Zoë Wanamaker

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Zoë Wanamaker
Zoe Wanamaker.jpg
Zoë Wanamaker in 2013
Born (1949-05-13) 13 May 1949 (age 66)
New York, New York, United States[1]
Nationality US/UK
Occupation Actress
Years active 1973–present
Spouse(s) Gawn Grainger
Website www.zoewanamaker.com
from the BBC programme Front Row, 2 May 2013[2]

Zoë Wanamaker, CBE (born 13 May 1949)[1][3] is an American-born British stage, television and film actress, who has worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. A nine-time Olivier Award nominee, she won for Once in a Lifetime (1979) and Electra (1998). She has also received four Tony Award nominations for her work on Broadway; for Piaf (1981), Loot (1986), Electra (1999), and Awake and Sing! (2006).

Wanamaker's film appearances include Wilde (1997), Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001), and My Week with Marilyn (2011), while her television roles have included starring as Tessa Piggott in the drama series Love Hurts (1992–94) and Susan Harper in the long-running sitcom My Family (2000–11). She has also appeared in the ITV dramas Agatha Christie's Poirot (2005–13) and Mr Selfridge (2015).

Early life and family[edit]

Wanamaker was born in New York City, the daughter of Canadian-born actress and radio performer Charlotte Holland, and American-born actor, film director and radio producer Sam Wanamaker, who decided not to return to the United States after being blacklisted in 1952.[1] Her parents were Jewish, although she had a non-religious and non-observant upbringing. Her father's family was of Ukrainian extraction.[4]

The BBC documentary Who Do You Think You Are?, broadcast on 24 February 2009, revealed that Wanamaker's paternal grandfather Maurice Wanamaker (originally Manus Watmacher) was a tailor (born 1895) in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. She was educated at the independent King Alfred School in Hampstead and at Sidcot School, a Quaker boarding school in Somerset. Zoe attended Hornsey College of Art for the Pre-Diploma Course[citation needed] before she trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama.[1][5]



Wanamaker's career started in the theatre. From 1976 to 1984 she was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. She won an Olivier Award for her 1979 performance in Once In a Lifetime[6] and a second for Sophocles' Electra in 1998.[7] In 1985, she played Verdi's wife Giuseppina Strepponi in the original production of After Aida. She appeared on stage playing the part of Beatrice opposite Simon Russell Beale as Benedick in the National Theatre's production of Much Ado About Nothing. She has received Tony Award nominations for her performances in Piaf, Loot, Electra, and Awake and Sing!.[citation needed]

In 1997, Wanamaker was the first person to speak on the stage of the newly completed replica theatre, Shakespeare's Globe, on London's South Bank.[8] This was in recognition of the role played by her father in founding the new theatre. She subsequently became Honorary President of the Globe.[9]

From May to October 2010, Wanamaker appeared in Arthur Miller's All My Sons as Kate Keller at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue in London.[10]

Wanamaker appeared in Terence Rattigan's All On Her Own from 24 October 2015 till 13 January 2016 at the Garrick Theatre. The work is a one-woman play that preceded Rattigan's Harlequinade, which she also appeared in, each night as part of a never-before-seen double bill.[11]


Starting in the early 1980s, Wanamaker began performing on screen, most notably in a number of critically acclaimed television productions, such as the BBC Television production Edge of Darkness; she was nominated for a BAFTA Award for her portrayal of the love interest of a suspected serial killer in the first instalment of the Granada series Prime Suspect.[12]

Television series have included Paradise Postponed (as Charlotte Fanner-Titmuss, 1986) and Love Hurts (1992–94) with Adam Faith.

She played Madam Hooch in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.[13]

She played Clarice, one of the dim-witted twin sisters of Lord Groan in Gormenghast (2000), a BBC television adaptation of Mervyn Peake's trilogy.

Wanamaker portrayed Susan Harper in the BBC situation comedy My Family from 2000 to 2011.[13]

She voiced a CGI character named Lady Cassandra in the Doctor Who episode "The End of the World" (2005), and reprised the role (also appearing in the flesh this time) in the episode "New Earth" (2006).

Wanamaker lent her voice to the 2008 Xbox 360 game Fable II as the blind Seeress Theresa, who guides the playing character throughout the game. She returned to voice Theresa again in Fable III in 2010, and again in 2012 for Fable: The Journey.

