Chiwetel Ejiofor

Dirty Pretty Things

Interviewed by Tom Dawson

Five years after making his movie debut in "Amistad", British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor gets his break-out role in Stephen Frears' thriller "Dirty Pretty Things", set amid the underworld of London's illegal immigrants...

What attracted you to the part of Okwe in "Dirty Pretty Things"?

I thought the whole piece was very strong - the story, the characters, the situation, everything was completely compelling. And I felt a great affinity with Okwe. I was born and raised in London, and I've got various family connections to Nigeria - both my mum and dad are Nigerians who emigrated to London. I had a lot of empathy and understanding for Okwe's situation. He's somebody who is just trying to survive on a day-to-day basis.

What was it like to work alongside "Amelie" star Audrey Tautou?

She's very charming as a person and is very gifted and generous as an actress. But the whole cast - Sergi Lòpez, Ben Wong, Sophie Okonedo, Zlatko Buric - were a great bunch to work with. Film is an ensemble collaboration and if it works, it's because everyone in the ensemble is committed to the same result.

Was it hard to give such a restrained, internalised performance?

Well, Okwe does have a vast inner life, but he has learnt along the way to control that and to give as little away as possible. It was important to play him not as someone who was declamatory or excessive. He's dealing with trauma and stress by internalising his emotions. He's trying to reinvent himself, and the film is showing how the chinks in his armour are exposed by love and by his desire to live.

What makes the director Stephen Frears such a gifted director of actors?

He's very gentle with actors, and he understands what to do with them. He makes them feel comfortable and he puts them in an arena where they can express their ideas about the piece. In "Dirty Pretty Things", he was fantastic at creating an atmosphere and at honing the finer points of the relationship between my character and Audrey's character.

"Dirty Pretty Things" opens in UK cinemas on Friday 13th December 2002.