Fine-boned and soft-spoken, Thandie Newton displays a deceptive fragility that is betrayed by the strong, resilient characters she often portrays. The actress was born in Zambia in 1972 to a Zimbabwean mother and British father who moved their family to London when Newton was four. It was while a student at a private school in North London that the actress met Australian director John Duigan, who was casting his coming-of-age tale Flirting (1991). Newton won a leading role as the smart, worldly girlfriend of the film's protagonist and starred alongside a then-relatively unknown Nicole Kidman. Her next film of any significance was 1994's Interview With the Vampire, in which she had a minor role alongside Kidman's then-husband, Tom Cruise.
The same year, Newton acted as part of an ensemble cast in Loaded, a fairly obscure film directed by Anna Campion, sister of The Piano's Jane Campion. She was then reunited with Flirting director Duigan in 1995 for The Journey of August King, a little-seen feature in which she starred with Jason Patric. Greater recognition came in the form of the same year's Jefferson in Paris, a critically maligned but impressively cast film, in which Newton played Sally Hemings, slave and lover of Nick Nolte's Thomas Jefferson. Acting alongside individuals such as Nolte, James Earl Jones, and Gwyneth Paltrow certainly did little to hurt Newton's reputation and the next year she had yet another starring role, this time opposite Jon Bon Jovi in her third film with director Duigan, The Leading Man.
Despite her leading status, Newton still hovered on the border of relative obscurity, something that finally began to change with three 1998 films in which she had major roles. The first was Vondie Curtis-Hall's Gridlock'd, a film that won Newton raves for her turn as a heroine-addicted jazz singer opposite Tim Roth and Tupac Shakur. Beloved, Newton's second film that year, won her further recognition, both for her mere presence in the highly anticipated adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel, and for her portrayal of the mysterious, ghostly girl who torments Oprah Winfrey's Sethe.
Finally, it was with her third film of 1998, Besieged, that Newton graduated from relative obscurity to the rank of Hollywood Up and Comer. The film, which was directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and co-starred David Thewlis, received stellar reviews, many of which singled out Newton's performance for particular praise. This, along with a coveted spot on the April 1999 cover of Vanity Fair's annual Hollywood Issue, further cemented the actress' well-deserved status as one of the industry's latest Forces to Be Reckoned With.
In 2000, Newton further ascended the ranks of recognition when she starred opposite former Interview With the Vampire co-star Tom Cruise in John Woo's Mission: Impossible II; although the film received mixed reviews, Newton earned almost unanimous approval from critics, who praised her strong, dynamic performance.
Over the coming decade, Newton would remain a charismatic and beloved force on screen, appearing in films like Crash, The Pursuit of Happyness, W., and Retreat. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi