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Okonedo, Sophie (1968-)


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Although often a victim of lazily stereotypical 'racial' casting, Nigerian-Jewish actress Sophie Okonedo has shown increasing versatility in a divergent career. However, despite an Oscar nomination, she still seems poised on the verge of true recognition. Born in summer 1968, she trained at RADA after attending Cambridge, and made her big-screen debut in Isaac Julien's ambitious but unsuccessful Young Soul Rebels (UK/France/Germany/Spain, 1991). She then had small parts in such TV staples as Casualty (BBC, 1991) and The Bill (ITV, 1994) before being offered a more significant supporting role in Michael Winterbottom's multiple sclerosis drama Go Now (BBC, 1995).

Although she made forays into Hollywood filmmaking with small roles in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (US, 1995) and The Jackal (US/UK/France/Germany/Japan, 1997), she was in more comfortable territory amongst the young ensemble cast of the romantic comedy This Year's Love (d. David Kane, 1999). She stood out as one of the protagonists of the legal drama In Defence (ITV, 2000), was excellent in Never Never (Channel 4, 2000) as a bedraggled single mother who gets involved with John Simm's loan shark, and good fun as a vengeance-seeking wife in David Morrissey's drama Sweet Revenge (BBC, 2001).

However, she still lacked a defining role. She impressed in Dirty Pretty Things (d. Stephen Frears, 2002) as the accommodating prostitute Juliette, but the part was less developed than the leads, though it still garnered a British Independent Film Award nomination. She was effective in the ensemble of Paul Abbott's Clocking Off (BBC, 2002), but also appeared in such formulaic television as The Inspector Lynley Mysteries and Spooks (both BBC, 2003).

A major breakthrough came with Hotel Rwanda (US/UK/Italy/South Africa, d. Terry George, 2004), for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination as the devoted, fearful Tatiana Rusesabagina, trying desperately to make some sense out of the Rwandan massacre that she and her husband Paul (Don Cheadle) found themselves caught up in. Two challenging television roles followed: the determined single mother in Whose Baby? (ITV, 2004) and the supposedly infertile woman at the centre of an ethical and legal battle in Born With Two Mothers (Channel 4, 2005). The Hollywood sci-fi thriller Aeon Flux (US, 2005) was mainly notable for her character having hands instead of feet, but she has several other high-profile roles in the pipeline, including a major role in the eagerly awaited Stormbreaker (Germany/US/UK, 2006).

Alexander Larman

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Young Soul Rebels (1991)Young Soul Rebels (1991)

Isaac Julien's debut feature about two black DJs in London, 1977

Thumbnail image of Go Now (1995)Go Now (1995)

Touching romantic drama about a young man beset by MS

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