Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor poses for a portrait during the 2006 Film Festival on January 21, 2006 in Park City, Utah.
The actor, born to Nigerian parents in London, is an Academy Award Best Actor nominee for his latest film, "12 Years a Slave."
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan
While studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, he received a call for an audition for his first major film role, Steven Spielberg's "Amistad."
"Right before a choir class I got the note to call my agent. These were the days before mobile phones!" he told correspondent Lee Cowan. "Traditionally, I don't think they really allow people to audition so much whilst you're still at the school. This was an exception because it was Spielberg and because it was this kind of historical epic, which people recognized [as] a real opportunity. I think that they normally sort of narrow it down so people aren't constantly skipping off to do a television job or a small theatre gig and then try to come back to school and so on, which would just disrupt the whole idea of it. But I think also they didn't expect anybody to get the part! So they allowed me and a couple of other people to go along and audition."
"I was amazed," he said of his first major film. "But when you're young - I guess I was 19 - there's a kind of precociousness that you have. It's all a surprise, and it's all kind of amazing. But also you think, 'Well, maybe this kind of thing just happens!' Like, you don't quite put it within all of its context until you're much older."
Film, he said, hadn't been on his radar as an actor: "The only plan I had was to be a theatre actor. I loved films actually, but I never saw myself in films, in cinema somehow. It felt very removed. It felt thousands of miles away."
"Dirty Pretty Things"
Chiwetel Ejiofor as a Nigerian doctor in London, with Audrey Tautou ("Amelie"), in the 2002 thriller, "Dirty Pretty Things."
Ejiofor said his experience filming "Dirty Pretty Things," and working with director Stephen Frears ("The Grifters"), hooked him on movies:
"I became very excited to learn about films and to really discover filmmaking and the artistry of all of it -- this really amazing director, who took me on when I was 24 playing 35, even though he didn't quite know that, 'cause I slightly fudged that a little bit!" Ejiofor laughed. "A little bit, but not much. He found out later."
In "Love Actually" (2003), Richard Curtis' omnibus film set at Christmas time, Chiwetel Ejiofor played the husband of Keira Knightley.
"Do you still find people coming up to you around Christmas time and recognizing you from 'Love Actually'?" asked Cowan.
"I do, yeah," he laughed. "In fact, that's how I know it's Christmas. That's how I know it's time for me to think about my shopping, is when people start meeting me, like, on the street and talking about 'Love Actually'!"
"Melinda and Melinda"
Radha Mitchell and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda."
"In theatre," said Ejiofor, "even though it is incredibly inclusive in the room, there's always the distance of the fourth wall, the distance of stagecraft, of having to maintain your voice over a certain number of days or months, weeks, knowing that you have to go down stage left at a certain point, otherwise that side of the house can't see and that light can't reach - there's always those things going on. They create a sense of distance with an audience and with the performance itself.
"And there was something in film I [became] very aware of, how the removal of all that craft is really interesting. Just having a kind of raw entity and feeling your own humanity in front of a camera is a completely different way of being, as an actor, and very freeing."
"Melinda and Melinda"Amanda Peet, Radha Mitchell, Woody Allen, Chiwetel Ejofor and Chloe Sevigny arrive at the Kursaal Palace during the first day of 52nd San Sebastian International Film Festival on September 17, 2004 in San Sebastian, Spain.
"Four Brothers"Chiwetel Ejiofor as crime boss Victor Sweet in the 2005 drama, "Four Brothers."
Chiwetel Ejiofor as an Alliance operative in "Serenity" (2005), Joss Whedon's big-screen adaptation of his cult sci-fi series, "Firefly."
"You've done a fair amount of science-fiction stuff - 'Children of Men, 'Serenity,'" said Cowan. "Do you like doing that kind of stuff?"
"I do like it, yeah," said Ejiofor, adding, "It's never about genre for me. It's always about character.
"There was a time when I was first approaching '12 Years a Slave,' that it had that 'Alice in Wonderland' feeling, the slip down the rabbit hole into a kind of surreal universe. It had that idea that you could easily transplant the themes of the story and set them on Mars and have a kind of science-fiction story that was all about somebody being removed to another place, you know? Genre's always so interchangeable."
"Kinky Boots"In the 2005 "Kinky Boots" (inspiration for the current Broadway musical), Chiwetel Ejiofor played a drag queen who helps turn around a struggling factory show manufacturer.
Cowan asked if the role in "Kinky Boots" was "a bit of a risk"?
"Not really," Ejiofor replied. "When I read 'Kinky Boots' I just was desperate to play the part. I just thought it was brilliant. It was heart-breaking. It was a beautiful character. I thought there was so much that I was going to learn on that job, so many places that I was going to try to reach that not having a part like that, I wouldn't have had access to."
"Inside Man"Chiwetel Ejiofor and Denzel Washington in the thriller, "Inside Man."
"Children of Men"Chiwetel Ejiofor starred with Clive Owen in Alfonso Cuaron's dystopian future tale, "Children of Men."
"Children of Men"Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, director Alfonso Cuaron, Clare-Hope Ashitey and Clive Owen pose at the premiere of "Children of Men" at the Village Theater on November 16, 2006 in Los Angeles, California.
"Talk to Me"Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor in "Talk to Me" (2007).
"Talk to Me"Taraji P. Henson and Chiwetel Ejiofor arrive to the Los Angeles Film Festival opening night screening of "Talk to Me" at the Mann Village Theatre on June 21, 2007 in Westwood, California.
"Talk to Me"Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and director Kasi Lemmons arrive at the Los Angeles Film Festival opening night screening of "Talk to Me," at the Mann Village Theatre on June 21, 2007 in Westwood, California.
"American Gangster"Chiwetel Ejiofor and Denzel Washington re-teamed in Ridley Scott's crime drama, "American Gangster" (2007).
"Redbelt"Chiuwetel Ejiofor in David Mamet's drama set in the world of martial arts fighting, "Redbelt" (2008).
"2012"Chiewetl Ejiofor played the science advisor to the U.S. president at a time of global apocalypse in "2012."
Film Independent's Spirit AwardsChiwetel Ejiofor and Jessica Alba speak onstage during the 24th Annual Film Independent's Spirit Awards held at Santa Monica Beach on February 21, 2009 in Santa Monica, California.
"Salt"Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Angelina Jolie in the thriller "Salt."
LondonChiwetel Ejiofor and Damien Lewis attend a VIP Screening of "The Artist" at Charlotte Street Hotel on December 11, 2011 in London, England.
"Dancing on the Edge"Chiwitel Ejiofor played a jazz musician touring the U.K. in the miniseries "Dancing on the Edge." He received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.
"12 Years a Slave"Chiwitel Ejiofor stars in "12 Years a Slave," the true story of a free black man from New York sold into slavery.
"12 Years a Slave"
Cowan asked, "Do you think a part of Solomon is always going to stay with you?"
"Of course," Ejiofor said. "It's been one of the most extraordinary, if not the most extraordinary, experiences of my life, from beginning to end -- that first phone call with Steve [McQueen], up until this conversation or hearing about the Academy Award nominations. This is over a couple of years. And of course that sort of thing is never going to leave you."
"12 Years a Slave"
"Has it left a scar, though, in some way?" Cowan asked.
"No. No," said Ejiofor. "Not in a kind of negative way."
"I say that just because it's such a visceral -- the reaction from everybody who sees it has that, 'Oh, boy, that was hard to watch.'"
"Yeah, but I found that there was something very healing about it as well, that something that can be hard to watch is not necessarily a negative, you know? It can actually be hard to watch because you know that it's something that you want to experience. It's better than a lie, you know? It's better than hiding from something."