CCH Pounder

CCH Pounder Headshot

Actress

Birth Date: December 25, 1952

Age: 71 years old

Birth Place: Georgetown, British Guiana [now Guyana]

Though she was a busy performer in a variety of film and television roles for decades, actress CCH Pounder finally found her defining role when she was cast as the morally upright Detective Claudette Wyms on the dark, gritty cop show, "The Shield" (FX, 2002-08). Prior to that role, Pounder spent her illustrious career playing quiet, yet tough-as-nails women usually in positions of authority, as she did in a recurring capacity on television shows like "L.A. Law" (NBC, 1986-1994) and "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009). But it was her seven years playing Wyms, whose determination to take down crooked cop Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) reaches near obsessive proportions that earned Pounder the long-sought recognition and respect she deserved. Though she continued to give sterling performances over the years, particularly as real life politician and activist Winnie Mandela in "Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story" (FX, 2004), Pounder was forever connected to Wyms, the true role of a lifetime.

Born Carol Christine Hilaria Pounder on Dec. 25, 1952, the future actress was originally raised on a sugar cane plantation in Georgetown, British Guyana, by her father, Ronald, a real estate agent, and her mother, Betsy. The family moved to the United States when Pounder was a young girl, though she was sent to a boarding school in England with her sister, Shelley. In 1970, Pounder moved back to the states to attend Ithaca College in New York, where she earned a bachelor of fine arts in drama. By the end of the decade, Pounder's career was in full stride, having appeared in "The Mighty Gents" at the New York Shakespeare Festival with Morgan Freeman and made her feature debut as a nurse in Bob Fosse's award-winning musical, "All That Jazz" (1979). After moving to Los Angeles in 1981, she began landing more prominent film and television roles, including one opposite noted 1970s actress Jill Clayburgh in "I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can" (1982). Back in New York, she made an impressive Broadway debut at the Music Box Theatre in a production of Shirley Lauro's two-act drama, "Open Admissions" (1984).

Back on the big screen, Pounder more than held her own opposite Oscar winners Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Houston in the black comedy, "Prizzi's Honor" (1985). On the television side, she made her small screen debut in the two-part miniseries, "The Atlanta Child Murders" (CBS, 1985), a docudrama that focused on the tragic disappearances and murders of 28 Atlanta children from 1979-1981, as well as the controversial arrest and trial of Wayne Williams (Calvin Levels), who was convicted on one murder count while proclaiming his innocence. Continuing to make positive strides on television, Pounder landed roles in several small screen movies, including "If Tomorrow Comes" (CBS, 1986), "Resting Place" (CBS, 1986) and "As Summers Die" (HBO, 1986). Meanwhile, she had her first feature starring role, playing a bitter roadside café owner with marital problems in the offbeat drama, "Bagdad Café" (1987).

With her career on the rise, Pounder tried her hand at comedy as a series regular on "Women in Prison" (Fox, 1987-88), a short-lived sitcom about a diverse group of female inmates. Once the show was canceled, she appeared in a string of made-for-television movies, including the erotic thriller "Third Degree Burn" (HBO), the historical drama, "Murder in Mississippi" (NBC, 1990), which recounted the murders of three Civil Rights activists in 1964 by the Ku Klux Klan, and "Psycho IV: The Beginning" (Showtime, 1990). Also that year, Pounder began a recurring role as Judge Roseann Robin on "L.A. Law" that ran from 1990-92. Back in features, she delivered the memorable line "You know, addiction isn't the problem - it's the solution" to Meryl Streep in "Postcards from the Edge" (1990). Meanwhile, Pounder married Boubacar Kone, a Senegalese anthropologist who founded The Boribana Museum in Senegal in 1991. The couple wed in an African ceremony held in Dakar and repeated their vows in Los Angeles six months later. The actress was also an advocate for HIV/AIDS issues in South Africa, cofounding Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), which raised awareness about the disease.

