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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 January, 2005, 16:24 GMT
Okonedo homes in on movie glory
Sophie Okonedo
Clocking Off star Okonedo has won her first Oscar nomination

British actress Sophie Okonedo, 36, was one of the few surprises in this year's Oscar nominations, receiving a best supporting nod for her role in Hotel Rwanda.

Okonedo is a well-known face on British television, with notable roles in the popular BBC series Clocking Off and more recently, the television drama Whose Baby? opposite Teachers' star Andrew Lincoln.

Born to an English mother and a Nigerian father Okonedo read voraciously as a child, prompting dreams of becoming a writer.

On leaving school, she joined author Hanif Kureishi's workshop - only to discover she was better at reading the parts than writing them.

Okonedo trained at Rada before making her stage debut with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1992.

Stage roles followed at London's Royal Court theatre and the National Theatre where her performance in 1999's Troilus and Cressida attracted rave reviews.

But when it comes to feature films, Okonedo had been given little opportunity to shine - until now.

Attention grabbing

She came to Hollywood's attention with her eloquent performance as a sharp-witted prostitute in Stephen Frear's Dirty Pretty Things in 2002.

The drama, about illegal immigrants battling to make a living in London, pitched the actress alongside Amelie's Audrey Tautou and saw Okonedo nominated for best supporting actress at the British Independent Film Awards.

Her role in Terry George's powerful drama Hotel Rwanda sees Okonedo playing Tatiana, the Tutsi wife of Hutu hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle).

Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo in Hotel Rwanda
Okonedo plays the wife of a courageous hotel manager in Hotel Rwanda

Based on a true story, the film retells Rusesabagina's decision to shelter Tutsi refugees at his workplace during Rwanda's 1994 civil conflict, a courageous decision that saved more than 1,200 lives.

Filming took place in South Africa last year after a last-minute scrabble for funding - and the result has been critically acclaimed with Cheadle also winning an Oscar nomination for best actor.

Okonedo empathised with the real-life Tatiana who strives to protect her family from the encroaching horrors of civil war: "I'm a mother, so I know all those feelings of protection you have for your child.

"And the story of Rwanda is such that you can't help but feel it to the core, " Okonedo told Newsweek.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Okonedo recently finished filming the Hollywood action film Aeon Flux - with last year's Oscar winner Charlize Theron.


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