A veteran of the London stage and British television and film, Sophie Okonedo received international acclaim for her breakout film role as Juliette, the kind-hearted prostitute, in Stephen Frears' immigrant drama ''Dirty Pretty Things'' (2002), and as Tatiana, the Tutsi wife of hotel manager and quiet hero Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle), in Terry George's historical drama "Hotel Rwanda" (2004), which earned her Oscar and Screen Actors Guild Award (SAG) nominations for Best Supporting Actress.
The RADA graduate has also played significant roles in such films as "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" (1995), "The Jackal" (1997), "Æon Flux" (2005), "Stormbreaker" (2006), "Tsunami: The Aftermath" (2006; TV) and "Martian Child" (2007). She will soon star in a miniseries version of Charles Dickens' novel, "Oliver Twist," and in an upcoming true story-based British film called "Skin."
"Without hammering you over the head with it, the movie gets you to ask questions. That's what good movies do." Sophie Okonedo
Childhood and Family:
"But I'm pretty secure about who I am. Anything that's truthful I'm not ashamed of." Sophie Okonedo
Daughter to a Nigerian father (Henry Okonedo; worked for the government) and a British mother (Joan; Caucasian, Jewish; pilates teacher), Sophie Okonedo was born on January 1, 1969, in London, England. When she was 5 years old, her father left the family and Sophie was raised in poverty by her single mother.
Sophie dropped out of school at 16 and floundered for a few years before eventually enrolling in a writing class at the Royal Court Theater with the encouragement of writing coach Hanif Kureishi. However, she soon discovered that she wasn’t a very good writer but was good at reading other people’s work aloud, which finally led to her winning a scholarship to the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), in London, England, where she honed in on her craft and got her true start as an actress. She is also a graduate of Cambridge University.
Sophie has a daughter named Aoife from a previous relationship with Irish film editor Eoin Martin.
"You feel very live and present in the moment. I wish I could carry that into my real life. I listen much better when I'm acting than I do in real life." Sophie Okonedo
Dirty Pretty Things
"I'm just going where the stories are. I'll quite happily work in a tiny theater in the middle of nowhere if it's the right story. It always leaves a bit of a nasty taste in my mouth when I do something purely for money. I always end up being absolute shit in it. I'm not really an actor who can make rubbish writing good. Some people are very good at it. It's a real skill." Sophie Okonedo
After being trained at RADA, Sophie Okonedo began her career on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She subsequently made the transition into films making her debut with a small, but pivotal role opposite Jason Durr and Frances Barber in Isaac Julian's independent drama, "Young Soul Rebels" (1991), which examines the interaction between youth cultural movements in late 1970's Britain.
Following her big screen debut, the newcomer spent the next several years in a string of British television projects and was seen in an episode of the BBC One medical drama "Casualty,” the ITV long-running cop drama "The Bill” and the short-lived prison drama starring Janet McTeer, "The Governor." She was also seen in the made-for-television movies "Maria's Child" (1992) and "Age of Treason" (1993), as well as acclaimed director Michael Winterbottom’s multiple sclerosis independent drama film starring Robert Carlyle, ''Go Now'' (1995).
In the mid 1990s, Okonedo began branching out and auditioning for Hollywood productions. She won a co-starring role as The Wachati Princess in "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" (1995), which earned her a MTV Movie Award nomination for Best Kiss (shared with lead actor Jim Carrey). She also snagged a small role as the Jamaican Girl in Michael Caton-Jones' suspense film starring Bruce Willis and Richard Gere, "The Jackal" (1997). Meanwhile, she continued working in British TV projects and co-starred in the BBC gripping drama movie "Deep Secrets" (1996) and in an episode of the BBC dark comedy series "Murder Most Horrid."
