Sophie Okonedo is a British actress. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Tatiana Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda (2004).
Okonedo was born within London in 1968. Her parents were Henry Okonedo (1939-2009) and Joan Allman. Her father was British Nigerian, and was employed as a government worker. Her mother was a British Jew and was employed as a Pilates teacher. Sophie’s maternal grandparents were Yiddish-speaking emigrants to the United Kingdom, one from Poland and the other from Russia.
Henry Okonedo abandoned his family c. 1973, when Sophie was 5-years-old. Joan raised her daughter as a single mother. Sophie was brought up in the Chalkhill Estate, a large council estate within the Wembley Park district of the London Borough of Brent. The Chalkhill Estate consisted of “about 1900 houses and flats”, and was located at a short distance from the Wembley Stadium. The Chalkhill Estate was often vandalized by football hooligans during during the 1970s, and suffered from high crime rates from the 1970s to the 1990s. The Estate’s buildings were eventually demolished in 2000.
Sophie was raised as a practicing Jew, and always had access to books despite her family’s relative poverty. She chose to follow acting as a profession, and was trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, one of the oldest and most prestigious drama schools in the United Kingdom.
Okonedo made her film debut at the age of 23, in the coming-of-age film “Young Soul Rebels” (1991). The film was a historical fiction work, examining the youth culture of London in the late 1970s, and the interactions between different culture movements: the skinheads, the punks, and the soul-boys. Sophie Okonedo played Tracy, the girlfriend of the main character Chris (played by Valentine Nonyela).
In 1995, Okonedo gained the role of Moira Levitt in the first season of the prison drama “The Governor” (1995-1996). The series primarily concerned the lives of a prison’s staff members. Also in 1995, Okonedo played the role of the Wachati Princess, Ace Ventura’s love interest in the comedy film “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls”. In the film, the virgin princess of an African tribe has been engaged to a heir from another tribe, but disagrees with the arranged marriage and attempts to seduce pet detective Ace Ventura (played by Jim Carrey) instead. Ace has recently become a Buddhist monk and has taken an oath of celibacy, but feels tempted by the offer.
From 1996 to 1997, Okonedo played the main role of Kelly Booth in the medical drama series “Staying Alive”. In 2000, Okonedo played a main role in the legal drama mini-series “In Defence”. While originally planned to be a multi-season television series, the series was cut short due to poor ratings.
In 2000, Okonedo co-stared in the dramatic television film “Never Never”. She was nominated for a “Royal Television Society Award for Best Actor – Female”, for her role in the film. In 2002, Okonedo played the role of the prostitute Juliette in the social thriller film “Dirty Pretty Things”, which depicted the lives of impoverished immigrants in London.
In 2003, Okonedo voiced the role of Alison Cheney in the flash-animated series “Scream of the Shalka”, a spin-off of “Doctor Who”. In the series, Alison is a barmaid at a Lancashire village who becomes the newest time-traveling companion of the Doctor (played by Richard E. Grant). Alison also befriends the Master (played by Derek Jacobi), an arch-enemy-turned-assistant of the Doctor who is permanently trapped within the time machine known as the Tardis.
In 2004, the 36-year-old Okonedo had her breakthrough role as the co-star of the historical drama film “Hotel Rwanda”, depicting the Rwandan genocide (1994). Okonedo played the historical figure Tatiana Rusesabagina (1958-), a professional nurse from the Tutsi ethnic group who helped over a 1000 individuals to escape the massacre. Okonedo won a Black Reel Award for Best Actress for her role. She was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, but the Award for that year was won by rival actress Cate Blanchett (1969-).
In 2005, Okonedo had the role of Sithandra in the science fiction film “Æon Flux”. The film was set in the 25th century, within the fictional city-state of Bregna. The characters Æon Flux (played by Charlize Theron) and Sithandra are female assassins, tasked with assassinating Trevor Goodchild, the local head-of-state. But in the process, Æon finds out that the city-state’s main rebel-organization is actually a tool for a coup d’état orchestrated by other politicians. And also discovers some dark secrets about the city’s past. The film gained a worldwide box office total of 52 million dollars, smaller than its actual budget,
In 2006, Okonedo played the intelligence agent “Mrs. Jones” in the spy film “Stormbreaker”, an adaptation of the “Alex Rider” novel series by Anthony Horowitz (1955-). In the film, Mrs. Jones (full name “Tulip Jones” in the novels) is an an agent of the Special Operations Division of MI6, and the de facto second-in-command of MI6. When subordinate agent Ian Rider gets assassinated by enemy agents, Mrs. Jones recruits Ian’s nephew and surrogate son Alex Rider as a replacement agent. Blackmailing the boy by threatening to deport his housekeeper and primary caretaker Jack Starbright (played by Alicia Silverstone) if he refuses to serve the agency. The film gained about 24 million dollars at the international box office, receiving only a limited release in the United States.
