Chiwetel Ejiofor has finally arrived. And the proof comes when he doesn’t — at least not immediately.

He is now 15 minutes late for his breakfast interview. The owner of the Beverly Hills cafe is anxiously awaiting the appearance of the actor, whose reservation was made in his name. “We’re trying really hard not to freak out,” she quietly confides to a journalist. Ejiofor laughs good-naturedly when the story is relayed to him. He’s still not quite used to all the attention, but feels fortunate that people have responded so positively to his new film “12 Years a Slave,” for which he has collected top actor awards from several critics groups and nominations from SAG and the Golden Globes. His standout performance as the film’s lead character, Solomon Northup, a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery, is considered a surefire bet for an Oscar nom.

"There are many different ways the public can respond to actors — they can see you on TV and feel they know you and own you, and there can be something quite cornering about that,” he notes. “No doubt the energy around me has increased remarkably lately, but it’s always been from a place of loving and connecting to this film.”

Though Ejiofor has been acting for two decades, gaining recognition as the lead in Stephen Frears’ 2002 dark crime thriller “Dirty Pretty Things,” it is his role in “12 Years a Slave” that’s thrust the 36-year-old actor into the limelight. Independently financed by River Road Entertainment, New Regency and Britain’s Film 4 for about $20 million, the Fox Searchlight release has garnered nearly $40 million domestically since its Oct. 18 debut, and the film’s box office is sure to grow as the awards pile up.

Unlike others who might be compelled to seize the moment, the British actor doesn’t feel the need to instantly capitalize on his newfound stature. “I’ve been working as an actor for 20 years, and I have to really connect to something before I’ll sign on,” he says. “I can’t change that process just because there’s some kind of requirement to push it. I have to find the right connection, and that can be rare, whether a million people are phoning me or the phone is silent.”