Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why Siuan From The Wheel Of Time Looks So Familiar

It's good to have friends in high places. In "The Wheel of Time," the new massive high fantasy series from Amazon Studios, Siuan Sanche is one such friend for the band of young heroes and their mentor guide Moiraine (Rosamund Pike). She is the Amyrlin Seat, the leader of the White Tower, and its Aes Sedai — a group of female channelers of the One Power.

If you haven't read the Robert Jordan novels on which the series is based, then those words may not mean a whole lot to you. Fortunately, the "Wheel of Time" trailer tells you part of what you need to know about Siuan through visuals alone. She is shown in its opening seconds on what amounts to a throne, surrounded by council members, courtiers, or flunkies, while Moiraine stands at attention before her. Fans of the novels know that the power dynamics in the White Tower may not be so simple for long, but for now, in the early goings of this story, she's high up in the hierarchy of "The Wheel of Time."

Not every actress could pull the role off, but Sophie Okonedo has experience playing both the powerful and the powerless in her long Hollywood career. Here are some places you might recognize her from. 

She hid from violence in Hotel Rwanda

Sophie Okonedo is a trained theater actress who took a little while to find her big break on screen. Her early career in the 1990s was filled with small parts in movies such as "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" and "The Jackal" and larger roles on British television series like the medical drama "Staying Alive" or the lawyer-focused "In Defence." It wasn't until 2004 that she landed the role that would be a springboard for her career — playing Tatiana Rusesabagina in the acclaimed drama "Hotel Rwanda."

In the film, Tatiana's marriage to Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) is a source of tension between the couple and the outside world because she is a Tutsi and he a Hutu. Notably, the two ethnic groups are on opposite sides of the civil war in Rwanda that precipitated the genocide there. As the violence intensifies, Paul and Tatiana work to shield refugees in the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, where Paul works as a manager. They also attempt to find Tatiana's family members before they are caught up in the ethnic violence.

While doing press for the film, Okonedo spoke about the difficulty of playing the arc of a true story. In particular, she highlighted the struggle of separating what she personally knew about the violence in Rwanda from what her character would have known at the moment in order to capture the proper emotional state. "I tried to let what happened happen while we're filming," she said. "I would get that part [of the script] in my head and then you know, blank out the rest," she added later. It worked — Okonedo won acclaim for her portrayal of Tatiana, earning a Best Supporting Actress nomination from the Academy Awards.

She survived Tsunami: The Aftermath

In 2006, Sophie Okonedo took a role in an HBO and BBC miniseries about a tragedy of a different nature — the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in the region. One of several interwoven storylines in "Tsunami: The Aftermath" finds Okonedo playing Susie Carter, a vacationing English tourist whose daughter Martha (Jazmyn Maraso) is lost in the disaster. She was swept away from Susie's husband Ian (Chiwetel Ejiofor) by the rushing water while Susie herself was away scuba diving, leading to a complex dance of grief, guilt, and blame between the couple as they search for their daughter.

Okonedo admitted to Women's Health that the part fit a pattern for her, particularly after "Hotel Rwanda." "I gravitate toward roles about ordinary people who end up in extraordinary situations at extraordinary times in their lives," she said. Once again she won acclaim for playing this type — Variety praised hers and Ejiofor's performance even as it panned the miniseries, and she was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film.

Sophie Okonedo discovered The Secret Life of Bees

In 2008, Sophie Okonedo joined another large ensemble cast to tell the story of a smaller-scale but no less devastating tragedy in "The Secret Life of Bees." The film itself ends hopefully with a message about the importance of found family as August (Queen Latifah) and June Boatright (Alicia Keys) adopt runaways Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) and Lily (Dakota Fanning). But Okonedo's part as the sensitive sister May sees her battling depression and frustration at the world's racism and cruelty, particularly after Lily's burgeoning friendship with local boy Zach (Tristan Wilds) sees him kidnapped by bitter racists.

Okonedo told Essence that she thought her training and experience as an actor was invaluable in preparing to play the delicate May because so much of the job is about finding and expressing empathy. May is just an extreme version of this ⁠— a little too attuned to the world's pain, a little too fragile for its hardships. "It's like she's carrying the weight of the world and her time on her shoulders, so all her nerves are shot and she's always on edge," the actress said. "The slightest change in mood and she releases a flood of tears."

She fell under the spell of Ratched

Sophie Okonedo continued to appear on screen for the next decade in movies such as "After Earth" and "Hellboy" and television series like "Flack." But she also turned her attention back to the theater, winning a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for 2014's "A Raisin in the Sun" on Broadway and being nominated for Best Actress for her role as Elizabeth Proctor in 2016's "The Crucible," according to Playbill.

More recently, she received accolades for her role in the Netflix thriller "Ratched," where she played Lucia State Hospital patient Charlotte Wells, who experiences dissociative identity disorder. The hospital, with its staff chock full of schemers and backstabbers, does not prove to be the best place for her treatment. Before long, Charlotte is manipulated by Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson) into killing the much-targeted Dr. Hanover (Jon Jon Briones) and adopting his personality, attempting to storm the hospital itself.

Speaking to Variety, Okonedo said the part was a complex one to play because so many different characters and personalities inhabit Charlotte's body over the course of the season. "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," she said in an interview. The part earned her another acting nomination, this time for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series.