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Zoe Wanamaker as Ariadne Oliver in Agatha Christie's Poirot

Zoë Wanamaker, CBE (born 13 May 1949) is an American-born English actress. She has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company; in films, including the Harry Potter series; and in a number of television productions, including a long-time role as Susan Harper in the sitcom My Family. Wanamaker has been nominated for a BAFTA Film Award, two BAFTA TV Awards, Four Tony's and nine Olivier Awards, winning two.

Early life and family

Wanamaker was born in New York City, the daughter of Canadian-born actress and radio performer Charlotte Holland, and American-born actor, film director and radio producer Sam Wanamaker, who decided not to return to the United States after being blacklisted in 1952.

Wanamaker's parents were Jewish, though she had a non-religious and non-observant upbringing. Her family was of Ukrainian extraction. The BBC documentary Who Do You Think You Are? broadcast on 24 February 2009, revealed that Wanamaker's paternal grandfather Maurice Wanamaker (originally Manus Watmacher) was a tailor (born 1895) in Mykolaiv, Ukraine.

Wanamaker was educated at the independent King Alfred School in Hampstead, London, and at Sidcot School, a Quaker boarding school in Somerset. She trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

In November 1994, Wanamaker married actor and dramatist Gawn Grainger.



Wanamaker's career started in the theatre. From 1976 to 1984 she was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. She won an Olivier Award for her 1979 performance in Once In a Lifetime and a second for Sophocles' Electra in 1997. In 1985, she played Verdi's wife Giuseppina Strepponi in the original production of After Aida. She appeared on stage playing the part of Beatrice opposite Simon Russell Beale as Benedick in the National Theatre's production of Much Ado About Nothing. She has received Tony Award nominations for her performances in Piaf, Loot, Electra, and Awake and Sing!.

In 1997, Zoe Wanamaker was the first person to speak on the stage of the newly-completed replica theatre, Shakespeare's Globe, on London's South Bank. This was in recognition of the role played by her father in founding the new theatre. She subsequently became Honorary President of the Globe.

From 19 May to 2 October 2010 (extended from 11 September), Wanamaker appeared in Arthur Miller's play All My Sons, portraying the role of Kate Keller at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue in London.


Starting in the early 1980s, Wanamaker began performing on screen, most notably in a number of critically acclaimed television productions, such as the BBC Television production Edge of Darkness; she was nominated for a BAFTA Award for her portrayal of the love interest of a suspected serial killer in the first instalment of the Granada series Prime Suspect.

Television series have included Paradise Postponed (as Charlotte Fanner-Titmuss, 1986) and Love Hurts (1992–94) with Adam Faith.

She played Madam Hooch in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

She played Clarice, one of the dim-witted twin sisters of Lord Groan in Gormenghast (2000), a BBC television adaptation of Mervyn Peake's trilogy.

Wanamaker portrayed Susan Harper in the BBC situation comedy My Family from 2000 to 2011.

She voiced a CGI character named Lady Cassandra in the Doctor Who episode "The End of the World" (2005), and reprised the role (also appearing in the flesh this time) in the episode "New Earth" (2006).

Wanamaker lent her voice to the 2008 Xbox 360 game Fable II as the blind Seeress Theresa, who guides the playing character throughout the game. She returned to voice Theresa again in Fable III in 2010, and again in 2012 for Fable: The Journey.

She has played Ariadne Oliver in several episodes of Agatha Christie's Poirot.


Wanamaker holds both American and British citizenship, having become a British citizen in 2000, specifically so that she could receive a CBE from the Queen at Buckingham Palace, rather than an honorary decoration from the British Foreign Secretary. She also received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of East Anglia on 19th July 2012.

Charity work

Wanamaker has been a Patron of the UK charity Tree Aid, since 1997. Tree Aid enables communities in Africa's drylands to fight poverty and become self-reliant, while improving the environment. In 2006 Wanamaker recorded a successful Radio 4 appeal for the charity.

She is a Patron of Dignity in Dying, The Lymphoedema Support Network, Youth Music Theatre: UK and of the Young Actors' Theatre, Islington. She is also one of the Honorary Patrons of the London children's charity Scene & Heard.


Video games

  • Fable II (2008) (video game)
  • Fable III (2010) (video game)
  • Fable: The Journey (2012) (video game)

Theatre work

  • The Devil's Disciple, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1976
  • Wild Oats, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1976
  • Ivanov, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1976
  • The Taming of the Shrew, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1978
  • Captain Swing, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1978
  • Piaf, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1978
  • Once in a Lifetime, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1979
  • Piaf, Plymouth Theatre, New York City, 1981
  • The Importance of Being Earnest, National Theatre, London, 1982
  • Twelfth Night, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1983
  • The Time of Your Life, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1983
  • The Comedy of Errors, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1983
  • Mother Courage, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1984
  • Loot, Manhattan Theatre Club, then Music Box Theatre, both New York City, 1986
  • The Bay at Nice and Wrecked Eggs, National Theatre, London, 1986
  • Mrs Klein, National Theatre, 1988, then Apollo Theatre, both London, 1989
  • Othello, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1989
  • The Crucible, National Theatre, London, 1990
  • The Last Yankee, Young Vic, London, 1993
  • Dead Funny, Hampstead Theatre, then Vaudeville Theatre, both London, 1994
  • The Glass Menagerie, Donmar Warehouse, then Comedy Theatre, both London, 1995
  • Sylvia, Apollo Theatre, London, 1996
  • Electra, Donmar Warehouse, London, 1997, then McCarter Theatre, Princeton, NJ, and Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City, 1998
  • The Old Neigbourhood, Royal Court Theatre, London, 1998
  • Battle Royal, National Theatre, London, 1999
  • Boston Marriage, Donmar Warehouse, then New Ambassadors Theatre, both London, 2001
  • His Girl Friday, National Theatre, London, 2003
  • Awake and Sing!, Belasco Theatre, New York City, 2006
  • The Rose Tattoo, National Theatre, London, 2007
  • Much Ado About Nothing, National Theatre, London, 2007
  • All My Sons, Apollo Theatre, London, 2010
  • The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre, London, 2011
  • Passion Play, Duke of York's Theatre, London, 2013