus there're a number of well-known U.S. actors who have Polish surnames and didn't alter them any. He didn't always get great roles pre-name change (he showed up as the possible long-lost brother of Lex Luthor in Season 2 or 3 of Smallville, but they've never mentioned him since and I can't recall if Wolf Lake was all that great, I remember liking at least a couple of the eps), but he seemed like he was getting by on his looks and talent well enough.

Same thing happened with Alexander Siddig (guy who played Bashir on Star Trek: DS9). Although his full birth name would've been way too long to use (Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahdi), and I'm pretty sure most Middle Easterners don't utilize much of their birth names usually anyway, there was nothing wrong with what he had when he was a Trek member (Siddig El Fadil Abderahman, if memory serves). Side note: maybe I was an ignorant kid (plus I think I only watched the first two or three seasons of DS9), but I never realized Bashir (or the actor) was Arab until he started showing up in similar roles in Syriana or as a former/reformed terrorist on Season 6 of 24.

I understand why it happens, for marketability, but even as a white, average English-Canadian, it's disappointing to see so many things get Anglosized and whitewashed.

[ edited by Kris on 2010-08-19 22:25 ]
As far as the London stage is concerned, Chiwetel Ejiofor *is* an A-list star. There are a lot of actors who aren't George Clooney famous who use their film/TV proceeds to finance their stage careers. It seems Mr. Ejiofor has lots of leads in killer smaller films -- anybody see him in David Mamet's "Redbelt"? -- that *are* challenging roles and pay what most of us would consider good money, albeit not American movie star money. He's been in quite a few big films, just not as the lead. For all we know, he may be perfectly fine doing great roles on stage and in small films, doing something like "2012" occasionally for the extra cash and perhaps because it's fun. If Mr. Ejiofor is ever the lead in an under-the-radar feature that does really well financially, then we'll see if he wants to star in an A-list U.S. feature. But just because he's not on the cover of Entertainment Weekly doesn't mean the man isn't working *all the time," on stuff that's more interesting than, say, the average Harrison Ford film of late.

Kris, it was just Siddig el Fadil (no Abderahman) on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." :)
Thanks, Shapenew.

Yeah, I enjoyed him as the lead alongside Audrey Tatou in Dirty Pretty Things, in Serenity, in Children of Men as the deceptively nice/helpful (at first) villain, in Redbelt, in 2012 (if nothing else, at least the actors made the most of the material, with Woody Harrelson unsurprisingly kinda stealing the show, even if his character was out early), and in Salt. Don't care if he makes it huge or not.

brinderwalt mentioned that there's something sorta unusual and/or intense about the guy that prevents him from placing Ejiofor in a typical leading man role (I interpret that to mean typical by Hollywood standards, since the guy's more than held his own in leading roles in smaller/limited theatrical release films), and that might prevent most Hollywood casting agents from doing so as well. After looking at pics of the guy on IMDB just now, I think I know--he's got crazy eyes. Not a sleight against him, he's a handsome dude, but yeah, they're intense/scrutinizing.
From interviews he talks about submerging himself in roles and so on so he seems like he might be fairly intense. That said, he also seems pretty self-deprecating and down to Earth so I doubt he's hard to work with or anything, he just takes his work seriously is all. Plus, he reads comics. Guy's alright in my book ;).

...but I never realized Bashir (or the actor) was Arab

He's only half Arab in fact, his mum's English (fun fact: Malcolm McDowall is his uncle !). According to himself BTW, he changed his name because people couldn't pronounce "El Fadil". Am I missing something or is "El Fadil" actually fairly straightforward ("el-fah-deel" surely) ?
How is Russel Crowe British?
Is someone saying he is (if it's in the article or on this thread I can't see it but then I do still have my morning eyes in ;) ? He's a Kiwi born naturalised Aussie.
Not exactly. The context of the article sort of implies that the author considers Russell Crowe to be the standard of success for an actor of Chiwetel's persuasion (a classically trained Brit) which Mr. Crowe isn't - as already mentioned (Personally I ain't exactly sold on the concept of the Russell being the ideal for anyone, but that's just me.)
I have no idea either. I still regret not seeing him as Othello in the Donmar. Would have been amazing. Every time I think about it I get a little sad (and they never filmed it! there's only an audio version available)...

Still looking forward to Salt, though. Even if it is a bit trashy, I hear it's the good sort of trashy.
Oddly enough, just listened to a Current TV segment with him on YouTube and he mentions his name, and how he'd never considered changing it. Mentioned that it always seemed old-fashioned to him to change his name when he was a theatre actor, and by the time he got into movies it seemed a little late for that.
l admire Chiwetel from the time he played the bad guy on Serenity up to now as a CIA agent in Salt. As an African American, you find there are not that many black actors in lead roles. Hats off to the author of this article, he really hit the mark with this one.
I think janef pretty well nailed it. The cry of "racism" has been so badly overused as to lose its punch, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I wonder how much of it is institutional, however, rather than spread among "the masses." I know number-crunchers are about numbers, and guess they're looking at something... but I'm a conservative old white guy, and having (say) Denzel Washington fronting a movie is a big plus to me, not a minus.

Why?

Because he's a terrific actor.

Same deal with Exbwe... er, Ewpklm... um, Enkhag... grr... E-j-i-o-f-o-r. I'd love to see him leading a strong movie. He'd be great, I'd go.

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