Baftas 2014: Chiwetel Ejiofor beats Leonardo DiCaprio to Best Actor award

The British actor beat Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale to the award

British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor has won Best Actor at the Baftas for his role as Solomon Northup in Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave.

Ejiofor, 36, plays black New Yorker Northup, who is kidnapped and sold into the American South slave trade in 1841.

The actor, a former EE Rising Star nominee, beat competition from Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, Christian Bale for American Hustle, Bruce Dern for Nebraska and Tom Hanks for Philomena.

Ejiofor thanked Bafta for the "incredible" award and paid tribute to McQueen's "artistry and passion".

"You really brought us all through it," he told the director. "You had the real vision to tell this remarkable story. The extraordinary life that he had, and to tell this story in a way to make it of such value, of such worth to all who were there. Thank you for this, it was yours. I’m going to keep it, but it’s yours."

Ejiofor originally turned down the role of Solomon Northup out of fear of being "the guy that messed it up".

 

"When I read the script, I thought it was an extraordinary story but I did feel the weight and the responsibility of it," he told the BBC. "I hadn’t seen a story from inside the slave experience as a film and I’d been accustomed to the fact I’d probably never see it.

"So to be handed that kind of opportunity and the responsibility of telling (Northup's) story – I just questioned myself and was stuck for a moment with the questions of whether I could do that."

Ejiofor is nominated for the Best Actor Oscar ahead of the Hollywood ceremony on Sunday 2 March. But Matthew McConaughey, who plays an AIDS sufferer in Dallas Buyers Club, will be his closest rival, having won the Screen Actors Guild Award for the role. McConaughey was not nominated for Best Actor at the Baftas.

Barkhad Abdi won Best Supporting Actor for his role as a Somalian pirate in Captain Phillips. Emma Thompson presented the newcomer, who was attending his first awards ceremony, with the prize - previously expected to go to Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave.

Speaking to the BBC on the red carpet earlier, Abdi praised his co-star Tom Hanks, saying that the established actor "helped with whatever obstacle I faced".

The Somalian actor thanked director Paul Greengrass for "believing in me before I believed in myself". After completing work on Captain Phillips, Abdi reportedly took a day job in a phone shop as he found it difficult to secure further roles.  


Watch Chiwetel Ejiofor talk about '12 Years a Slave'

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