''I don't like going for more than a year without doing theatre. I don't mind falling flat on my face so long as I feel I'm open to the possibility of something extraordinary happening.'' Sophie Okonedo
Okonedo returned to stage and delivered a memorable turn as the brave, resourceful storyteller in ''Arabian Nights'' at The Young Vic theatre in London. She also gained recognition for portraying Cressida in Trevor Nunn's adaptation of Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida" at the Royal National Theatre. She was also cast in the ensemble British romantic comedy titled "This Year's Love," with Dougray Scott, Jennifer Ehle, Douglas Henshall, Kathy Burke and Catherine McCormack, and in Sara Sugarman's film adaptation of Kathy Lette's comedic novel, "Mad Cows" (both in 1999), starring Anna Friel.
Entering the new millennium, Okonedo appeared in the British series ''Never Never,'' for which she was nominated as Best Actress in a Television Drama by the Royal Television Society (RTS). During this time, she was also spotted as a guest in an episode of the short-lived drama series "In Defence" and co-starred with Matthew Rhys and Kelly Reilly in Nick Grosso's little-seen romantic comedy movie, "Peaches."
During the following years, Okonedo starred as Ellen, who seeks revenge on her cheating husband, in the BBC two-part thriller ''Sweet Revenge'' (2001; with Paul McGann and Pam Ferris), and played the significant role of Juliette, the kind-hearted prostitute, in Stephen Frears' Oscar-nominated drama about two illegal immigrants in London, ''Dirty Pretty Things'' (2002; starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou). For her portrayal, she was nominated for a British Independent Film Award for Best Supporting Actress. She also co-starred with British actor Michael Kitchen in the British romantic thriller TV movie ''Alibi'' (2003).
Okonedo's performance in Frear's immigrant drama "Dirty Pretty Things" (2002) was noticed by Northern Irish filmmaker Terry George, who would later cast her in his historical drama film "Hotel Rwanda" (2004). In the true story-based film, Okonedo played the female lead role of Tatiana, the Tutsi wife of hotel manager and quiet hero Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle), whose decision to house refugees at his workplace would rescue over 1,000 civilians during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. For her stunning performance, Okonedo received Oscar and Screen Actors Guild Award (SAG) nominations for Best Supporting Actress, and won a Black Reel Award for Best Actress, Drama. The film itself also received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay and gave Cheadle a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
On receiving the Oscar nomination, Okonedo said, "At one stage in my career I didn’t even think I’d ever make a film, so to be nominated for an Oscar is overwhelming. I’m in a state of shock. I’ve spent 15 years plugging away and the last year has just been amazing."
With an Oscar nomination under her belt, Okonedo went on to co-star with Charlize Theron in the Karyn Kusama-directed science-fiction/action movie "Aeon Flux" (2005), a loose adaptation of the animated science fiction television series of the same name. The following year, she was cast in Geoffrey Sax's "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker" (2006), which was based on the first novel of the same name in the Alex Rider series.
Also in 2006, Okonedo portrayed a young mother (Chiwetel Ejiofor played her husband) searching for her six-year-old daughter in "Tsunami: The Aftermath," a two-part HBO/BBC joint production that dramatizes the events following the 2004 disaster in Asia. For her brilliant performance, she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Mini-Series or Television Movie and won an Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special.
Most recently, Okonedo supported John Cusack in Menno Meyjes' comedy-drama film based on the award-winning novelette by science fiction author David Gerrold, "Martian Child" (2007) and was one of the storytellers in the British children's show, "Jackanory Junior" (2007).
Next, Okonedo will portray Nancy in the BBC miniseries version of Charles Dickens' second novel, "Oliver Twist." As for her big screen projects, she will co-star with Sam Neill in Anthony Fabian's upcoming true story based British film called "Skin," playing a black girl who was born to two white Afrikaner parents in South Africa.
"I'm drawn to stories about ordinary people who get tangled up in an extraordinary event or idea or emotion. I'm not saying I don't love films about super people or super doctors, but my preference is for stories about how we get through this life, what it is to be human, because I'm always struggling with it myself." Sophie Okonedo
Image: Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special, "Tsunami: The Aftermath," 2007
Black Reel: Best Actress, Drama, "Hotel Rwanda," 2005