Born on 1983 in Oxford, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is an actress best known for her semi-regular role on the English series Spooks as well as the sci-fi series Doctor Who (series 3). Her first name is short for the Zulu word for Our Pride. The daughter of a South African doctor and a nurse, her parents separated when she was one. Growing up in Witney, Oxfordshire, she joined the local acting society.
During her teens, she joined the Oxford Youth Music Theater, after which she won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, graduating in 2004. She has played Juliet in the critically acclaimed Romeo and Juliet staging of the play at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. In 2006, she started bagging roles on television shows, starting with Walk Away and I Stumble as a regular, followed by minor roles on Bad Girls and Spooks, where she became regular during series 5.
In 2007, Mbatha-Raw appeared in a minor role on Marple and Lost in Austen, followed by the lead on Bonekickers. In 2010, she bagged the role of the lead on the JJ Abrams series Undercovers on NBC. After the cancellation of Undercovers, she moved on to join the cast of FOX’s Touch as Clea Hopkins.
In June 2011, Mbatha-Raw was cast as the female lead on the Fox television series Touch opposite Kiefer Sutherland. She had a supporting role in the romantic comedy Larry Crowne (2011), written and directed by Tom Hanks, who starred in the title role. She was also named one of 42 Brits to Watch by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
Mbatha-Raw garnered praise starring in Amma Asante’s film Belle (2013), playing the eponymous historical character, Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed-race woman raised as a gentlewoman in her paternal uncle Chief Justice Mansfield’s household in 18th-century England.
The film debuted at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival where it was acquired by Fox Searchlight Pictures. It was released in 2014. Mbatha-Raw was nominated for numerous awards for her performance, including two British Independent Film Awards Best Performance by an Actress in a British Independent Film, which she won, and Most Promising Newcomer. She was also nominated for a Satellite Award for Best Actress.
In 2014, Mbatha-Raw also starred as a popular singer in the romantic drama Beyond the Lights. The film debuted at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. For her work in Beyond the Lights, Mbatha-Raw was nominated for Best Actress at the 2014 Gotham Awards.
In 2014, Mbatha-Raw was recognized by Elle Magazine during the Women in Hollywood Awards, honoring women for their outstanding achievements in film. These awards span all aspects of the motion picture industry, including acting, directing and producing.
In recognition of her body of work, Mbatha-Raw was nominated in 2015 for a BAFTA Rising Star Award. That year, she had a supporting role in the space opera Jupiter Ascending.
On 3 July 2015, it was announced that Mbatha-Raw would be the first to play the title role in Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn playing the actress who became the mistress of King Charles II of England; it premiered at Shakespeare’s Globe from 19 September to 17 October 2015. She was nominated for an Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Actress for her performance.
Also in 2015, she appeared in the biopic Concussion, starring Will Smith. It is the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic neuropathologist who first discovered extensive brain damage in NFL players due to concussions, and tried to put a stop to practices that contributed to the condition. She played Prema Mutiso, the wife of Dr. Omalu. The film premiered at the 2015 AFI Festival.
Mbatha-Raw starred opposite Matthew McConaughey in an American biopic on Newton Knight, a yeoman farmer and resister of the Confederacy, in Free State of Jones (2016), directed by Gary Ross. She plays Knight’s common-law wife Rachel, a freedwoman he had a family with after the Civil War.
In 2016, Mbatha-Raw appeared in “San Junipero”, an episode of the anthology series Black Mirror, and played a major supporting role in Miss Sloane, a drama about Washington lobbyists, starring Jessica Chastain. The film premiered at the AFI Film Festival in November.
In 2017, Mbatha-Raw played Plumette in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast.
In 2018, Mbatha-Raw starred in a number of science fiction feature productions, including A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Ava DuVernay, and The Cloverfield Paradox. The latter film made history that year, with a marketing campaign that saw the film’s release onto the streaming platform Netflix, directly after it was advertised worldwide at the 2018 Super Bowl. Mbatha-Raw also played in an independent feature film Fast Color, which premiered worldwide at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Texas.
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood announced in March 2016 that Mbatha-Raw would star in her adaptation of Roxane Gay’s novel An Untamed State. Which she will film later in 2018.
Mbatha-Raw was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the June 2017 Birthday Honours for services to drama.