Sophie Okonedo was born in London in 1968. She was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in “Hotel Rwanda”. On television she has starred in “Oliver Twist” and “Mayday”.
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.