Sophie Okonedo (‘Ratched’) on the ‘invigorating’ challenge of playing a mental institution patient [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Sophie Okonedo faced an incredible challenge with her multidimensional role in “Ratched.” In the Netflix drama, the actress plays Charlotte Wells, a mental institution patient being treated for dissociative identity disorder. Charlotte cycles through multiple personalities, such as Ondine, a boastful musician, Apollo, an aggressive athlete and Baby Taffy, who exhibits more innocent, childlike behavior. While the material was a lot to prepare for, Okonedo played the role and her various personalities instinctively. “It’s quite difficult and it’s quite juicy and I had so many different ways I could go with it,” says Okonedo in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “Right up until they said, ‘Action,’ I had no idea how I was gonna do it.” Watch the video interview above.

While a complex role like this would seem to require immense preparation, such as studying real-life examples of people diagnosed with DID, Okonedo looked at it all differently. Rather than coming in with the outside judgment of her having a mental illness, the actress played it from the inside. “It was more helpful to play each character as truly as possible and not worry about how they joined,” explains Okonedo. “I leave that to the audience.” It was “incredibly invigorating” for the actress to be able to express such varying personalities in the form of one character.

Okonedo also approached the role with more of a theatrical flair, given the heightened qualities of the material. “It had a kind of drama and a kind of largeness to it because it’s written like that,” she notes. “It’s written quite stylized. If you were to go too natural, it wouldn’t work.” This was Okonedo’s first Ryan Murphy production, and the actress was struck by the warmness of the set. “There’s a very family atmosphere, more relaxed than you would get on a normal set,” she reveals, “They really knew what they were doing, they all worked together for many years and there was a very good vibe.” She is expected to return for Season 2 of “Ratched” and while she does not know what’s ahead, she predicts, “it won’t be boring.”

Over the course of her many years as an actress, Okonedo has been drawn to roles like Charlotte that fascinate her. She was nominated for an Oscar in 2005 for “Hotel Rwanda” and while she admits that things shifted a bit in her career after that point, the actress wasn’t particularly satisfied by what was being offered to her. “At that time, it was much harder for a Black woman to get parts in movies,” she recalls. “The things I was offered straight afterwards, I just thought, ‘I think I’d rather carry on in the theater.’” She has mostly stayed in Britain, with “Ratched” being her first Hollywood production shot in Los Angeles. Being able to walk through the Fox lot, much like her first time on Broadway in 2014’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” was a gratifying experience. “I never get tired of it,” she smiles. “I never take it for granted.”

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