She has played Ariadne Oliver in several episodes of Agatha Christie's Poirot.

Wanamaker was in the Australian Film "We of the Outback" (2013) where she played the role of Sheila Williams, the wife of Australian Bush Legend R M Williams, (played by Michael Markidis). The film won many AFI awards with Wanamaker being awarded the Best Actress title and Markidis Best Actor.

In 2015, she joined the cast of Mr. Selfridge as Princess Marie, the Russian mother-in-law of Rosalie Selfridge/Bolotoff.


Zoë Wanamaker holds both British and American citizenship. She became a British citizen in 2000.[14]


Wanamaker was appointed a CBE in the 2001 Queen's New Years Honours List for her services to drama. She also received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of East Anglia on 19 July 2012.[15]

Public advocacy[edit]

Wanamaker has been a Patron of the UK charity Tree Aid,[16] since 1997. Tree Aid enables communities in Africa's drylands to fight poverty and become self-reliant, while improving the environment. In 2006 Wanamaker recorded a successful Radio 4 appeal for the charity.[citation needed]

She is a patron of Dignity in Dying, the Lymphoedema Support Network,[17] Youth Music Theatre: UK and of the Young Actors' Theatre, Islington. She is also one of the Honorary Patrons of the London children's charity Scene & Heard.[18] Wanamaker also supports Survival International's campaign to save the threatened native tribes in Brazil.[19]

In August 2014, Wanamaker was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[20]

Wanamaker is one of nine presidents of The Young People's Trust for the Environment.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Wanamaker lived for many years with fellow Royal Shakespeare Company actor David Lyon.[22] In November 1994, she married actor/dramatist Gawn Grainger.[1]


Video games[edit]

Theatre work[edit]

  • The Devil's Disciple, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1976
  • Wild Oats, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1976
  • Ivanov, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1976
  • The Taming of the Shrew, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1978
  • Captain Swing, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1978
  • Piaf, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1978
  • Once in a Lifetime, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1979
  • Piaf, Plymouth Theatre, New York City, 1981
  • The Importance of Being Earnest, National Theatre, London, 1982
  • Twelfth Night, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1983
  • The Time of Your Life, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1983
  • The Comedy of Errors, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1983
  • Mother Courage, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1984
  • Loot, Manhattan Theatre Club, then Music Box Theatre, both New York City, 1986
  • The Bay at Nice and Wrecked Eggs, National Theatre, London, 1986
  • Mrs Klein, National Theatre, 1988, then Apollo Theatre, both London, 1989
  • Othello, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1989
  • The Crucible, National Theatre, London, 1990
  • The Last Yankee, Young Vic, London, 1993
  • Dead Funny, Hampstead Theatre, then Vaudeville Theatre, both London, 1994
  • The Glass Menagerie, Donmar Warehouse, then Comedy Theatre, both London, 1995
  • Sylvia, Apollo Theatre, London, 1996
  • Electra, Chichester Festival and Donmar Warehouse, London, 1997, then McCarter Theatre, Princeton, NJ, and Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City, 1998
  • The Old Neighbourhood, Royal Court Theatre, London, 1998
  • Battle Royal, National Theatre, London, 1999
  • Boston Marriage, Donmar Warehouse, then New Ambassadors Theatre, both London, 2001
  • His Girl Friday, National Theatre, London, 2003
  • Awake and Sing!, Belasco Theatre, New York City, 2006
  • The Rose Tattoo, National Theatre, London, 2007
  • Much Ado About Nothing, National Theatre, London, 2007
  • All My Sons, Apollo Theatre, London, 2010
  • The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre, London, 2011
  • Passion Play, Duke of York's Theatre, London, 2013
  • Stevie, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, 2014, then Hampstead Theatre, London, 2015
  • Harlequinade and All On Her Own (double-bill), Garrick Theatre, London, 2015
  • Elegy, Donmar Warehouse, London, 2016

