18 Things to Know About Sophie Okonedo

You may not know Sophie Okonedo, but you should. The Oscar-nominated and Tony-winning British actress is superb. The Jewish actress entered the scene playing the wife of Don Cheadle’s character in Hotel Rwanda, and has since gone on to star in Broadway productions and critically acclaimed television shows.

So we’re here, of course, to bring you 18 things to know about Sophie Okonedo:

1. Sophie was born in August 1968 in London, the daughter of a Jewish mom and a Nigerian dad.

2. She used to ask if she was adopted. In the 70s, growing up as a young black girl with a white mom, she was confused. As she explained, “I used to say, ‘Mum, am I adopted?’ So I can really relate to that – knowing something’s not quite right but not being quite sure what it is. My mother’s Jewish, so my family is Jewish, and it was hard to believe this young girl with a huge afro had a Jewish mum. But nowadays, anything goes.”

3. While not a practicing Jew, Sophie is proud of her Jewish heritage. “My grandparents kept a fairly Jewish household. They celebrated all the holidays, and they spoke Yiddish when they didn’t want me to understand the conversation,” she explained. “Culturally I’m still very Jewish. It’s all in my blood.”

4. Her daughter, Aoife, was born in 1997, and Sophie calls her an “Irish Nigerian Jew.”

5. During her Tony acceptance speech, she thanked Scott Rudin, the producer of A Raisin in the Sun, for having “the vision that a Jewish Nigerian Brit could come over the pond and play one of America’s most iconic parts.”

Sophie was also nominated in 2016 for Best Actress in a play for her role in The Crucible. 

6. In 2009, when an interviewer asked whether or not she was political, Sophie responded, “Of course I’m political. I’m a black woman living in London, but I’m not going to go into what I think. There’s nothing worse than actors spouting about what they think.”

7. For her role as Tatiana Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda, she was nominated for an Oscar!

Sophie Okonedo
Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo in Hotel Rwanda (2004)

8. After her Oscar nomination, The Daily Mail was awful and tracked down her father in Lagos (her parents split when she was 5) and subjected her to many racist articles. “Reporters stalked her daughter and harassed her 90-year-old grandmother. Words such as ‘tragic’, ‘Cinderella’ and ‘sink estate’ cropped up regularly. It wasn’t a happy time. But Okonedo is not remotely self-pitying.”

9. Other notable roles: She starred as Winnie Mandela in Mrs. Mandela, had an arc on Doctor Who in 2010, and played a key role in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Secret Life of Bees.

10. She would love to work in Britain, but she gets more roles in America. “I just get offered a lot more work in America than I do in Britain. I may be here now,” she t0ld The Guardian. “There are just more roles for me in America. Sadly. Because I love working in Britain. It’s my home.”

11. In 2010, Sophie was awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire (a very fancy and important British honor). Her reaction? It was “the cherry on the cake and way beyond anything I would have imagined for myself.”

12. She starred as Queen Margaret in “The Hollow Crown,” a series of television film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s history plays. We can’t stop staring at this photo:

Sophio Okonedo

13. She currently stars as Cleopatra, opposite Ralph Fiennes’ Antony, in an award-winning production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. (Her costumes were inspired by Beyoncé, nbd.)

14. She’s also the star role in Undercover, a BBC series about a British lawyer who fights to prove the innocence of a U.S. death row inmate.

(Which is available to stream on Netflix! GO!)

15. She doesn’t have any social media.

16. Sophie is set to be in the superhero film Hellboy as Lady Hatton, “a resident seer at the Osiris Club, an ancient English club dedicated to uncovering supernatural mysteries.” We have no idea what that means, but get that franchise money!!

17. She’s been nominated four times at the NAACP Image Awards — for her roles in Hotel RwandaTsunami: The Aftermath, The Secret Life of Bees, and Skin.

18. British director Stephen Frears describes Sophie Okonedo thusly: “She’s a proper actress. Not precious. No ego. No bitching.” And British producer Paul Abbott added: “She can shift the ground you’re standing on with tectonic, disturbing insight into the human condition, then swagger into the green room with a plate of chips asking where the ketchup went.”

Don’t sleep on Sophie Okonedo!

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