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Her mother is former actress Joanna Shimkus and her father, whom she is named after is legendary Oscar-winning screen performer Sidney Poiter. Sydney grew up in L.A. and lived a relatively normal childhood. She is the youngest of six girls that included older sister Anika and four half-sisters -Pamela, Sherri, Gina and Beverly Poitier. It wasn’t until she applied for college she embraced interest in a proffesional acting career. Although her actor parents were supportive, they always encouraged Sydney to have some sort of backup plan. Sydney attended and later graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. There she studied drama, where the mere mention of her famous name had classmates humorously thinking her father had enrolled. Poitier performed in various stage productions, including a memorable production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, in which she played the brutalized daughter Lavinia. Following graduation, Poitier continued honing her craft at the Stella Adler Conservatory.
But by the late 1990s, Sydney found herself struggling to get her career off the ground. She appeared in her first film the independent drama Park Day as Sophia Johnson in 1998. But soon after she took a job at a record company, but her father insisted that she continue with acting and invited her to appear in a film he was producing and starring in for Showtime. So Sydney joined her father on Free of Eden (1999), an endearing drama about a teacher-turned-businessman who helps mentor a high school dropout. The elder Poitier played businessman Will Cleamons, while his daughter played his hesitant protégé Nicole Turner.
Sydney Poitier’s career picked up significicantly in 1999. She had a string of projects, including an adaptation of the novel True Crime starring Clint Eastwood, a role in the biblical miniseries Noah’s Ark as Ruth and she became a series regular for the pilot First Years, both from NBC. First Years saw Sydney playing Riley Kessler, the girlfriend of James Roday’s character, who disgraces his Peace Corp family by becoming a lawyer in the drama set in San Francisco about five first-year law graduates who live together and try to get their lives and careers in order. Soon after filming the pilot, she also shot the independent drama MacAthur Park (2001). On March 19, 2001 the first episode of First Years aired and Sydney went and reassumed her role as Riley, the series however was was short-lived, lasting only a month before getting cut off at the knees.
While she did also complete a segment entitled Happy Birthday in the 2001 TV movie On the Edge, Sydney was not seen any other projects until 2003. Still weary of her first tv show failure, Sydney really liked the stability of tv and was detirmined to find the next right television project and in In late 2002 she landed the lead the new UPN sitcom Abby and she couldn’t quite believe it. The then 29-year-old actress had been in several movies, but she’d never even guested on a TV comedy, much less starred in one, and she wasn’t sure she’d be funny enough. “I hadn’t even thought of auditioning for a sitcom, because I didn’t feel that it was a genre I had any talent for whatsoever, but my agent sent me the script and I thought, Wow, this is well developed and witty and intelligent. It wasn’t your typical sitcom” she recalls. “I went on the audition. I didn’t make it at first, so I kind of forgot about it, and I was actually a little bit relieved. I thought, Okay, I tested the waters of the comedy genre, and now I can retreat to my safe drama haven. But about a week later I got a call saying they wanted me back in, and it moved superfast from there. I got the job on Friday, and by the next Friday we’d taped the pilot. It all happened boom-boom-boom. It was crazy – a total baptism by fire.” In the series, Poitier played Abby Walker, a sports television producer living in a San Francisco apartment with her ex-boyfriend. A mid-season replacement on the network’s schedule, Abby ultimately suffered from too much retooling during its development and failed to find a consistent audience, ending its run after only nine episodes. Still determined to find her footing in television, She scrubbed in as a doctor dealing with a patient’s potential plague infection in an episode of the revamped The Twilight Zone again on UPN. Soon after, Sydney gained significant traction with a recurring part on the first season of the hit teen drama Joan of Arcadia, playing The Arcadia Herald editor Rebecca Askew and the love interest of Joan’s brother Kevin played by Jason Ritter.
In 2004, Poitier hit the big screen at the behest of her big sister Anika, writer and director of The Devil Cats, a mockumentary about a fake all-girl band based in Los Angeles; Sydney produced the film and co-starred as rocker Hellena Handbasket. The film made its premiere at the Palm Springs Film Festival, but failed to make any subsequent headway. Meanwhile, She went swiftly from Arcadia to fictional Neptune, CA as the guidance counselor of Neptune High on the teen detective series Veronica Mars. Though the series did became a cult hit, her role was excised due to a ballooning budget. Still, Busier than she had ever been in her career to date, things were going good. She appeared as Vanessa in Rodrigo Garcia’s film, Nine Lives (2005), an anthology chronicling the lives of nine women struggling with the various disappointments of their lives. Some of the most talented and popular actresses of today starred in the film, including Holly Hunter, Sissy Spacek, Dakota Fanning and Glenn Close. The ensemble of the actresses, Sydney incldued won the Bronze Leopard Prize at the Locarno International Film Festival and Best Ensemble Cast at the Gotham Awards in 2005.