Also in 2006, Okonedo played the role of Anna in the British comedy-drama film “Scenes of a Sexual Nature”, an anthology film depicting seven loosely connected stories, all set in the nature reserve of Hampstead Heath within Greater London. Anna was depicted as a woman suffering from extreme mood swings, which convince her boyfriend to leave her alone in the nature reserve. The depressed Anna is approached by the weirdly-acting stranger Noel (played by Tom Hardy) who attempts to cheer her up and befriend her. Anna is at turns amused and annoyed by Noel, attempts to have sex with him, and then abruptly abandons him due to another sudden change in her mood. The film opened in niche cinemas.
Also in 2006, Okonedo played the role of Susie Carter in the mini-series “Tsunami: The Aftermath”, which depicted the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. In the film, Susie is a young mother who is searching for her daughter Martha Carter (played by Jazmyn Maraso). Martha was swept away by the tsunami, and her whereabouts are unknown for most of the series. Okonedo won an “NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special” for this role, and was nominated for a Golden Globe.
Okonedo’s next films were the comedy-drama “Martian Child” (2007), the drama film “The Secret Life of Bees” (2008), and the biographical film “Skin” (2008). The last two films allowed Okonedo to be nominated for several Black Reel Awards, NAACP Image Awards, Satellite Awards, and British Independent Film Award. Despite the critical acclaim for her acting roles, Okonedo never actually won these awards.
In 2010, the 42-year-old Okonedo was appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire, a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences. The Order was established in 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom (reigned 1910-1936) and counts among its members several actors.
In 2010, Okonedo returned to the Doctor Who franchise, playing another character in the most recent “Doctor Who” television series. She was cast as Elizabeth X (nicknaned “Liz Ten”), a Queen regnant of the United Kingdom in the 29th century. In the series, Elizabeth is immortal, but has limited access to her own memories due to a series of mind-wipes. She was depicted as still alive and reigning in an episode set in the 52nd century, at which point she was over 2300-years-old.
Okonedo was limited to television roles for much of the early 2010s, but returned to theatrical films with the post-apocalyptic science fiction film “After Earth” (2013). The film is set in the 31st century, when the planet Earth has long been abandoned by humanity. Most humans live in the colony world Nova Prime, which is protected from alien threats by the Ranger Corps. Okonedo was cast in the role of Faia Raige, wife of the General Cypher Raige (played by Will Smith), the commanding officer of the Rangers. Early in the film, Faia convinces Cypher to take their son Kitai Raige (played with Jaden Smith) with him in mission, as a bonding experience. Young Kitai’s application to become a Ranger has already being rejected due to reckless behavior, Kitai suffers from survivor’s guilt due to playing a part in the death of his sister, and his father sees him as a failure. Faia’s request for a bonding experience results in father and son being left stranded on planet Earth. Becoming the only two humans alive on the planet. The film was poorly received by critics, but earned about 244 million dollars at the worldwide box office. Becoming the commercially most successful film in Okonedo’s entire career at this point.
Okonedo’s next film was the political drama “War Book” (2014). The film depicts British civil servants who participate in a war-game, concerning government reactions in a potential nuclear war. In 2016, Okonedo had a major role in the mini-series “The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses”, depicting the historical Wars of the Roses (1455-1487), a series of English civil wars involving rival branches of the royal family. Okonedo was cast in the role of Queen consort Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482, terms as Queen 1445-1461, 1470-1471). The historical Margaret was the wife and consort of Henry VI of England (1421-1471, reigned 1422-1461, 1470-1471), the mother of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales (1453-1471), and the mother-in-law of Anne Neville (1456-1485). Due to Henry’s health problems and Edward’s underage status, Margeret served as the de facto head of the House of Lancaster and the Lancastrian military faction in early phases of the war. The defeat of her army at the Battle of Tewkesbury (1471) caused the deaths of both her husband and her son, and allowed the rival House of York to dominate the English throne until 1485.
In 2018, Okonedo returned to voice acting. She voiced Kanga the kangaroo of the Hundred Acre Wood in the fantasy film “Christopher Robin”, a sequel to the Winnie-the-Pooh novels of Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956). The film depicts an adult Christopher Robin, as a World War II veteran and aging businessman. He thinks that his childhood friends from the Hundred Acre Wood were imaginary, until said friends come searching for him. He has aged, but they have not. The film earned about 198 million dollars at the worldwide box office, becoming the highest-grossing film in Disney’s Winnie the Pooh franchise.
In 2019, Okonedo played the seer Lady Hatton in the superhero film “Hellboy”, the first superhero film of her career. The film earned about 40 million dollars at the worldwide box office, lower than its own budget. The film was criticized for its excessive gore, including an opening scene where King Arthur mutilates the corpse of his enemy Nimue.
Also in 2019, Okonedo was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2010, and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2019., for her services in drama. She is living with her only daughter Aoife Okonedo Martin in Muswell Hill, a suburban district of north London. Aoife is employed as a Personal Trainer. At 51-years-old, Okonedo continues to work regularly in her chosen field.
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