M: I-2’s Nyah
“When we moved to England, there were very few black people in the town. We were almost a novelty. It was an opportunity for the neighbors to tell others, ‘I met an African girl, how exotic!’ I always saw being black as something very useful, a mysterious element I could use to enrich my personality. Then I went into the arts, where difference is celebrated. So I’ve never really experienced racial hassle.” Thandie Newton
A BAFTA award-winning British/Zimbabwean actress, Thandie Newton is widely-recognized by audiences as Nyah Hall, the female lead in the highly-successful sequel Mission: Impossible 2 (2000), opposite superstar Tom Cruise. She won critical kudos for playing roles in such films as John Duigan’s critically acclaimed Flirting (1991), the Merchant-Ivory production Jefferson in Paris (1995), Gridlock’d (1997), Beseiged (1998) and Beloved (1998, with Oprah Winfrey). In more recent film, the fine-boned and soft-spoken Thandie took home a BAFTA Award after playing the supporting role of a black woman forced to evaluate her racial opinions in Crash (2005), which won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Picture.
The classically beautiful Thandie was named one of Black Men Magazine’s “10 Sexiest Women of the Year (2000) and ranked the 48th of Stuff magazine’s “102 Sexiest Women in the World” (2002). She is among the celebrities, including rapper/producer Lil Jon, BET’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Chaka Khan, hip-hop artist Chamillionaire and actors Boris Kodjoe and Marlon Wayans, who donated goods from their BET Awards Gift Bag for the auction held by AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s (AHF), the nation’s biggest AIDS organization, promoting its Prevention and Testing Programs, specifically HIV/AIDS education and outreach to women.
Romantically, Thandie was linked to Australian filmmaker John Duigan, who helped set her movie career and has directed her in such films as Flirting (1991), The Journey of August King (1995) and The Leading Man (1996). She has been married to screenwriter/director Oliver Parker II since 1998, and shares two daughters with him.
Childhood and Family:
In Zambia, Africa, Thandiwe Newton, who would later be famous as Thandie Newton, was born on November 6, 1972, to a British father, Nick Newton (artist and ex-lab technician), and a Zimbabwean mother, Nyasha (nurse). Thandie, which means “Beloved” in Shona, spent her first five years in Zambia before moving to her father’s hometown of Penzance, Cornwall, England, due to political unsteadiness. Growing up in England together with her younger brother James, she started studying dance and acting at age 11 as a student at the London Arts Educational School until a back injury forced her to fully concentrate on acting. She earned a B.A in anthropology at Downing College, University of Cambridge.
On July 11, 1998, Thandie was happily married to director/writer Oliver Parker II (born in 1969), whom she met while on the set of the television film In Your Dreams (1997). Their first daughter, Ripley Parker, was born on September 17, 2000, and their next daughter, Nico Parker, was born on December 9, four years later. The family currently is resident of London.
While studying modern dance at London’s Arts Educational School, 16-year-old Thandie Newton kicked off her film career after she won the female lead of a Ugandan girl who falls for a white teenage boy from a neighboring boarding school (played by Noah Taylor) in Flirting (1991), a critically acclaimed 1990 coming-of-age drama by Australian director John Duigan. The role brought Thandie critical praise. After finishing the film, she returned to England to continue her studies.
Thandie kept on a busy film career while pursuing a degree at Cambridge University. She took on a small role in the Harvey Keitel starring vehicle The Young Americans (1993) and made her Hollywood debut with the feature role of a hot Creole maid in Neil Jordan’s blockbuster horror outing, Interview With the Vampire (1994, starred Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst). However, it was her supporting turn of Sally Hemmings, the slave mistress of the future president Thomas Jefferson (played by Nick Nolte) in the Merchant-Ivory uneven film Jefferson in Paris (1995) that garnered her international recognition.
After graduating, Thandie reunited with Aussie director Duigan for drama films The Journey of August King (1995), which saw her as an escapee slave in 1800s guarded by landowner Jason Patric, and The Leading Man (1996), opposite Jon Bon Jovi. She also appeared as one of a group of calamity -prone high school grads in writer/director Anna Campion’s mystery/thriller Loaded (filmed in 1994, released in 1996). The next year, she offered a well-received portrayal of a drug-addicted jazz singer, Barbara ‘Cookie’ Cook, in Vondie Curtis-Hall’s comedy-drama Gridlock’d (1997), also starring Tim Roth and the late Tupac Shakur, and starred in the drama-made-for-TV film In Your Dreams (1997).
The actress’ movie career further highlighted by applauded performances in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Beseiged (1998, starred as the deported wife of an African leader) and the Jonathan Demme adaptation of the Toni Morrison novel, Beloved (1998, played the title character), which co-starred Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. The latter film, however, was a box office disaster.
Two years later, Thandie experienced breakthrough moment by the release of John Woo’s blockbuster Mission: Impossible 2 (2000), which became the one of the highest grossing films of the year. As Nyah Hall, a jewel thief who joins forces with super-agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), the talented performer nearly stole the scene from her co-star and the awesome special effects, and was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for Image Award.
In 2002, Thandie returned to filmmaking with a major leading role opposite Mark Walhberg in the romantic-thriller The Truth About Charlie, the Jonathan Demme remake of the 1963 Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn film Charade. Next up, she teamed up with Sylvester Stallone, Melanie Griffith and Gabriel Byrne in the well-considered independent film Shade (2004, portrayed sly, seductive card sharp con artist Tiffany) and again tasted the waters of sci-fi/ action film with 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick, starring Vin Diesel. In the Oscar-winning film for Best Picture, Crash (2005), Thandie was handed a 2006 BAFTA for Best Actress in A Supporting Role due to her bright portrayal of an upper middle-class black woman compelled to appraise her racial attitudes after being assaulted by a white racist police officer (played by Matt Dillon). On the small screen, she could be seen as Noah Wyle’s love interest in the long-running medical series “ER” (2003-2005).
The 34-year-old actress will be cast as the alienated wife of Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), a drama by Gabriele Muccino. She is also scheduled to play a role in Brian Robbins’ comedy-romance Norbit, which is for 2007 release. The upcoming film will star the famed comic actor Eddie Murphy in the title role.
- BAFTA: Best Actress In A Supporting Role, Crash, 2006