Family & Companions
Despite having grown up without the ambition to perform in front of the camera, Thandie Newton nonetheless grew into an accomplished, but often overlooked actress. Almost on a whim, she landed a starring role in the low-budget Australian feature, "Flirting" (1992), which immediately established Newton's potential. Though she put acting on the backburner to finish her studies at Cambridge University, Newton made several small, but memorable appearances in "Interview With the Vampire" (1994) and "GRIDLOCK'd" (1997). But it was her supporting role in "Mission: Impossible 2" (2000) that introduced her to a mass audience, which opened the doors to more prominent features like "The Truth About Charlie" (2002) and "The Chronicles of Riddick" (2004). Not one to be relegated to playing the heroine in action fare, Newton expanded her horizons with a gripping and complicated performance in the racism-themed "Crash" (2005), which finally earned the actress the respect and award recognition she so richly deserved.
Born on Nov. 6, 1972 in Zambia, Africa, Newton was raised in London and Penzance, Cornwall by her father, Nick, a lab technician-turned-artist, and her mother, Nyasha, a nurse from Zimbabwe. Newton developed a taste for performing at a young age, displaying a talent for dance that was rewarded with a scholarship to the Arts Educational School when she was 11. But by the time she was 16, Newton had faced a series of injuries that eventually sidelined her for an entire summer. With the prospect of three long boring months ahead of her, she was encouraged by one of her instructors to audition for a film that was holding open casting sessions in London. Despite possessing zero acting experience and an enormous amount of doubt, Newton nonetheless won the part and found herself traveling in 1990 to Australia to star in "Flirting" (1992), a wry coming-of-age story about a young Ugandan exchange student (Newton) attending an all-girls boarding school who falls for Danny (Noah Taylor), a student at the neighboring boy's school. Newton was hailed for delivering a fun, sassy performance alongside a then-unknown Nicole Kidman, who played one of her schoolmates.
After "Flirting," Newton returned to concentrating on her studies, majoring in social anthropology at Downing College, one of the constituent schools of Cambridge University. Between exams, she maintained a busy film career, appearing in "The Young Americans" (1993), a crime drama starring Harvey Keitel, and Neil Jordan's blockbuster horror outing "Interview With the Vampire" (1994), in which she was a sultry Creole maid who becomes the first victim of a newly-minted vampire (Brad Pitt). In 1995, Newton earned more exposure when she was cast in the Merchant-Ivory production "Jefferson in Paris." As Sally Hemmings, slave and alleged mistress of future president Thomas Jefferson (Nick Nolte), Newton brought a beguiling innocence to the role and walked away with some of the best notices in an otherwise uneven film. After "Jefferson in Paris," Newton returned to Downing to finish her degree, then appeared in her first post-graduate project, "The Journey of August King" (1995), playing a runaway slave in 1815 protected by a landowner (Jason Patric). Meanwhile, in Anna Campion's mystery thriller "Loaded" - filmed in 1993, but released in 1996 - Newton was one of a group of tragedy-prone high school grads who must deal with the accidental death of one of their own.
For "The Leading Man" (1996), Newton reunited with director John Duigan for his light romantic comedy in which she played an actress dallying with a movie star (Jon Bon Jovi). After a well-received turn as a drug addict who suffers near death from an overdose in "GRIDLOCK'd" (1997), Newton landed the title role in "Beloved" (1998), based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Toni Morrison, where she demonstrated powerful dramatic acting chops in a markedly unglamorous role as a stuttering and disheveled teenager nursed back to health by an ex-slave (Oprah Winfrey). In "Besieged" (1999), she played an African woman working as a housekeeper in Rome who spurs the amorous interest of her shy English employer (David Thewlis), only to reject him because she remains married to a man held captive as a political prisoner back home. She next essayed the role of Nyah Hall, the former lover of a rogue IMF agent, opposite Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible 2" (2000), a role that allowed her to show off her radiant beauty while exhibiting a gift for playing romantic heroines.
Despite two showy roles in dramatically different vehicles, Newton remained criminally underutilized in films. It was not until 2002 that Newton landed another major leading role, playing opposite Mark Wahlberg in the romantic thriller "The Truth About Charlie," a remake of the 1963 Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn film, "Charade." Jonathan Demme, Newton's "Beloved" director, cast her in the Hepburn role as the widow of a man revealed to be a spy who gets caught up in a romantic espionage scheme. After a turn in the well-regarded indie film "Shade" (2004) as a slinky, seductive card sharp playing both ends of the deck, Newton resurfaced in the sci-fi action sequel "The Chronicles of Riddick" (2004), playing the scheming Dame Vaako, who goes on the hunt for the fugitive Riddick (Vin Diesel). For her next effort, Newton joined a top-flight acting ensemble for the racially charged, multi-plot drama, "Crash" (2005) - perhaps one of her best films to date. Newton played the biracial wife of a Hollywood director (Terrance Howard) who is unnecessarily manhandled by a racist cop (Matt Dillon) during a routine traffic stop, only to later rely on him to save her from a burning vehicle. Newton was cited by several critics for her strong performance, while she earned a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Newton next had a brief, but significant supporting role in "The Pursuit of Happyness" (2006), playing the wife of a loving and dedicated family man, Chris Gardner (Will Smith), who struggles to make ends meet for his family by selling unwanted medical equipment. Sick of unpaid bills, she leaves her husband (Will Smith) and son (Jaden Christopher Smith) to fend for themselves, which soon results in both father and son being evicted from their apartment and forced into to living in shelters and public restrooms while he struggles to get ahead at an unpaid internship. She next starred opposite several incarnations of Eddie Murphy in "Norbit" (2006), a painfully unfunny comedy about a hapless man (Murphy) forced into marrying a large, mean and junk food-addicted woman (Murphy again) just when his childhood sweetheart (Newton) moves back to town. After starring in David Schwimmer's directorial debut, "Run, Fat Boy, Run" (2008), she starred in the caper comedy, "Rocknrolla" (2008), director Guy Ritchie's return to form. Newton was then cast as former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in "W" (2008), Oliver Stone's highly-anticipated and automatically controversial look at the troubled life and presidency of George W. Bush (Josh Brolin).
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Raised in Zambia until age five
Moved with family to Penzance, Cornwall, England
Made feature acting debut at age 16 in John Duigan's "Flirting"
Hollywood acting debut, "Interview With the Vampire"; had small role of a maid; first screen role opposite Tom Cruise
Gained international recognition opposite Nick Nolte in "Jefferson in Paris"
Co-starred in Duigan's "The Leading Man"
Starred in Bernardo Bertolucci's "Besieged" (originally made for Italian television and released theatrically)
Co-starred in the "Charade" (1963) remake "The Truth About Charlie"
Cast in the action thriller "Shade"; set in the world of L.A. poker hustlers
Starred opposite Vin Diesel in "The Chronicles of Riddick"
Starred in Paul Haggis' directorial debut "Crash," a multicharacter study of L.A. race relations
Played Eddie Murphy's love interest in the comedy "Norbit"
Cast as Simon Pegg's jilted fiancée in David Schwimmer's directorial debut "Run, Fatboy, Run"
Portrayed U.S. National Security Advisor-turned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Oliver Stone's controversial biopic "W."
Played the U.S. president's daughter in Roland Emmerich's disaster film "2012"
Re-teamed with writer, director, and co-star Perry in drama feature "Good Deeds"
Starred in the romantic drama "Half of a Yellow Sun"
Was a castmember on the action-crime series "Rogue"