Chiwetel Ejiofor Discusses the Sociopolitical Themes of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and His Most Challenging Roles to Date

Chiwetel Ejiofor attends the World Premiere of Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” on September 30, 2019 in Hollywood, California.
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez (Getty Images for Disney)

Let’s get this out of the way—Chiwetel Ejiofor could read the back of a cereal box and have me captivated.

That’s why I was thrilled when offered the opportunity to sit down with the acclaimed actor and discuss his newest role in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, directed by Joachim Rønning.

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Per the film’s press release:

The years have been kind to Maleficent and Aurora. Their relationship, born of heartbreak, revenge and ultimately love, has flourished. Yet the hatred between man and the fairies still exists. Aurora’s impending marriage to Prince Phillip is cause for celebration in the kingdom of Ulstead and the neighboring Moors, as the wedding serves to unite the two worlds. When an unexpected encounter introduces a powerful new alliance, Maleficent and Aurora are pulled apart to opposing sides in a Great War, testing their loyalties and causing them to question whether they can truly be family.

The sequel to Maleficent’s origin story stars Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer and more. Ejiofor portrays Conall, a pacifist male fairy who becomes an ally to Jolie’s Maleficent.

Beyond the pomp and circumstance of the visual effects (which, were great), the film is filled with sociopolitical themes. In a fight between humans versus fairies, Conall represents the nonviolent approach; the more militant approach is represented in the film as well. To Ejiofor, “the central message is inclusion.”

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“Psychologically, [the fairies] have been through a lot of trauma as a group in their relationship to humans, and he is the kind of leader of this group,” Ejiofor explained. “But [Conall’s] still able to maintain a certain kind of positivity through his own personal kind of moral code. [He has a] certain amount of charisma and charm [so] he’s able to do that and maintain that even in all of this tension and stress and not simply resort to violence as the way forward.”

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“I liked that he was able to balance those things but then there’s still something about Conall that made me think that this is a war-like character,” he continued. “[He is a] general of an army. All of the things that he has gone through and all of the realizations that he’s had about life have been hard-won. They’ve been hard-fought. And there were no easy realizations about what to do so he was a character that took me on a sort of journey.”

Though I highly enjoyed the snarky chemistry between Jolie and Pfeiffer, I left the film wishing I’d learned and seen more of Conall.

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“Some of [Conall’s ideologies aren’t] expressed fully in the story, but it doesn’t need to be in a way, because there’s a lot of implication and you get a sense of him in a really rich way,” Ejiofor noted. “And that was in the script, as well. A lot of those things, I was [also] filling in about him and I really like that as a process [as] it made me really engage with the character.”

Beyond the film’s serious messaging, filming Maleficent: Mistress of Evil just looked fun as hell to shoot. Ejiofor agreed. His favorite part? Flying, of course! The actor gave me a breakdown of how it all worked, behind the scenes.

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“They had these tuning forks—you’d get onto one side and five burly stuntmen would lift you up in the air, the wind machines would start and they’d be able to shift your direction with this huge wheel,” Ejiofor explained. “So, you would move along on the wires and so you’d actually get a little bit of the sensation of what it might be like to be able to suspend yourself in the air and fly around.”

Besides being entranced by his dashing good looks and hypnotizing voice, I am sincerely a fan of Ejiofor’s work. Particularly, I am impressed with the vast array of roles he’s chosen and subsequently mastered. Whether it’s Kinky Boots, Serenity or Love Actually, Ejiofor is sort of a chameleon. Thus, I had to ask him what has been his most challenging role to date, given his rich résumé.

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The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, that was the most overall complicated because it was playing Trywell and directing the film. Being in Malawi and pulling all those pieces together [involved] a large amount of complication, I suppose. 12 Years a Slave would be the character [portrayal] that I think was the most complex—[portraying] Solomon Northup and trying to get into that mindset in that space and time.”

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil soars into theaters Oct. 18.

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About the author

Tonja Renée Stidhum

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.