No stranger to audiences, British actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor was discovered by Hollywood while he was still a student at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. Cast by Steven Spielberg in the critically acclaimed historical drama, Amistad (1997), Ejiofor’s films since include Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things (2002), Love Actually for Richard Curtis (2003), Kinky Boots for Julian Jarrold (2005), and Children of Men for Alfonso Cuarón (2006). In 2013, Ejiofor went on to star as Solomon Northup in the critically lauded 12 Years a Slave, for which he received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations and a BAFTA Award for Best Actor.
In Z for Zachariah, Ejiofor returns as John Loomis, a scientist who, having survived the nuclear fallout which has decimated the world as he knows it, now finds himself competing with Caleb (Chris Pine) for the affections of Margot Robbie’s Ann Burden in a post-apocalyptic Eden.
“I’d seen Craig Zobel’s previous film, Compliance, which I really loved,” says Ejiofor of his initial attraction to the project. “I found it interesting that he’d created something epic in a very small environment; that he was able to tell a story through meticulous details and nuanced characters… [Compliance] relied on really perceptive storytelling and being very clear with a morally and ethically complicated narrative. When I read this script, I was very excited to see if we could put those kind of elements together again.”
For Ejiofor, the creative challenges in brining Z for Zachariah to life would manifest themselves during the production itself – if not in the way the actor initially anticipated. “There’s something about this film that, on paper, seems almost sort of methodical in a sense. It seems straightforward because here you have these three people who are trying to rebuild their lives and so you think the drama is just about the nature of their interactions,” says Ejiofor. “But it’s more than that. “There’s also an extraordinary physical aspect to the film, a strong physical world where they’re engaged in the process of staying alive… You sort of skip over that as you’re reading, as you’re so vested in these characters. But that’s the nature of farm work, the nature of trying to rebuild something, trying to reconstruct a world that you recognize.”
With the final and unexpected arrival of Caleb into his newfound valley-paradise, Chiwetel’s Loomis must face his ultimate nemesis – himself. Forced with prospect of competition, he begins to reevaluate his romantic feelings for Burden, simultaneously confronting a potential suitor and his own, irrational, inner-demons of jealousy.
“With the arrival of Caleb the story becomes about darker things – the nature of survival and the wider implications of another man stealing the last woman on earth,” explains Ejiofor. “The story shifts and your relationship to Loomis shifts…. Some people may feel that Caleb offers something else that Loomis simply wasn’t prepared to embrace.”
“She’s simply attracted to him,” says Margot Robbie of Ann’s initial encounter with Caleb. “He has this charm and they’re from similar backgrounds. They have this instant rapport and it escalates quickly… But it isn’t necessarily a good thing either.”
“Everybody is going to have a different take on it, but ultimately I’m a little bit more protective of Caleb,” says Chris Pine. “He arrives, having been trapped in a mine, having survived an awful experience, and then surviving for a year or so before he makes his way to the farm. I think he really falls for Ann and believes in his heart that they’re meant to be like Adam and Eve – and that John Loomis is there as some sort of test from God.”
“Z for Zachariah” opens September 30 in Philippine cinemas nationwide, released and distributed by Captive Cinema.