Freema Agyeman born on 20 March 1979 is a British actress who is known for playing Martha Jones in the BBC science fiction series Doctor Who and itsspin-off series Torchwood. Following her departure from Doctor Who and guest spots in BBC programme Little Dorrit, Agyeman held a starring role as Alesha Phillips in the crime procedural drama Law & Order: UKbetween 2009 and 2012. In 2013, she made her US television debut on The CW’s teen drama The Carrie Diaries as Larissa Loughlin, a style editor at Interview magazine. Other television appearances include Old Jack’s Boat, Silent Witness, Survivors and the Netflix drama Sense8. Agyeman also appeared as Penny in the 2015 film North v South.
Agyeman was born in London. Her mother, Azar, is Iranian, and her father, Osei, is Ghanaian. They divorced when she was a child. Agyeman has an older sister, Leila, and a younger brother, Dominic. Although her mother is Muslim and her father Methodist, Agyeman grew up to be a practising Roman Catholic. Agyeman attended Our Lady’s Convent RC High School, a Catholic school in Stamford Hill and during the summer of 1996 she studied at the Anna Scher Theatre School in Islington and studied performing arts and drama at Middlesex University, graduating in 2000.
When Agyeman began her professional acting career, she chose to use a different spelling of her birth name, Frema, as her professional name, to avoid pronunciation problems.
Before securing the part of Martha Jones, Agyeman’s most famous television role was playing Lola Wise in the revived series of ITV soap opera Crossroads. She also had small guest roles in other TV series such as Casualty, Mile High and The Bill, in which she appeared on two occasions as two separate characters. In 2005, Agyeman played Mary Ogden, a scene of crime officer, in an episode of Silent Witness.
Agyeman starred as Nana in the independent film Rulers and Dealers, written and directed by Stephen Lloyd Jackson.
Doctor Who (2005–2010)
Agyeman auditioned for three roles in the 2006 series of Doctor Who. On 24 June 2005, she auditioned for the part of Sally Jacobs in “The Christmas Invasion”, but the role went to Anita Briem, who better fitted the production team’s concept of the character as an “ice cool blonde”. Agyeman later auditioned for the roles of Esme and Adeola Oshodi, in the “Rise of the Cybermen”/”The Age of Steel” and “Army of Ghosts”, respectively. Esme was ultimately cut from the final script, but Agyeman was successful in her audition for Adeola. She filmed her role in the series in December 2005 and appeared on screen as Adeola on 1 July 2006. Agyeman studied dance and practiced horseback riding, martial arts and gymnastics, a fact that the producers exploited in order to provide her with more physically arduous action scenes.
“When we cast the character of Adeola, I met Freema [Agyeman] for this part—actually, I met her for two parts—and when I met her, as soon as she walked through the door, I knew she was going to be quite exceptional. When she walked in, I thought I was looking at Halle Berry English-style…”
The production team were impressed by the versatility shown by Agyeman across her three auditions and called her back as a serious candidate for the new companion. She attended another audition (ostensibly for an episode of Torchwood) before a final screen-test with Tenth Doctor actor, David Tennant. Tennant left a reassuring note under the door of Agyeman’s hotel room, and this helped calm any nerves the actress had. Following extensive speculation on who would replace Billie Piper, Agyeman was confirmed to the press as new companion Martha Jones on 5 July 2006. “I’d like to think that there will be more for Martha Jones, because Doctor Who has been one of the biggest experiences of my life, both in terms of my career and in terms of how it has changed my life over the last two years. I dare say a great number of people will always associate me with Martha, and that really makes me smile. It means that she lives on. That’s so flattering. It’s an honour. I’d love to do more with her, definitely…”
—Freema Agyeman, July 2008
Agyeman began filming for the third series in August 2006 and finished in March 2007. She made her screen debut as Martha on 31 March 2007 in the episode “Smith and Jones” A line of dialogue explains that Adeola was Martha’s cousin. Agyeman continued to portray the character Martha throughout every episode of the 2007 series. Agyeman returned as Martha in series 4 for five episodes. Following the final episode of the fourth series, Agyeman stated that she would be open to reprising the role. She later returned to the series along with several other former cast members to mark David Tennant’s final appearance in The End of Time. Concurrent with her appearance on the show, Agyeman read abridged audiobook adaptations of five of the Doctor Who New Series Adventures novels featuring Martha, namely The Last Dodo, Wetworld, The Pirate Loop, Martha in the Mirror and The Story of Martha.In between series three and series four of Doctor Who, Agyeman appeared in three episodes of series 2 of Doctor Who spin off Torchwood, namely “Reset”, “Dead Man Walking” and “A Day in the Death”. She also had a starring role in the Torchwood radio play, Lost Souls, broadcast on BBC Radio Four on 10 September 2008 to promote the turning on of the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN research facility. It was later revealed by Torchwood: Children of Earth director Euros Lyn that the production team had intended for Agyeman to appear in that production, but she was already committed to Law & Order: UK. In a video interview conducted at the Law and Order: UK press launch, Agyeman does not rule out a return to Torchwood, stating that “it’s always a possibility.” Torchwood creator and head writer Russell T. Davies, also responsible for Doctor Who, subsequently affirmed that he would be open to casting Agyeman in a future series of Torchwood.
