Zawe Ashton

Zawedde "Zawe" Ashton[1] (/ˈzɑːwi/;[2] born 21 July 1984) is an English actress, playwright and director best known for her roles in Channel 4 comedy dramas Not Safe for Work and Fresh Meat. Other credits include the feature films Blitz and St Trinian's 2: The Legend of Fritton's Gold.

Zawe Ashton
Ashton in December 2013
Zawedde Ashton

(1984-07-21) 21 July 1984
OccupationActress, playwright, director
Years active1995present

Early life

Ashton was born in Hackney, London, the eldest of three children born to a Ugandan mother, Victoria,[3] and an English father, Paul Ashton, both teachers; her father later worked for the BBC and for Channel 4 as a Commissioning Editor. Her maternal grandfather, Paulo Muwanga, was President and Prime Minister of Uganda.[4] She attended the Anna Scher Theatre School and was a member of the National Youth Theatre. She attended both William Patten and Thornhill Primary schools. For secondary education, Ashton attended both Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Parliament Hill Schools. She studied at the City and Islington College, then at the Manchester School of Theatre, where she gained a degree in acting.[5][6]



Ashton attended the Anna Scher Theatre, after school junior classes, and later became a member of the Anna Scher YPs (Young Professionals).[5] As a teenager, in the late 1990s she starred in a BBC2 science show Science in Action as one of the three curious children.

Her television work includes Holby City, The Bill, NCS: Manhunt, Casualty, The Crust, and Misfits. In 2011, Ashton starred in the Channel 4 comedy Fresh Meat, playing the part of Vod. In 2018, she played Claire in the six-part BBC One series Wanderlust.[7]

Her theatre credits include Rhinoceros, The Arsonists, Gone Too Far! (Royal Court), Othello (Globe Theatre), Frontline (Globe Theatre), All The Little Things We Crushed (Almeida), This Wide Night (Soho Theatre), The Cage (Nuffield Theatre Company, Southampton) and Michael Frayn's comedy Here at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, Abi Morgan's Splendour (Donmar) and Genet's The Maids (Trafalgar Studios). In June 2010 Ashton was awarded 2nd prize at the Ian Charleson Awards for her classical performance in Salome (Headlong Theatre).

In 2009, she appeared in St. Trinian's II: The Legend of Fritton's Gold. She was named as one of Screen International's Stars of Tomorrow 2009.[8] Two years later she appeared alongside Jason Statham in the film Blitz[9] and with Jason Isaacs in the television adaptation of Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. In 2011, Ashton starred in the BBC Christmas show Lapland.[10][11] She also starred as Joyce Carol Vincent in the film Dreams of a Life in the same year, for which she was nominated in the Most Promising Newcomer category at the 2012 British Independent Film Awards.

Ashton was named in May 2010 as one of the "55 faces of the future" by Nylon magazine's Young Hollywood Issue. In October 2012, she was awarded the "Ultimate Newcomer" trophy by Cosmopolitan magazine at their Women of the Year awards.[12] In November 2012 Ashton picked up the Creative Diversity Network Award for Best Breakthrough On-Screen Talent for her role as Vod in the BAFTA-nominated Channel 4 hit Fresh Meat. In 2013 Ashton won a Screen Nation Award for Female Performance in a Film 2012/2013, in recognition of her lead role performance in Dreams of a Life.


Ashton began entering poetry slams at the age of seventeen,[5] and won the London Poetry Slam Championship in 2000.[13] In 2006 she was Young Writer in Residence at the Contact Theatre in Manchester.[13] Her first play, Harm's Way, was shortlisted for the Verity Bargate Award in 2007,[5] and premiered at the Lowry, Salford in 2008 as part of the National Youth Theatre’s new writing season. Her other plays have included Skunk, performed by the National Youth Theatre and Soho Theatre; and She from the Sea, performed in 2010 at the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT).[14] Ashton was co-writer of, Bush Futures Programme. One of her plays, For all Those Women who Thought they were Mad, was selected to be part of the Royal Court Playwriting Festival in 2009.[6][13] Ashton contributed to the writing of The Children's Monologues, adapted from over 300 original stories by Tswana, Zulu and Sesotho children in South Africa and presented by Dramatic Need in 2010. She has worked with the Bush Theatre and the Clean Break theatre company.[8]

Other work

Ashton narrated thirteen episodes of 24 Hours in Police Custody, shown on Channel 4 in 2016 and 2017. She narrated a documentary Public Enemies: Jay-Z vs Kanye for the same channel in 2017.

