Chiwetel Ejiefor on ‘2012,’ Interracial Hook-Ups, & Angelina Jolie

2012 week continues as we celebrate the coming apocalypse with a series of interviews with its survivors. Yesterday we ran an interview with a fiending Amanda Peet, and today we get to the bottom of what a respected stage actor like Chiwetel Ejiefor is doing in a Roland Emmerich disaster movie. After wowing audiences on stages across London, Ejefor made his big screen splash in the grimy thriller Dirty Pretty Things opposite Audrey Tatou. Since then, he’s churned out reliably stellar work in films like Inside Man, Love Actually, Children of Men, and American Gangster. In 2012, Ejiofor plays Adrian Helmsley, a government geologist who is among the first to discover the Earth’s core heating up to a potentially catastrophic level. Here he is trying to explain the popularity of disaster porn, interracial relationships on film, and working with Angelina in the upcoming Salt.

What’s a serious actor like yourself doing in a Roland Emmerich film? I really am not that serious, and I want to do movies that people are entertained by and that people get into, and this is such a wild ride of a movie. I loved science fiction and I love the fact that Roland Emmerich is such an incredible visual filmmaker and is really passionate about bringing the audience a really exceptional visceral experience where all the senses are involved, except perhaps smell.

How do you compare making this film to making Tsunami: The Aftermath, a very real story about people getting killed by a giant wave? This is a wild ride, it’s a fantasy, a leap. It’s all the things that a film like this should be. Tsunami: The Aftermath was an altogether different proposition. It was a heavy and sad tale of the destruction in Asia, and there are certain conclusions that both films come to that were optimistic about humanity, about unity, about how we are when faced with the darkest things. It sort of validates some of the excesses, the values of heroism, the excesses of optimism when you do a film or talk to people who have done these things in a real environment.

What does it says about us, that we like to watch the destruction of everything and everyone? I think it’s sort of two-fold. I think we like to watch the ideas of the worst possible scenario because we fear it and we fear it for ourselves and for our loved ones. So to watch the worst possible scenario is kind of exciting, because it allays a certain fear that we have because we’re then watching, projecting ourselves into these scenarios, and watching how to deal with it. And our greatest hope is whatever life throws at us, we’ll be able to deal with it, just in the same way we deal with whatever life throws at us any given day.

There’s a love story between your character and Thandie Newton, who plays the President’s daughter. You both happen to be black. Do you think if the President and his daughter were white, that the filmmakers would have included that story line, given Hollywood’s traditional treatment of interracial relationships as taboo? I suppose, yeah. Hollywood and movies still have a way to go with interracial relationships. I don’t think it’s light years behind, but in England it’s always seemed people in interracial relationships were never as much of an issue. I guess that in Hollywood movies that appeal to wide audiences, people do try and define things in a way that would make things simple in a sense, and the audience isn’t constantly thinking about other things or being distracted by these concepts. But definitely, it seems like within the context of this movie there seems no reason why there wouldn’t be interracial romance. Because anybody who is disturbed by anything like that is probably disturbed by black actors onscreen anyhow. I definitely feel like there’s a racial simplicity that sometimes happens in movies, and I suppose the conversations about race aren’t prevalent in the film and isn’t one of the themes of the film.

Do you have a “one for me, one of them” mentality, where you like to rotate between bigger pictures like this and smaller ones that you might be more passionate about? No, I don’t. I don’t have that mentality really. I’ve heard that phrase before but I think that somebody has to have to say that to you. I don’t think you can wake up and be like, “I’m going to do one for them!” I don’t think it works like that. I get scripts and if I like it, if I want to pursue it, and I think there’s stuff in there that people will enjoy and I’ll enjoy, then I’m definitely going to do it.

I saw the trailer for Salt yesterday; can you tell me about that? It’s Phillip Noyce’s movie with Angelina Jolie, myself, and Liev Schreiber, and it is a paranoid thriller centering around the CIA, and it’s a very, very exciting movie, and I think it’s going to absolutely terrific so I can’t wait to see it.

Was the press ruthless with Angelina during filming? Totally. More so than other people, they were sort of everywhere, and there were a lot of paparazzi and stuff. But I think she handles it incredibly well. I don’t really know how she does it, but definitely she is able to do the work but also be very gracious with them, and it’s really quite interesting to watch.

What are some of your favorite restaurants in New York? Balthazar, Raoul’s, and Peasant.

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