2006 proved more work for the budding actress. She completed work in three projects and this was the year which lead to her most popular role to date. Sydney returned to the small screen for one episode as a guest star on the season 2 of the surpise hit and at the time, the hottest TV drama Grey’s Anatomy. The episode “17 Seconds” was one of the most memorable for the series – “Your jaw will drop, you’ll hold your breath, your heart will skip a beat” one reviewer states. Sydney also appeared in The List, a romantic comedy with Wayne Brady. Sydney earned a nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie at the 2008 Image Awards for her turn as Cecile in the movie. Still, even after struggling with her career like any dedicated actress, with good projects come bad, and while it seemed to be looking up for Sydney, she did have a small role in the silly gore fest Snoop Dog’s Hood of Horror – but hey, we’ll forgive her. In a career of 20 credits since 1998, She is afterall trying out all genre waters.
It was announced in July 2006 that Grindhouse, two totally different films by pop film mavericks Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, would go into production to be played back-to-back a year later on the silver screen. “We’re going to make two, sleazy grindhouse movies that will deliver on the posters..and beyond! This isn’t some Twilight Zone: The Movie fucking thing. This is not a faux double feature. This is two fucking movies for the price of one! You’re $10 will be well spent at the Grindhouse, baby!” said Tarantino. And a role in any Quentin Tarantino film is certainly a Golden ticket for any young actress, this is the man afterall who transformed Uma Thurman into a sensasation after her performance in Pulp Fiction (1994) and reginited the career of Pam Grier as Jackie Brown (1997), heck, one might even say he even give Daryl Hannah a career boost after her assasin turned role in Kill Bill (2003). Outside of playing a leading role in a film, there aren’t that many strong supporting roles for females in the film business but Tarantino has certainly become a go-to director for actresses looking for something more to display on screen than their ‘assests’ or mediocre supporting roles. And Death Proof‘s (Quentin’s half of the film expierence) Jungle Julia is the beneficiary of a fantastic role. But getting a role in a Tarantino project is easier said than done. Sydney knows first hand of this. She’s auditioned for two Quentin Tarantino projects (Kill Bill and CSI) before the director cast her.
Although he did write with Sydney in mind, the role was not locked in for sure imediately. Quentin states that not many roles seek out for Sydney’s appearance; a 5′ 11″ Amazonian, goddess like beauty, long black hair. So while writing the role of Jungle Julia, Quentin thought back to the girl who audtioned for some of his roles with the certain look he always invisioned for JJ. Sydney also never gets the roles like Julia, All apperances aside, she says “I’m normally the nice girl or the sweet girl or the girl next door. I get a lot of those roles; the young, naïve one. I don’t usually get the tough girl roles or the bitchy girls or the really sexy girls.” so being cast as a bitchy, fast speaking, sexy, radio DJ was just fine with her. Sydney says “This is Jungle Julia. She’s a strong, curvy, powerful woman and she owns her body. She has confidence in it. She feels it. She loves it. So it was more about working on the mental part of it and feeling that way about myself so that when I was in character there was no doubting. I had to move with utter ease and confidence… She’s so different from the parts that I usually get cast in that it was such an incredible opportunity and I was just so excited.” Sydney claimes to have had best acting experience working on Death Proof in her entire career thus far. “I’m a little spoiled now. Once you do a Quentin Tarantino film and you say that dialogue, and you’re in a movie that’s being made by someone who is so passionate about films, it’s going to be hard to top the experience but I do hope to play more roles that are at least close to what I was able to do in this film that are really fleshed out, that really multi-faceted, interesting characters.” Unfortunetly given all the hype, Grindhouse did not meet box-office expectations. But in the end, it was one of the top best reviewed films of the year and those who did see the “experience” have nothing but positives to say. Grindhouse might have not been a success commerically, but it will live on as an instant cult favorite.
How do you follow up Grindhouse? Sydney was often asked. And although roles and scripts were pouring in Sydney was hesitant to jump on any projects. She did aution for several roles, but it wasn’t until late 2007 that she eventually settled and was cast as Carrie Rivai on the small-screen TV Movie remake of the 1980s series Knight Rider, Sydney has had a long time relationship with NBC. Although it won’t be admitted to a “remake” it is just that, a reinvisioning for the old series which starred David Hasselhoff and a potential launching pad for a series remake. If the film sees success, it might be made into a new tv-show-remake for a new generation, some 25 years after the original show. The tv movie will air February 17, 2008.
Only time will tell what the future holds for Sydney Tamiia Poitier. Still on a media frenzy from the Death Proof acclaim, Sydney is on the verge of breaking, if not busting down Hollywood doors. After having multiple successes in both tv and film she could certainly settle in either. When asked which she prefers, tv or film she says “I love doing films. I love being able to play different characters. I love the atmosphere of a set when you come together for a film because usually you are on location somewhere you get into this instant sort of bonding family mode. It’s a really special experience.” but she also claims to like the stability of TV. “In films it’s a longer downtime between jobs.”
Although she is lead in with a stigma of being her father’s daughter, she’s certainly got the talent to grow as an actress, and clearly armed with stunning good looks. But more than anything Sydney has the drive and determination to continue forging her path in the industry. She’s surpassed the lows and gained momentum from the highs, but still is continuing on and striving for a diverse acting career for herself.
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