Birthdate: April 24, 1964
Birthplace: Cotonou, Benin
Djimon Hounsou (Djimon Gaston Hounsou) is one of the rare African actors to have found success in Hollywood, bringing authenticity to a range of roles previously unseen on American screens. Even after his stellar 30-plus-year career, Hounsou still remains fairly exceptional in commercial cinema that dramatizes a limited, somewhat stereotyped depiction of African characters. But his success—including two Oscar nominations--has opened the door for other African artists aspiring to Hollywood careers.
After a fine but brief modeling career in Paris, Djimon Hounsou emigrated to the U.S. in 1990. He quickly landed in the movies, first in small roles in such films as Sandra Bernhard’s autobiographical Without You I’m Nothing (1990); Jonathan Kaplan’s thriller Unlawful Entry (1992), with Kurt Russell, Madeleine Stowe, and Ray Liotta; Roger Avery’s crime drama, Killing Zoe (1993), with Eric Stoltz and Julie Delpy; and Roland Emmerich’s science fiction adventure, Stargate (1994), with Russell, James Spader, and Jaye Davidson.
Hounsou’s breakthrough role, as slave revolt leader Joseph Cinqué in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad (1997), earned Hounsou a Golden Globe Best Actor nomination and Best Actor win from the NAACP Image Awards. Ridley Scott cast Djimon Hounsou in his Oscar-winning epic, Gladiator (2000), with Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Derek Jacobi, Oliver Reed, and Richard Harris. Another historical epic was The Four Feathers (2002), in which Hounsou co-starred with Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, and Kate Hudson, followed by Jim Sheridan’s immigrant drama, In America (2003), for which Hounsou scored his first Oscar nomination and second Screen Actors Guild nomination as Best Supporting Actor.
Hounsou continued his stellar supporting work in the Los Angeles street drama, Biker Boyz (2003), directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood and starring Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, and Orlando Jones; in Jan de Bont’s blockbuster, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider—The Cradle of Life (2003), with Angelina Jolie and Gerard Butler; in Francis Lawrence’s DC Comics version of Hellblazer, Constantine (2005), with Keanu Reeves; and in Michael Bay’s thriller, The Island (2005), with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson.
Djimon Hounsou’s next major role was as co-star with Leonardo DiCaprio in Edward Zwick’s topical drama, Blood Diamond (2006), with Jennifer Connelly, for which he received his second Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and wins from the NAACP Image Awards and the National Board of Review. Hounsou explored an adventurous version of Shakespeare, playing the Taliban in Julie Taylor’s The Tempest (2010), with Helen Mirren, Russell Brand, Alan Cumming, Felicity Jones, and Alfred Molina.
Starting in 2014, Hounsou began to be cast in a number of franchises, starting with his vocal performance in DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon 2, with Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, and Jonah Hill, followed by Hounsou’s ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe role as Korath in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), with Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana and grossing worldwide a total of $773 million.
Djimon Hounsou then jumped into the Fast and Furious business with Furious 7 (2015), as Mose Jakande, with Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, and Paul Walker, earning a global gross of $1.5 billion. Hounsou’s Korath next appeared in the MCU production, Captain Marvel (2019), with Brie Larson in the title role, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ben Mendelsohn, globally grossing over $1.1 billion. Hounsou jumped to rival DC Comics’ own cinematic universe for the blockbuster hit, Aquaman (2018), with Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and also earning over $1.1 billion worldwide in box office returns.
Hounsou’s second DC Comics project was the modestly profitable Shazam! (2019), in which he played The Wizard opposite Zachary Levi and Mark Strong; Hounsou revived the character in two 2022 releases: the Shazam! the sequel, Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2022) and the launch of the new franchise, Black Adam, with Dwayne Johnson and Aldis Hodge. The rare would-be franchise (the first of a planned six-film series) that failed with Hounsou in the cast was Guy Ritchie’s box-office bomb, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), with Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law.
In 2019, Djimon Hounsou appeared in the revival, of Charlie’s Angels (2019), as Bosley, opposite Kristen Stewart and Elizabeth Banks, followed by the Kingsmen sequel, Matthew Vaughn’s The King’s Men (2021), with Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, and Matthew Goode. Hounsou is the voice of Sumo in the animated feature, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (2022), with the voices of Michelle Yeoh, Michael Cera, Samuel L. Jackson, Mel Brooks, and Ricky Gervais.
Hounsou’s next major project was filmmaker Zack Snyder’s Star Wars-inspired Rebel Moon (2023) for Netflix, with Sofia Boutella, Charlie Hunnam, Anthony Hopkins, and Cary Elwes. Hounsou performed a voice in the vocal cast of director Tim Harper’s rainforest drama, Ozi—Voice of the Forest (date to be announced), with Laura Dern, Donald Sutherland, and Amandla Stenberg. Hounsou is attached to director Alex Parkinson’s dramatized version of his co-directed 2019 undersea adventure documentary, Last Breath, with Woody Harrelson and Simu Liu.
Djimon Hounsou was born and raised in Cotonou, Dahomey (now the nation-state of Benin) by parents Albertine and Pierre Hounsou. He has four siblings, including one brother, Edmond. After he turned twelve years old, Hounsou emigrated to France with Edmond, where he experienced homelessness after dropping out of school. In 2008, Hounsou participated in a traditional commitment ceremony in his homeland of Benin to businessperson and TV personality Kimora Lee Simmons, though the couple did not legally marry in the U.S. Their son, Kenzo Lee Hounsou, was born in 2009. The couple separated in 2012. Hounsou’s height is 6’ 1½”.
Discovered: Djimon Hounsou’s remarkable life change happened when he was a homeless teenager in Paris, where he encountered a fashion photographer connected with famed designer Thierry Mugler, who urged Hounsou to model. A few years later, Hounsou had become a successful Paris-based model.
Traditional: Hounsou’s partnership with TV personality Kimora Lee Simmons wasn’t a U.S. marriage ceremony, but a traditional commitment ceremony in Benin, the nation of Hounsou’s birth (formerly Dahomey).