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • For her stage work, Wanamaker has been nominated four times for the United States' most prestigious theatre award the Tony and nine times for the most prestigious British theatre award the Olivier, winning two.
  • For her screen work, Wanamaker has received three BAFTA nominations.[23]

year given is year of ceremony

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1979 Olivier Award Best Actress in a Revival Once in a Lifetime Won [6]
1981 Tony Award Best Featured in a Play Piaf! Nominated [24]
1981 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Piaf! Nominated
1984 Olivier Award Best Actress in a Revival Twelfth Night Nominated [25]
1984 Olivier Award Best Actress in a Supporting Role The Time of Your Life Nominated
1985 Olivier Award Best Performance in a Supporting Role Mother Courage Nominated [26]
1986 Tony Award Best Featured Actress in a Play Loot Nominated
1986 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Loot Nominated
1989/90 Olivier Award Best Performance in a Supporting Role Othello Nominated [27]
1991 Olivier Award Best Actress in a Supporting Role The Crucible Nominated [28]
1992 BAFTA TV Award Best Actress Prime Suspect Nominated [29]
1993 BAFTA TV Award Best Actress Love Hurts Nominated
1996 Olivier Award Best Actress The Glass Menagerie Nominated [30]
1998 BAFTA Film Award Best Supporting Actress Wilde Nominated
1998 Olivier Award Best Actress Electra Won [7]
1999 Tony Award Best Actress in a Play Electra Nominated
1999 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Play Electra Nominated
2002 Olivier Award Best Actress Boston Marriage Nominated [31]
2006 Tony Award Best Featured Actress in a Play Awake and Sing! Nominated
  • In 2006, Wanamaker and the rest of the cast of Awake and Sing! won a special Drama Desk award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Biography". Zoë Wanamaker Official Website. Retrieved 16 January 2011. 
  2. ^ "Zoë Wanamaker". Front Row. 2 May 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Zoe Wanamaker profile, FilmReference.com. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  4. ^ "'Madam Hooch' rides her broomstick in from Odessa: Actress Zoë Wanamaker offers a glimpse into her family history"
  5. ^ Who's Who on Television (1982 edition).
  6. ^ a b "Previous Winners: Olivier Winners 1979". Olivier Awards. Archived from the original on 12 January 2012. 
  7. ^ a b "Previous Winners: Olivier Winners 1998". Olivier Awards. Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. 
  8. ^ BBC Entertainment: My Family – Did You Know? Archived 12 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Shakespeare's Globe Press Release, 24 February 2012
  10. ^ Billington, Michael (28 May 2010). "All My Sons, Apollo, London". The Guardian. 
  11. ^ Zoë Wanamaker and John Dagleish To Appear In Harlequinade, London Theatre Direct. Quoted: 27 July 2015
  12. ^ "Prime Suspect I". Zoë Wanamaker Official Website. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  13. ^ a b Lewis, Tim (5 May 2013). "Zoë Wanamaker: 'Acting is a vicious business, it can be very humiliating'". The Observer. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  14. ^ Why my face doesn't always fit - Telegraph
  15. ^ University of East Anglia website
  16. ^ Tree Aid web site
  17. ^ Zoë Wanamaker becomes LSN Patron[dead link]
  18. ^ "Scene & Heard – Who We Are". sceneandheard.org. 2010. Archived from the original on 10 February 2009. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  19. ^ "Stars line up in West End to celebrate tribal peoples". Survival International. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  20. ^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". The Guardian. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  21. ^ YPTE: Presidents
  22. ^ Michael Coveney (26 June 2013). "David Lyon obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  23. ^ "Explore the Awards | BAFTA Awards". Bafta.org. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  24. ^ "IBDB Person Awards". Ibdb.com. Retrieved 30 June 2014. [dead link]
  25. ^ "Previous Winners: Olivier Winners 1984". Olivier Awards. Archived from the original on 23 October 2013. 
  26. ^ "Previous Winners: Olivier Winners 1985". Olivier Awards. Archived from the original on 19 April 2012. 
  27. ^ "Previous Winners: Olivier Winners 1989/90". Olivier Awards. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. 
  28. ^ "Previous Winners: Olivier Winners 1991". Olivier Awards. Archived from the original on 2 June 2013. 
  29. ^ "Explore the Awards | BAFTA Awards". Bafta.org. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  30. ^ "Previous Winners: Olivier Winners 1996". Olivier Awards. Archived from the original on 28 May 2014. 
  31. ^ "Previous Winners: Olivier Winners 2002". Olivier Awards. Archived from the original on 16 October 2013. 

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