Born in London to a Nigerian father and British mother, Sophie Okonedo never considered being an actress when she grew up, let alone an international star. A voracious reader all her life-a government official visiting the family's home marveled at the large bookcase stocked with books-Okonedo got her start through a writing workshop she took with renowned novelist and playwright, Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette, My Son the Fanatic). Though she had no desire to be a writer, Okonedo took the course because it was something interesting to do at night. She soon realized, however, that she was no good as a writer. But she was very good at reading other people's work aloud, which eventually led to her involvement with the Royal Court Theatre. From there she got a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), where she got her true start as an actress.
After a series of theatrical roles, including Shahrazad in "The Arabian Nights" and Anippe in Christopher Marlowe's "Tamburlaine the Great," Okonedo broke through with an acclaimed performance as Cressida in "Troilus and Cressida," staged by famed theatrical director Trevor Nunn for the National Theatre. Though the only Shakespeare role of her career, Okonedo earned high praise for her ability to project a tense ambiguity between love and passion. The success of her Cressida led the actress to British television: she appeared in episode 5 of "Clocking Off" (BBC-1, 2000), a six-part drama series about the secret lives of every day people; in "Never Never" (2000), she earned a Royal Television Society Award nomination for playing a single mom; and she appeared on "Spooks" (BBC-1, 2002- ), a popular series about Britain's domestic security agency that was presented across the Atlantic as "MI5" (A&E, 2004- ).
From British television, Okonedo made a quick jump to film. Though she had several thankless parts in major features, including two lines as a princess in "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" (1995), and as a nameless Jamaican Girl in "The Jackal" (1997), she made a deep impression with her characterization of a prostitute living in a rundown West London hotel in Stephen Frears' "Dirty Pretty Things" (2003).
She was then cast in her highest profile role to date as Tatiana Rusesabagina, the wife of a hotel manager (Don Cheadle), who houses 1200 Tutsi refugees fleeing the 1994 genocide in "Hotel Rwanda" (2004). Acclaim for both the film and its performances was bestowed by critics, as Okonedo received nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress. To prepare for the challenging role, Okonedo read Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey, by Fergal Keane, then went to Brussels to meet the real-life Tatiana. The topic of the genocide was avoided-Okonedo asked about her relationship with Paul and what she liked to eat. The cultural leap of transforming herself from a London woman to a Rwandan refugee turned out to be her biggest challenge on the film, though two weeks of torrential rain and a sudden loss of financing were also on the list.
After "Hotel Rwanda," Okonedo returned to the Hollywood system and was cast in the long-awaited film version of the popular MTV series, "Aeon Flux" (2005)-the movie proved to be a disappointing failure on all fronts. But Okonedo rebounded with a moving performance in "Tsunami, the Aftermath" (HBO, 2006), an ensemble drama that depicted various stories involving the devastating 2004 tidal wave that destroyed large portions of Thailand and other parts of South Asia. Okonedo played a mother searching frantically with her husband (Chiwetel Ejiofor) for their 6-year-old daughter after the tsunami literally ripped her from their arms. She earned a nomination for a 2006 Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made film debut in Isaac Julian's "Young Soul Rebels"
Had a small role opposite Jim Carrey as The Wachati Princess in "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls"; earned an MTV Movie Award nomination for the kiss she shared with Carrey
Cast in a small role as the Jamaican Girl in "The Jackal," starring Bruce Willis and Richard Gere
Gave a memorable performance as the brave, resourceful story-teller in "Arabian Nights" at The Young Vic in London
Cast in the ensemble British romantic comedy called "This Year's Love"
Received recognition playing Cressida in Trevor Nunn's adaptation of Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida" at the Royal National Theatre
Cast in the British series "Never Never," for which she was nominated as Best Actress in a Television Drama by the Royal Television Society
Starred in the short lived British series " Sweet Revenge" (BBC)
Played a key role as Juliette, the kind-hearted prostitute in Stephen Frears' "Dirty Pretty Things"; nominated for an Independent Spirit Award as Best Supporting Actress
Co-starred with British actor Michael Kitchen in the TV movie "Alibi"
Starred opposite Don Cheadle as his Tutsi wife in "Hotel Rwanda"; received SAG and Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress
Co-starred with Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand in the science-fiction action movie "Aeon Flux"
Cast in "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker" based on Stormbreaker, the first novel in the Alex Rider series
Played a young mother searching for her child in "Tsunami: The Aftermath" a two-part HBO/BBC joint production that dramatized the events following the 2004 tsunami in Asia; received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Mini-Series or Television Movie
Co-starred with John Cusack in "The Martian Child"
Nabbed a starring role on the TV mini-series "Father & Son"
Played the wife of Nelson Mandela in the biographical drama "Mrs Mandela"
Starred on the British TV mini-series "The Slap"
Starred alongside Will Smith in the blockbuster "After Earth"
Was cast in the thriller mini-series "Undercover"
Played Queen Margaret on the historical TV series "The Hollow Crown"
Played Angela on "Wanderlust"
Voiced Kanga in Disney's live action Winnie-the-Pooh sequel "Christopher Robin"