While the film world embraced her talent, it was on television that Pounder began to excel and receive critical praise in roles as very strong-willed women in highly acclaimed television movies and miniseries throughout the 1990s. Following episodes of "Quantum Leap" (NBC, 1989-1993) and "The Cosby Show" (NBC, 1984-1992), she had supporting roles in "Return to Lonesome Dove" (CBS, 1993), "Lifepod" (Fox, 1993) and "For Their Own Good" (ABC, 1993). Back in the feature world, she appeared in "Benny & Joon" (1993) and "Robocop 3" (1993) before she returned to television, where she delivered a strong performance as an FBI agent in a 1994 episode of "The X-Files" (Fox, 1993-2002). Pounder received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 1995 - the first Academy recognition of her career. She also had a three-season long recurring role as Dr. Angela Hicks on "ER," which earned her an Emmy nod for supporting actress in 1997. In the festival-bound drama, "Race" (1998), she played the tough opponent of a Hispanic man (Paul Rodriguez) gunning for an empty city council seat in a down-and-dirty campaign.

Despite a resume filled with strong, award-worthy performances, Pounder had yet to find that one true defining role. But she did maintain a busy schedule of guest appearances, television movies and feature films. After supporting roles in "End of Days" (1999) and "Funny Valentines" (1999), Pounder focused almost exclusively on the small screen with roles in "Disappearing Acts" (HBO, 2000) and "Things Behind the Sun" (Showtime, 2001), director Allison Anders' intimate drama about an angry punk-oriented singer-songwriter (Kim Dickens) struggling to overcome her personal demons. She followed with more guest turns on hit shows like "The Practice" (ABC, 1997-2004), "Strong Medicine" (Lifetime, 2000-06) and "The District" (CBS, 2000-04). Returning to long-form television, she had a prominent role in "Boycott" (HBO, 2001), a dramatization of the events of the Montgomery bus boycott led by Martin Luther King, Jr. (Jeffrey Wright) after Rosa Parks (Iris Little Thomas) refused to give up her seat to make room for a white passenger.

In a stroke of good fortune, Pounder found her defining role when she was cast as Detective Claudette Wyms on the gritty cop drama, "The Shield" (2002-09), even though show creator Shawn Ryan originally wrote the character for a male actor. For seven seasons, Wyms served as the moral center in a dark and corrupt world dominated by the infamous Strike Team, an elite four-man anti-gang unit led by the pragmatic, but criminal Detective Vic Mackey. Claudette was a perfect fit for the actress - respected, strong-willed, self-possessed - earning Pounder considerable acclaim and recognition for her poised performance. Over the years, she steered Claudette through a series of trials and tribulations, especially when conflicting with Mackey over his strong-armed tactics in arresting criminals. A staunch advocate of racial tolerance, as echoed by her awareness of being one of the few female African-American officers in the department, she forges a strong bond with partner Holland "Dutch" Wagenbach (Jay Karnes), a brilliant, but conceited detective specializing in profiling serial killers. She eventually becomes Captain of the Farmington division, which puts her into direct conflict with the increasingly erratic Mackey, whom she zealously attempts to take down despite her silent battle with lupus. Pounder's strong portrayal of Wyms earned the actress an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2005 and widespread recognition that she long deserved.

In 2005, Pounder won a Black Reel Award for playing Winnie Mandela opposite Jamie Foxx in "Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story," about the executed Los Angeles gang leader. So moved was he by his "Redemption" co-star that Foxx thanked her in his Oscar acceptance speech for "Ray" (2004). Entering previously uncharted waters, she contributed her voice to animated projects, including "Justice League" (Cartoon Network, 2001-06), the crime-fighting "W.I.T.C.H." (ABC Family, 2005- ), and the animated film "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" (2009). In March 2009, Pounder guest starred in the critically praised drama, "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," a series based on the Alexander McCall Smith novels. She played an African woman whose son has been missing for 10 years and enlists the help of do-it-herself detective Precious Ramotswe (Jill Scott). It was another Emmy-nominated performance for the hardworking actress, who received a nod for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series - the second of her career in that category and fourth overall.

Once "The Shield" wound down to its riveting and hard-won conclusion in late 2008, Pounder was able to pursue a greater number of projects. She starred in the science fiction series "Warehouse 13" (Syfy, 2009-14), playing the mysterious and tough director of a secret government organization. Although critics described it as an "X Files" knockoff, the series became Syfy's third most watched premiere when it debuted in 2009. That same year, Pounder played a nun in the controversial horror film "Orphan," about an adopted child (Isabelle Fuhrman), who was not as innocent as she seemed. Continuing her work in the science fiction genre, Pounder played Moha, queen of tall humanoids called "Na'vi," in director James Cameron's long-awaited and big-budget production of "Avatar" (2009).

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