Model-turned-actor Djimon Hounsou was seemingly plucked from obscurity by producer Debbie Allen and director Steven Spielberg in 1997 to portray Joseph Cinque, the leader of a slave ship mutiny, in "A...
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|Starred as Caliban in Julie Taymor directed adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest"|
|Landed bit parts in "Unlawful Entry" (1992) and "Stargate" (1994); billed only as 'Djimon'|
|Sent to live with an older brother in Lyons, France|
|Joined the cast of "ER" (NBC) in recurring role of a political exile who finds menial work at the hospital|
|Featured in Jim Sheridan's "In America"; received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor|
|Discovered by fashion designer Thierry Mugler while living in the streets of Paris|
|Breakthrough screen role, as the slave Cinque in Steven Spielberg's "Amistad"|
|Narrated HBO drama about the slave trade "The Middle Passage"|
|Dropped out of school and moved to Paris|
|Appeared in Janet Jackson's music video for her single "Love Will Never Do Without You"|
|Cast opposite Queen Latifah, as the sexy piano-playing electrician in the comedy "Beauty Shop"|
|Co-starred with Angelina Jolie in "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life"|
|Cast in featured role opposite Russell Crowe in the Oscar-winning "Gladiator"|
|Starred in Michael Bay directed thriller "The Island"|
|Made film debut as Sandra Bernhard's ex-boyfriend in "Without You, I'm Nothing"; used his full name in billing|
|Co-starred in supernatural thriller "Push"|
|Had supporting role in the remake of "Four Feathers"|
|Cast by David Fincher in the music videos "Straight Up" (by Paula Abdul) and "Express Yourself" (by Madonna)|
|Moved to Los Angeles, CA|
|Cast as a veteran fighter who trains a young man who is bullied in "Never Back Down"|
|Co-starred with Leonardo DiCaprio in Edward Zwick's "Blood Diamond"; received SAG and Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor|
|Cast as Ajihad, the leader of the Varden in the fantasy/adventure movie "Eragon"|
|Born and raised in Benin|
Hounsou was born on April 24, 1964, in a small village in the West African nation of Benin. The youngest of five, Hounsou hid his early dreams of becoming an actor from his parents. When he was 12, his parents sent him to live with an older brother in Lyons, France, hoping that he would get an education and become a doctor or lawyer. But Hounsou grew bored with school and instead of going on to university, he took off for Paris where he drifted around for a period of time before being spotted by a fashion photographer who introduced him to clothing designer Thierry Mugler. Hounsou modeled for Mugler and others before moving to Los Angeles in the late 1980s to break into acting. He did not know a word of English when he arrived, but no matter. His first string of screen appearances in music videos for Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul and Madonna hinged on showcasing his physique and sex appeal. Thanks to hours and hours spent watching American television, Hounsou eventually learned English and began to land small acting roles, including a bit part as Sandra Bernhard's ex-boyfriend in the comedienne's "Without You, I'm Nothing" (1990).
Following small roles in "Unlawful Entry" (1992) and Steven Spielberg's sci-fi blockbuster "Stargate" (1994), Hounsou shot the independent film "Ill Gotten Gains" (1997) in which he played the leader of an infamous 1869 slave ship revolt. The film received only limited release, but it led to Hounsou's casting by Spielberg in the filmmaker's big budget version of the same story, "Amistad." Hounsou gave a critically acclaimed performance in a role that required a delicate balance of great physical strength and emotional accessibility - not to mention he had to learn to speak the Sierra Leone dialect, Mende, and had only five words of English dialogue. His compelling performance and mesmerizing screen presence resulted in a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor, an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor, and a flood of offers. Following the forgettable horror flick "Deep Rising" (1998), Hounsou landed a recurring role on the popular NBC mainstay "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009), where he played a political exile who lands a menial labor job at County General Hospital.
