The great Zoë Wanamaker returns to screens this week in Shadow and Bone, an eagerly anticipated fantasy series premiering Friday on Netflix. It's just the excuse we need to celebrate this award-winning and prolific actress, the daughter of American actor Sam Wanamaker, who relocated to the U.K. in the '50s because he was fearful of being blacklisted in Hollywood due to his leftwing political beliefs.
1. She starred in one of the U.K.'s longest-running sitcoms, My Family.
My Family ran for 120 episodes between 2000 and 2011 – only two British primetime sitcoms have taped more. At its peak, it regularly attracted huge audiences of 11 million.
2. She believes in maintaining high standards.
In 2007, Wanamaker revealed that she and My Family co-star Robert Lindsay had put their foot down over a poorly written episode. "What attracted me to the first scripts was that they had a slightly quirky, American Jewish quality to them. That's my humor. Critics absolutely hated it. The public liked it. But it's turned into a machine," Wanamaker told The Daily Telegraph. "Robert and I even refused at one point to do one, it was so bad. That caused a lot of problems, but we just felt it was not good enough. We had practically a football team of scriptwriters working on the last series."
3. She's an acclaimed stage actress.
Over the years, she's been nominated for nine Olivier Awards – winning two – and four Tony Awards. She's also appeared in no fewer than seven productions at London's famed National Theatre.
4. Her father Sam Wanamaker founded Shakespeare's Globe – the modern-day recreation of the 16th century theater for which Shakespeare wrote his plays.
Asked why she has never performed there since it opened in 1997, Wanamaker told The Guardian in 2015: "In the early days I kept my distance. So many friends and acquaintances were negative, [they] thought we didn’t need it. Then for a long time it would have been too much pressure on me, and too much pressure on the Globe to have me there. But one day. Maybe..."
5. She has a magnificent actor's voice.
Wanamaker's recitals of the poems "This Be the Verse" by Philip Larkin and "Not Waving But Drowning" by Stevie Smith are really quite something.
6. She's not afraid to tell it like it is.
"I hate communicating virtually. That Zoom thing is s**t. Honestly. The palaver," she told The Guardian last year. "Trying to do a play on Zoom does not mean anything to me. It’s anathema... When theater is filmed, it becomes intangible, you can’t feel it, you can’t smell it, you can’t breathe it – it does not have the same effect on your body."
7. She's also honest about herself.
In a recent interview, Wanamaker admitted that she wishes she had been more confident about pursuing work in the U.S. "I was too English and way too sensitive to go and put myself out to America," she told The Independent. "That's what I feel I’ve missed. My dad said to me once, 'If you don't put out, you don’t get out.' I've always remembered that, because I’m not a pusher."
8. Her Doctor Who character is an all-time classic.
Wanamaker appears in two episodes as Lady Cassandra, a former human who has undergone so many cosmetic procedures that she's now just a piece of skin stretched onto a frame. Cassandra is understandably worried about drying out, which is why she says "moisturize me!" so much.
9. She was a regular guest star in Agatha Christie's Poirot.
She appeared in six episodes as Ariadne Oliver, Poirot's mystery writer friend, a character whom Christie based partly on herself.
10. And finally, she's also a Killing Eve guest star.
Wanamaker appears in the season 2 episode "Desperate Times" as Helen Jacobson, an eccentric and rather salty senior British intelligence official. Her scenes with Fiona Shaw's Carolyn Martens were a bit of a Harry Potter reunion, as Wanamaker played Madame Hooch in the movies and Shaw portrayed Aunt Petunia.
Do you have a favorite Zoë Wanamaker role?