During the early 2000s, Ejiofor had lead and supporting roles in many big-screen projects that showed his versatility as an actor, taking work in a variety of genres across the moral spectrum.
Some of the highlights: He received raves as a sleep-deprived taxi driver and hotel clerk with a medical background in the Stephen Frears thriller Dirty Pretty Things (2002), acting opposite Audrey Tatou. Ejiofor was then part of the large ensemble cast of 2003's Love Actually and later played villains in two notable sci-fi films—namely Joss Whedon's Serenity (2005) and Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men (2006). Ejiofor also collaborated with Spike Lee in the films She Hate Me (2004) and Inside Man (2006), working with co-star Denzel Washington in 2007's American Gangster as well.
Ejiofor was the lead character—singing drag diva Lola—in the 2006 film Kinky Boots, for which Ejiofor earned a Golden Globe Award nomination. (The movie eventually went on to be adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical written by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein.) Ejiofor received additional Golden Globe nods for his part in HBO's Tsunami: The Aftermath (2006) and, three years later, for his role portraying Thabo Mbeki in the South African drama Endgame.
Ejiofor also directed the 2008 short film Slapper; the same year he appeared in the David Mamet martial arts film Redbelt and performed lead in a stage revival of Othello, winning the Laurence Olivier award. After another ensemble venture with 2012 (2009), the busy actor starred as a government agent in the Angelina Jolie spy thriller Salt (2010).
The year 2013 was a major one for Ejiofor. He reunited with Mamet to be featured in the HBO biopic Spector and, in the summer, appeared in the Joe Wright play Season of the Congo in which Ejiofor portrayed Patrice Lumumba. The actor also starred in the film Half of a Yellow Sun—a drama about the Biafran War based on the novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—which was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2013.
October saw the U.S. limited release of 12 Years a Slave, a biopic by British director Steve McQueen in which Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a free African-American musician who was kidnapped and forced into bondage during the 1840s. Ejiofor garnered much critical acclaim for the role, including a best actor Golden Globe nod (actor Matthew McConaughey ultimately took the Globe for his lead role in 2013's Dallas Buyers Club) and an Academy Award nomination for best actor in 2014.