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"I'm a North London, working-class, black, Jewish girl," actress Sophie Okonedo said. "I love my upbringing because it had so many different colors; it's given me the equipment to play lots of diverse roles."

In 2005, the tall, striking actress burst into the international spotlight when she was nominated for an Oscar for her harrowing turn as the wife of a hotel manager who hid more than 1,200 refugees from genocidal militias in "Hotel Rwanda."

As the unexpected new toast of Hollywood - Newsweek described her performance as a "revelation" - she went on to portray an emotionally disturbed young woman in civil rights-era South Carolina in "The Secret Life of Bees."

Now she has tackled her first leading role in "Skin," based on the true story of Sandra Laing, a biracial girl born to white parents - unaware of a black ancestor in their family tree - in 1950s South Africa.

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