Netflix's Ratched welcomes an engaging cast of characters to tell the story of Nurse Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson), and one of Lucia State Hospital's most infamous residents is Charlotte Wells (Sophie Okonedo), a character struggling with multiple personality disorder. Throughout the series, Okonedo channels several different personas, including a boxer, a baby, and the hospital's own Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones). It's one of several impressive performances the actress has delivered on the screen and stage throughout her career.
Ahead, what you need to know about the British Oscar nominee, from her biggest roles to her experience working on Ratched.
She was born and raised in London.
Okonedo was born to a Nigerian father, who was a government worker, and a Jewish mother who was a pilates instructor. She left school at age 16 and attended a Royal Court Youth Theatre workshop for playwriting, but Okonedo soon realized she preferred acting in theater to writing it. From there, she enrolled in RADA drama school and booked early roles in films including Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, The Jackal, and Dirty Pretty Things.
She's an Oscar-nominated actress.
Hotel Rwanda was undoubtedly Okonedo's breakout performance. She co-starred with Don Cheadle in the 2004 drama; the duo played a couple determined to protect their family during the Rwandan genocide. The performance earned Okonedo an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Follow-up projects included her Golden Globe-nominated role in the miniseries Tsunami: The Aftermath, 2008's The Secret Life of Bees, 2018's Christopher Robin, and last year's Hellboy reboot.
She's a Tony winner.
When Okonedo isn't filming a new movie or TV show, she can often be found performing onstage. She made her Broadway debut with a 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun alongside Denzel Washington and Anika Noni Rose. That performance earned her a Tony Award and propelled Okonedo into a 2016 revival of The Crucible, co-starring Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw.
She racked up another Tony nomination for that performance before heading to London's West End. There, she played the titular role in Anthony & Cleopatra alongside Ralph Fiennes, telling Collider it was her "favorite experience" of her decades-long career. When asked about the significance of playing Cleopatra as a Black woman at London's National Theatre, Okonedo told The Evening Standard, “Shakespeare wasn’t writing historically, he was writing imaginatively. He writes about ghosts, for fuck’s sake, people coming back from the dead, fairies. If you want history, make a documentary. Anyone can play anyone in Shakespeare. I don’t think there are limits.”
She's said it's easier for her to get hired in the U.S. than the U.K.
Despite Okonedo's acting accolades, she told The Guardian in 2017 that getting opportunities in the U.K. as a Black actress is challenging. “I do notice that—over the last year—I’ve had maybe two scripts from England and tens and tens from America," she explained. "The balance is ridiculous. I’m still struggling [in the U.K.] in a way that my white counterparts at the same level wouldn’t have quite the same struggle. People who started with me would have their own series by now, and I’m still fighting to get the second lead or whatever. I think I’m at a certain level and have a good range, so why isn’t my inbox of English scripts busting at the seams in the same way as my American one is? There’s something amiss there.”
As for how her home nation could diversify its storytelling, Okonedo offered, “If the writers all come from the same backgrounds, you are going to get the same sorts of characters. Get a broader variety of writers and you get a bigger range of stories. One of the things I have noticed in America is that so much more time goes into script development. If you just say, ‘We’re going to do a police drama with someone from EastEnders,’ or, ‘Let’s do another Dickens,’ then you’re not going to get diversity.”
She has a daughter and two stepchildren.
While Okonedo mainly keeps her personal life private, she has an adult daughter, Aoife, whom she shares with her ex, Irish film editor Eoin Martin. At some point after 2011, Okonedo met her current husband Jamie and became a stepmother to his children, Stan and Josie, per The Evening Standard. "I am more settled now," she told the outlet in 2018. "My daughter has left home—she’s a personal trainer in Kensington—my stepson has almost left home, and my stepdaughter is 15. I have a stable home life, and I am just older. I don’t care as much if people like or dislike things. Well, I do. I am sensitive and sometimes I feel like I have got no skin. That’s why I can’t ever read stuff about myself."
She says parts of Ratched were written last-minute.
Okonedo said Charlotte's arc in Ratched veered away from the one set out in her original meeting with show co-creator Ryan Murphy. “I met Ryan in L.A. and he talked to me about playing this character—or characters—and he told me what happened to her [in her] backstory,” she recalled to Variety. “But when we started filming, some things did change—and for all of the characters. After the first two or three episodes, it became it’s own thing and you’d get scripts and go in the moment.”
When asked about slipping into the identities of several different people on the show, Okonedo said she gave herself free reign. "With Charlotte, I just really tried to play the truth of each moment and not worry about how it weaves together," she told the outlet. "When I was her, I was very much in the place she was. Rather than think about Charlotte being underneath them all—because I didn’t think that would be helpful—I just made each one a real person for myself. When I was playing the others, I had a full life for them in my imagination."
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