Agyeman appeared several times on The Bedtime Hour on CBeebies reading the story broadcast shortly before 7.00pm. She narrated the first series of BBC Three’s hospital documentary series Bizarre ER which ran from 14 February 2008 to 3 April 2008 and also provided the narration for a second series which began airing on Tuesday 21 April 2009. Agyeman hosted a Doctor Who-themed portion of the BBC Proms on 27 July. A one-hour cut-down version of the prom made its TV début on BBC1, New Year’s Day, 2009.
On 25 April 2008, Agyeman appeared on The Paul O’Grady Show. She made another appearance on the show on 26 March 2009.
Agyeman played foundling girl Tattycoram in the Emmy Award winning 2008 BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, which began on 26 October 2008, starring alongside her fellow Torchwood stars Eve Myles and Ruth Jones. Some of Agyeman’s scenes for the first episode were shot in the grounds of Deal Castle, Kent, which doubled for Marseille, France. Agyeman was delighted to have appeared in Little Dorrit, as it had always been a dream of hers to appear in a period drama. In 2008 Agyeman also appeared in Survivors, a BBC 1 remake of the cult 1970s TV series, as Jenny Walsh (surname originally reported to be Collins), although her character was killed off in the first episode in a shock twist despite featuring prominently in promotional materials for the series. Between 2009 and 2012, Agyeman starred as Crown Prosecutor Alesha Phillips in Law & Order: UK, a UK adaptation and spin-off from the US Law & Order franchise. Agyeman is a self-professed “massive fan” of the original Law & Order series, especially Seasons 3 and 4. In preparation for the role, Agyeman sat in on live trials, toured the Old Bailey, and conferred with her law-degree holding sister, Leila: “She’s great and really patient at explaining things to laymen, because I was coming at it completely blind. She’s been a good source.” She remained with the programme for its first six series departing the cast before the seventh series due to other filming commitments.
In March 2012, it was announced that Agyeman would play Larissa, “an easy-going party girl who works at Interview magazine” in the pilot of Sex and the City prequel The Carrie Diaries. In early 2013, she starred in the Cbeebies television series Old Jack’s Boat as Shelley.
Agyeman appears in the Netflix series Sense8, released in June 2015, created by J. Michael Straczynski and Lilly and Lana Wachowski. She is a series regular and plays Amanita, the girlfriend of Nomi, a sensate.Awards and recognition
In June 2007, Agyeman was named “Best Newcomer” at the 2007 “Glamour Women of the Year Awards”. The same year she won the 2007 People’s Choice category for “Female TV Star” in the 5th annual Screen Nation Film and TV Awards, held on 15 October 2007 at the Hilton Metropole in London.
The Observer had an interview with Agyeman in December 2007 and named her as a “face of 2007”.
In 2003, Agyeman was nominated in two categories in the British Soap Awards for her role as Lola Wise in Crossroads, as “Best Newcomer” and “Sexiest Female”.
In 2007, Agyeman was one of the top four nominations for best actress in the National Television Awards, for playing Martha Jones in the 2007 series of Doctor Who. She was also nominated for Best Actress in the TV Quick Awards the same year for her role in Doctor Who.
Agyeman was also longlisted for the 2010 National Television Awards for best dramatic performance for her role as Crown Prosecutor, Alesha Phillips.
In 2009, Agyeman was also nominated for Best Actress at the Birmingham Black International Film Festival’s Music, Video and Screen Awards (MVSAs).
Agyeman endorses Divine Chocolate, a fairtrade corporation that works with Ghanaian cocoa farmers.
The tattoo Agyeman has on her upper arm is symbolic of her ancestry, containing the Persian word “raha”, meaning “free”, under an image of a butterfly.