In 2000, Hounsou returned to theaters in a big way, co-starring in the epic "Gladiator" alongside Russell Crowe's Maximus as a fellow slave and confidante. The actor's timeless quality and his track record with historic dramas led to Hounsou's next major screen role as a selfless warrior who helps out a young British officer (Heath Ledger) trying to prove himself in risky combat in the Sudan in the remake of the 1939 film, "Four Feathers" (2002). He went on to give an outstanding performance in writer-director Jim Sheridan's gripping autobiographical film "In America" (2002) as a tortured artist suffering with AIDS who opens his heart to a neighboring family of Irish immigrants in his drug-plagued New York City apartment building. Hounsou's alternately blistering and soulful performance earned him his first Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor as well as an Independent Spirit Award win and additional nominations from the Image Awards and the Black Reel Awards.
Hounsou's resounding accolades for the contemporary, non-physically dependent role finally opened filmmakers' eyes to the actor's untapped range, which only helped to help the actor make strides towards his goal of becoming a traditional Hollywood leading man. He had supporting roles in the outlaw motorcycle actioner "Biker Boyz" (2003) alongside Laurence Fishburne and joined forces with Angelina Jolie's videogame-inspired heroine in "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" (2003), before returning to primetime in a few appearances on the hit series "Alias" (ABC, 2001-06). Hounsou next turned up in a brief but compelling stint as the mysterious voodoo practitioner and L.A. club owner Papa Midnight in the comic book-derived horror/action hybrid, "Constantine" (2005). In a refreshing break from the string of high-octane projects, Hounsou provided the romantic spark as the studly electrician who lives above Queen Latifah's hair salon in "Beauty Shop" (2005), a spin-off of the popular "Barbershop" franchise. The same year, he appeared in a supporting role as the intensely focused head of a private security system trying to recapture a pair of escapees from a cloning facility in Michael Bay's derivative sci-fi thriller "The Island" (2005), starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson.
He next appeared in the romantic crime thriller "Blood Diamond" (2006), a sweeping tale directed by Edward Zwick about a South African diamond smuggler (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a poor fisherman (Hounsou) who join forces to find a rare pink diamond that will transform both their lives. Like "Amistad" and "Gladiator" before, "Blood Diamond" launched Hounsou into the critical spotlight again. He was recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He was also nominated by the Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role and took home Best Supporting Actor awards from the National Board of Review and the Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association.
Hounsou's co-starring role in "Eragon" (2006), an epic fantasy about a young boy (Ed Speleers) who finds a dragon hatchling which thrusts him into a world of magic and power, came and went without much fanfare. Hounsou went on to enjoy a moderate box office hit with "Never Back Down" (2006), a clichéd actioner where he was well-cast as a martial arts instructor who provides a strong moral voice to a hot-headed teenager (Sean Faris). Off-screen Hounsou was garnering his first real tabloid headlines when he began to romance Kimora Lee Simmons, ex-wife of hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, and, herself, a successful CEO of Baby Phat Fashions.
In a rare villainous role, Hounsou co-starred in the 2009 sci-fi thriller "Push" as a government intelligence agent who subjects unwilling participants to scientific experiments. Hounsou's talent was much better showcased, however, in Julie Taymor's 2009 film adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest." As Caliban, Hounsou held his own opposite stage veteran Helen Mirren's Prospera, and reinforced his potential as a leading man in high quality, artful filmmaking.
|Albertine Hounsou||Mother||Died 1989|
|Kenzo Hounsou||Son||Born May 30, 2009; mother, Kimora Lee Simmons|
|Edmond Hounsou||Brother||Moved to Lyons, France with Djimon when the latter was 13|
|Kimora Lee Simmons||Companion||Began dating March 2007; Participated in a traditional Benin wedding ceremony May 2009; were not legally married in U.S.; Announced separation November 2012|
|Victoria Mahoney||Companion||No longer together|
|His name was pronounced "JI-mon HON-sue."|
|"School bored me. Being educated and being intelligent are two different things. I thought I was smart enough. And I wanted to be an entertainer. I stopped going to school as a way of saying I was mature, a way of saying I was going to choose who I was going to become." - Hounsou quoted in the Daily News, Dec. 3, 1997|
|"There's so much to do and so much that I want to accomplish without anybody putting limitations on me. I'm still going through the adversity of being typecast, but that's the nature of the industry." - Hounsou quoted to Venice magazine, August 2003|
|"Being a character actor is nice. You build yourself up, show a certain range of your ability. But at the end of the day, I'm really looking to be a leading man. That's really the goal." - Hounsou to CNN.com, July 26, 2005|
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