Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Getting into Drag with Chiwetel Ejiofor, the star of Kinky Boots
from the 4-19-06 issue of Windy City Times
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Kinky Boots star Chiwetel Ejiofor, with co-star Joe Edgerton in the film and at the film's London premiere
It’s not every day that a call comes in from London with a person named Chiwetel Ejiofor (it’s pronounced “Chew-It-All Edge-E-O-
Four”) saying “Hello” on the other end of the line. But there’s nothing odd about the breakthrough performance that the British
stage trained Ejiofor gives in the bubbly British comedy Kinky Boots (opening this Friday at Chicago's Landmark Century Cinema).
Though most of his friends call him “Chewy” he’ll soon have a new nickname from his fans: Lola. That’s the name of the
outrageous yet deeply dignified drag queen Ejiofor plays in the film. In the cheery comedy, a young shoe factory owner enlists the
help of Lola to design a line of sexy stilettos to keep from going into bankruptcy. Highlights from our conversation:
WCT: I know you’ve worked with Spielberg and Woody Allen and just did a film with Spike Lee. Can you just talk a little bit more
about your background?
CE: Well I was born and raised in London and I started working in the theatre and eventually the National Theatre for a number of
WCT: Have you ever done anything like Lola before? I’m guessing probably not.
CE: No, this was the first time. This was a real first for me and it was great, it was a great experience.
WCT: How did the film come about for you?
CE: Well I was in New York and I was sent the script, actually and I just loved the part and I thought it was a terrific project and I
loved the message of the film. I loved the characters in the film and I also thought the people involved were great so I was thrilled
to get involved.
WCT: Wasn’t there something about you going out and getting yourself a little Naomi Campbell wig?
CE: I went in to read a couple of the scenes with the director to audition and I was aware that at some point he was going to have to
seen a transformation, basically and so I figured that I could either do one audition without it and do it later or kill two birds with one
stone and head on in there, get a wig and wear it. So I went with a friend, got a wig, a little kind of androgynous shirt/blouse thing
and went down. I only found out afterwards that nobody else had done that.
WCT: I know that the film was inspired by real events. Was there a real Lola? Did you meet her?
CE: The Lola character is actually an amalgamation of different people that Steve Pateman who owned the original factory came into
contact with. So when the script was being written those characters became Lola.
WCT: Did you meet them?
CE: No but I met other people who were drag queens and spent a lot of time in the clubs. There are quite a few in London and
SoHo and I was basically in all of them (laughs). Sometimes I went with Julian (Jarrold the director of the film) and we had a great
time and sometimes I went on my own to meet people in the clubs. I worked with them and saw the shows and hung out. It was
WCT: In addition to the drag get ups you also had to sing and dance in the film.
CE: Yeah and all those rehearsals were going on for all that stuff during the day and I always liked that about the script because it
felt that the preparation for the role was similar to preparing for a theatre production. There was going to be a lot of rehearsal
involved which I’m always interested in and find very enjoyable.
WCT: We don’t see much of Lola’s background and we probably don’t really need to. It’s obvious that she’s cut a very difficult path
for herself which really any person who lives the drag queen life does. Have you experienced any of those similar choices in your life?
CE: Not really. I’ve always been very supported in my choices so I’ve never really felt that, fortunately.
WCT: Do you have a new insight and appreciation for that having played a character who’s gone through such a difficult journey?
CE: Yeah, I mean it’s never outside the realm of my imagination or the ability to envision what those sorts of things must be like
and emotionally what they could do to a person but it’s one of those things that I channel from the outside. I approach it with
empathy but you can’t know exactly what it feels like.
WCT: Isn’t every role for an actor essentially a drag part anyway?
CE: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I really enjoyed every minute of playing the part and I loved the fact that on one level it had that
sassy cabaret element to it and on another level there was an opportunity to be pretty subtle and kind of nuanced about the
emotions of it. I think the script was very textured and layered in that way. What’s on the surface that seems very one note-ish is
actually very deftly layered and put together.
WCT: We don’t really see Lola involved with anyone though it’s obvious that the character’s meant to be gay. Do you think Lola
always gets what Lola wants?
CE: I hope so. You hope that she gets over these feelings that she has for Charlie and finds somebody else.
WCT: Is there a chance you’d return to the Lola character if it’s a big hit?
CE: I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about that.
WCT: Kinky Sneakers maybe?
CE: I’d have to find a way to make the heels more comfortable that’s for sure. Lola would have to invent something else.
WCT: I have one last little thing that I want to ask you about. There’s this internet game in which you can figure out your own drag
queen name. You combine your first pet’s name with the name of the street that you grew up on. Which makes my drag queen
name “Sparky Skyline.” So what would your drag queen name be? It can’t get much better than Chiwetel Ejiofor.
CE: Mine would be Suzy Boleyn.
WCT: (laughs) Suzy Berlin?
CE: (laughs) No – Boleyn – as in Anne Boleyn, wife of Henry VIII.
WCT: If you don’t do what Suzy says you’re gonna lose your head!
CE: (laughs) That’s right!