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Sophie Okonedo backstage at the 2014 Tony Awards

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The 68th annual Tony Awards were presented on June 8, 2014, at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Top nominee "A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder" won four Tonys, including best musical, out of the 10 nominations that it received. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” went into the ceremony with eight nominations and won five Tonys, including Best Revival of a Musical. The awards were more evenly spread out in the categories for plays, since one play did not dominate in winning most of the categories. Multiple winners included “A Raisin in the Sun” (which won three Tonys, including Best Revival of a Play), “All the Way” and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” which won two awards each. (A complete list of winners can be found at the official Tony Awards website.) After the Tony winners give their acceptance speeches, they usually stop by the press room to pose for photos and do interviews. Here is what this celebrity Tony winner said in the press room.

SOPHIE OKONEDO

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

("A Raisin in the Sun")

As a Brit, what was biggest challenge playing a quintessential American?

First, it was the dialect, although that’s a process that works in understanding the characters. I worked really hard on it about six or seven weeks before I came to rehearsals. When I came to rehearsals, I had the dialect down. I didn’t want to be messing about in rehearsals. It was scary enough doing a play with Denzel [Washington and playing an American, but that was all right. It was a real challenge.

Also, the challenge of playing that part is that the information that the other actors [in this production of “A Raisin in the Sun”] would have grown up about being black in this country, the history, I had to catch up with that … and what would have affected a younger family like that in the 1950s.

“A Raisin in the Sun” director Kenny Leon said you were the hardest-working actor in this production. What did he help bring to your performance on stage?

I just had the most fantastic time, because he believed I could come here and make this leap to being an American from the South Side of Chicago. He just wanted to tell the truth. He didn’t want any showy kind of acting or any tricks. He wanted it to be simple and maybe get a laugh. Make it simple and make it true.

And he let us be really free in rehearsals. We didn’t set a lot of things, which is very brave for a director. He is like that as a director. He just keeps digging at you to tell the truth — and it’s in the play.

Things can change vastly from opening night until now, some scenes can change. Like the scene on the sofa — that’s different for every single show. I don’t quite know what Denzel’s going to do. He doesn’t know what I’m going to do. It’s very live and enjoyable.

What were you thinking when you were walking on stage to receive your Tony Award?

I’ve never won an award. I’ve been up for a few things in my life, but never [won]. This was just an out-of-body experience. And I really, genuinely wasn’t expecting it and hadn’t prepared a speech.

I can’t remember what I said, but I think I remembered everybody. I didn’t hit me until I got off the stage, and then I burst into tears. I didn’t really disintegrate on the stage.

How do you feel about the end of this production of “A Raisin in the Sun”?

Yeah, it’s a week from today. Well, we only had Denzel Washington [for a limited period of time], and that’s what sold out show. And from day one, we’ve been completely full all the time. We got great reviews and five Tony nominations — that really helps the show. It helps the buzz.

How do you feel about women are progressing in theater?

That’s a really big question that I can’t answer right now, but I hope there are more budding writers like [“A Raisin in the Sun” playwright] Lorraine Hansberry. Unfortunately, her life was such short. This is such an incredible play. These parts, the actresses do it. We just want more roles written for us.

You have an emotional intense role in “A Raisin in the Sun.” How did you prepare for it?

I just try to stay in the moment. I don’t think ahead. The moment I think ahead, it causes me to think too much. So I try to, as much as possible, in preparation, to stop thinking and to feel and be present. That’s really all I do.

Most of the cast were already here when I came to rehearsals. I do lots of thinking around that time. Once I start performing, my body and characters take over, and I just let them all run free.

Kenny Leon praised this cast of “A Raisin in the Sun” for being great at listening to each other. Can you elaborate?

If I get lost and start thinking about what I had for lunch — natural thoughts because you can’t be clear-headed all the time — the first thing I do is breathe deeper and listen, because you always make a good choice.

Is your next project the BBC production of “The Hollow Crown”?

Yes, it is. I think [that news] got leaked earlier.

For more info: Tony Awards website

RELATED LINKS ON EXAMINER.COM:

2009 Tony Awards Gift Lounge

2009 Tony Awards Press Room

2010 Tony Awards Gift Lounge

2010 Tony Awards Press Room

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