London-born British actress Sophie Okonedo won a Tony for best performance at last night’s 2014 Tony Awards.
According to The Telegraph, Okonedo earned the honor of Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for her breakout Broadway performance in A Raisin in the Sun. Sophie played the role of Ruth Younger alongside fellow Tony winner (and two-time Oscar winner) Denzel Washington, who recently returned to Broadway.
A Raisin in the Sun is a 1959 play by Lorraine Hansberry. The show tells the story of an impoverished family struggling to gain financial wealth. The Broadway production that earned Okonedo her Tony was directed by Kenny Leon, who won his own Tony at the ceremony, and was produced by Scott Rudin. The rendition was generally praised by critics and won a Tony for Best Play Revival.
Reviews suggest that every aspect of the play was top-notch, but Okonedo’s performance must have been an especially outstanding component. Sophie won the Tony over her co-star Anika Noni Rose, who, to be fair, has won a Tony in the past. This isn’t Okonedo’s first time being recognized for her talent, either. Sophie was nominated for an Oscar in 2004 for her performance in Hotel Rwanda.
Okonedo is a Jewish British woman of Nigerian descent, so playing an American character like Ruth Younger would not come naturally. Sophie had to drop her British accent to play the part, which she commented on: “I’m playing an American and kind of getting away with it so far —nobody has spotted anything or said anything!”
According to BBC America, Sophie Okonedo thanked producer Scott Rudin for casting her in the play during her acceptance speech and commented on the opportunities available to black actresses in America over Britain.
“I think being a black actor in America is a lot easier than in Britain. I’ve just had a lot more offers of parts and bigger stuff,” she said. “It’s afforded me a lot of opportunities coming here. Many more than I was getting in Britain so I will be back.”
You can see Sophie Okonedo in an interview before the Tony Awards in the video below, talking about black actors working in America and her future plans on the stage:
The Independent reported on the other big-name Tony winners joining Sophie Okonedo included Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston for his performance as President Lyndon Johnson in the play All the Way and Mark Rylance for his portrayal of Olivia in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.
You can read a review of the play that earned Sophie Okonedo her Tony Award here.