Sophie Okonedo

Active - 1990 - Present  |   Born - Jan 1, 1968 in London, England  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Thriller, Comedy Drama

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For an actress whose late-blooming career began its slow but steady ascent around the age of 18, acclaimed stage and screen beauty Sophie Okonedo has more than made up for any lost time. As comfortable onscreen as she is on-stage, Okonedo first gained critical acclaim for her role as Cressida in Trevor Nunn's production of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida at London's National Theater. Though Okonedo would soon expand her repertoire to include roles in film and television, it was her unwavering dedication to the stage that would be the defining aspect of her early career until breakout roles in such films as Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things and the devastating Hotel Rwanda brought her both international acclaim and an Oscar nomination.

Born in London to a Nigerian father and a British mother, Okonedo was 18 years old when she came across an advertisement for a writer's workshop in Time Out magazine. It didn't take long for Okonedo to realize that she was more proficient in offering dramatically rendered readings of her fellow classmate's stories than penning her own, and with the encouragement of writing coach Hanif Kureishi, the aspiring actress was soon honing her skills at the Royal Court Theater. A scholarship to the Royal Academy was quick to follow, and in the succeeding years, Okonedo would earn glowing reviews thanks to, among many other roles, her stunning performance in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. A brief appearance as a tribal princess in the Jim Carrey vehicle Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls found Okonedo becoming increasingly at ease in front of the camera, and upon returning to the U.K., the rising starlet began to carve out an impressive niche for herself on such television productions as The Governor, Deep Secrets, and In Defence.

Despite Okonedo's increasing exposure abroad on screens both large and small, it was her touching turn as a sympathetic prostitute in Frears' dark thriller Dirty Pretty Things (2002) that proved to be her breakout role in film. It was shortly after witnessing Okonedo's performance in that movie that filmmaker Terry George approached her for a substantial role in his upcoming docudrama Hotel Rwanda -- am emotionally devastating retelling of the 1994 Tutsi massacre and one local hotel owner's noble attempt to save innocent lives by opening his doors to those hoping to escape a grim fate at the hands of the Hutus. Delivering a performance that was as genuinely moving as it was heartbreaking, Okonedo truly came into her own with the role -- and earned an Oscar nomination in the process. In addition to her increasingly busy onscreen career (by the time Hotel Rwanda was released into theaters she was already nearly finished filming her role opposite Charlize Theron in the sci-fi action effort Aeon Flux), Okonedo still found time to remain loyal to the stage by serving on the board of directors at the Royal Court Theater. Nevertheless the silver screen was calling now, and when her theatrical obligations were fullfilled, Okonedo was ready to jump back into the fray with a key supporting role n the family friendly action flick Stormbreaker - a cinematic adaptation of author Anthony Horowitz popular series of novels concerning the wild adventures of fourteen-year-old super-spy Alex Rider.

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Factsheet

  • Is of Nigerian-Jewish descent.
  • As a teen, she once attended a writing workshop run by author Hanif Kureishi at the Royal Court Young People's Theatre in London.
  • To prepare for her Oscar-nominated role in 2004's Hotel Rwanda, a fact-based drama about a married couple who housed more than 1200 Tutsi refugees in their hotel during the Rwandan genocide, she spent time with her real-life counterpart, Tatiana Rusesabagina.
  • Was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2010; after Prince Charles pinned the medal to her dress, the clasp came undone and it dropped to the floor.
  • Has been a UNICEF ambassador.