Conversations with Sophie Okenedo

Posted: November 3, 2009 in Black Reel Award Winner, Sophie Okenedo
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2009 is shaping up to be the year of strong emotional stories featuring women of color. In her latest film, “Skin,” Black Reel Award winner Sophie Okonedo portrays the anguish of a young Black woman growing up White in Aparthied South Africa in the 1950s. She sat down with Wilson Morales to talk about this film and her upcoming project as Winnie Mandela.

From her breakout role in “Dirty Pretty Things,” to an Oscar nomination for her performance in “Hotel Rwanda,” followed by an ensemble piece in “The Secret Life of Bees,” one can say that Sophie Okonedo has been getting quality roles lately.

The London native currently has a film called “Skin” where once again, she delivers a phenomenal performance.

“Skin” is one of the most moving stories to emerge from apartheid South Africa. Sandra Laing (Okonedo) is a black child born in the 1950s to white Afrikaners unaware of their black ancestry. Her parents are rural shopkeepers serving the local black community who lovingly bring her up as their white little girl. But at the age of 10, Sandra is driven out of white society. The film follows her 30-year journey from rejection to acceptance, betrayal to reconciliation, as she struggles to define her place in a changing world.

The film is directed by Anthony Fabian, and also stars Sam Neill, Alice Krige, Tony Kgoroge and Ella Ramangwane.

What attracted you to this film?

Sophie Okonedo: I just thought the story was so extraordinary. I had not heard about it or Sandra Laing before. When I got the script, I didn’t realize it was a real-life story and I was hooked from there.

How much research did you do?

SO: I really didn’t do that much research. I actually read most of the story as we got closer to shooting. From reading the scripts lots of times, I tried piecing her journey and be familiar with her. Then I just used my imagination. With this film, there wasn’t time to rehearse. We’re just trying to get the film made. On a big studio film, there’s time for everytime, depending on the budget.

Where did you shoot the film?

SO: We shot the film is South Africa, in a place that’s about an hour away from Johanesburg.

With your father being Nigerian and mother, an Ashkenazi Jew, how do you think you relate with Sandra?

SO: With all the characters I’ve played, I think I can relate to all of them. It’s just a shorter journey than what the characters have gone through. I’m also from a mixed background, but quite different from Sandra’s.

To read the rest of Morales’ interview with Okonedo, click here.

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