Gugu Mbatha-Raw redefined what the concept of ingénue. A classically trained actress, Mbatha-Raw made her mark on British television with supporting roles in popular series like “Spooks” (BBC, 2002- ), a slick spy drama that followed members of the U.K.’s intelligence team, and on the sci-fi thriller “Doctor Who” (BBC, 2005-). She lit up the Broadway stage as Ophelia in the Donmar Warehouse production of “Hamlet” (2009) opposite Jude Law in the title role. The part was the actress’ ticket to fame across the pond, for shortly after the play’s runs in London and New York, acclaimed American filmmaker J.J. Abrams chose Mbatha-Raw to play the female lead in the thrilling spy drama series, “Undercovers” (NBC, 2010), opposite Boris Kodjoe. Mbatha-Raw skillfully eased into her new role as one-half of a married couple who lead exciting double lives as CIA agents. While the part called for Mbatha-Raw’s character to hide her true identity, it could not hide the fact that the actress was a true force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.
Gugulethu Mbatha-Raw (“our pride” in Zulu) was born in 1983 in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England to Patrick Mbatha, a South African doctor, and Anne Raw, an English nurse. As a child, Mbatha-Raw led a busy after-school life of dancing, acting and playing the saxophone. In the town of Witney, Oxfordshire where she was raised, Mbatha-Raw joined a local acting group that had her performing every year at the Oxford Playhouse, starting at age 11. In her early teens, she joined the Oxford Youth Music Theatre before winning a scholarship in 2001 to attend London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where in her first year, she was selected as one of several students to play Isabella in Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.” After graduation in 2004, the classically trained actress tried her luck on TV, landing minor roles on British medical dramas such as the long-running series “Holby City” (BBC, 1999- ) and “Vital Signs” (ITV, 2006). Mbatha-Raw also landed regular arcs on popular series such as “Spooks,” an award-winning British suspense series about the missions of MI-5, the U.K.’s intelligence organization, and on the long-running show “Doctor Who.” She delivered a memorable performance as a troubled teen in the crime drama, “Fallout” (Channel 4, 2008), and also starred in the short-lived drama series “Bonekickers” (BBC, 2008), which followed a team of archeologists from a fictional Wessex University.
In the late 2000s, Mbatha-Raw was becoming a familiar face on British TV, but she refused to leave her theater roots behind. In the fall of 2008, she lit up the stage in David Hare’s satire of “Gethsemane,” portraying a sharp-fanged political advisor. A year later, she landed the highly coveted role of Ophelia in the Donmar Warehouse production of “Hamlet” opposite Jude Law. Mbatha-Raw earned raves for her eye-catching portrayal as the unsuspecting pawn caught up in other people’s dramas, during the production’s successful runs in London’s West End and on Broadway. The play was exactly the star-making vehicle that Mbatha-Raw needed to catch the eye of J.J. Abrams, director and creator of award-wining drama series like “Felicity” (The WB, 1998-2002), “Alias,” (ABC, 2001-06), and “Lost” (ABC, 2004-2010). Abrams, who had a knack for breaking new female talent on his TV series – Keri Russell on “Felicity,” Jennifer Garner on “Alias” and Evangeline Lilly on “Lost” – handpicked Mbatha-Raw to play the female lead in “Undercovers” opposite the hunky Boris Kodjoe. On the hotly anticipated series, they essayed retired and married ex-CIA agents who get called back to duty.