In 2017, Ashton presented the third series of Random Acts, Channel 4's short film showcase in association with Arts Council England. Episode 2 included a film directed by Ashton, in which she took the lead role.[15][16]


Year Title Role Venue
2007 Othello by William Shakespeare Bianca The Globe (London)[17]
2007 Rhinoceros by Eugène Ionesco Daisy Royal Court, (London)[18]
2007 The Arsonists by Max Frisch Anna Royal Court (London)[19]
2007 The Cage by Deborah Gearing Nicola Nuffield Theatre (Southampton)[20]
2008 Gone Too Far! by Bola Agbaje Armani Royal Court (London)[21]
2008 The Front Line by Ché Walker Casey The Globe (London)[22]
2009 All The Little Things We Crushed by Joel Horwood Zoe Almeida Theatre (London)[23]
2009 This Wide Night by Chloë Moss Marie Soho Theatre (London)[24]
2010 Salome by Oscar Wilde Salome Curve Theatre (Leicester)[25]
2012 Here by Michael Frayn Cath Rose Theatre (Kingston, London)[26]
2015 Splendour by Abi Morgan Gilma Donmar Warehouse (London)[27][28]
2016 The Maids by Jean Genet Claire Trafalgar Studios (London)[29]
2018 The Hardest Rain by Zawe Ashton (Part of the One Voice series of monologues) n/a The Old Vic (London)[30]
2019 Betrayal by Harold Pinter Emma Harold Pinter Theatre (London)[31]; Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (New York) [32]
2019 For All the Women Who Thought They Were Mad by Zawe Ashton n/a Hackney Showroom (London)[33]; Soho Repertory Theatre (New York)[34]



Year Title Role Notes
2009 St. Trinian's II: The Legend of Fritton's Gold Bianca
2011 Blitz WPC Elizabeth Falls
Weekender Sarah
Dreams of a Life Joyce Vincent
2016 Nocturnal Animals Alex
2018 Greta Alexa Hammond
2019 Velvet Buzzsaw Josephina


Year Title Role Notes
1995 Game On Little Girl
1 episode
2003 Holby City Abigail Meredith 1 episode
2007 Mobile Eyewitness 1 episode
2008 The Bill Becka Adams 1 episode
2009 Casualty Gina 1 episode
2010 Sherlock Sally Donavan 1 episode (unaired pilot)
2010 Misfits Jessica 1 episode
2011–2013 Case Histories Deborah Arnold 8 episodes
2011–2016 Fresh Meat Violet "Vod" Nordstrom Main cast
30 episodes
2011 Lapland Jingle Jill 1 episode
2014 Doctor Who Journey Blue 1 episode (Series 8 Episode 2: "Into the Dalek")
2015 Not Safe For Work Katherine Lead character
6 episodes
2015 The Devil You Know Shony Tales 1 pilot episode (HBO)[35]
2017 Guerrilla Omega
2017 Sarah & Duck Hairdresser 1 episode (Series 3 Episode 21: "Hair Cut")
2018 Wanderlust Claire Pascal TV series


  1. Gilbert, Gerard (29 September 2012). "Zawe Ashton: 'The views expressed here are not my own'". The Independent. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  2. "Zawe Ashton | 8 Minutes With The Pool | Women We Love". The Pool. 17 August 2017. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  3. Adewummi, Bim (4 November 2013). "Fresh Meat's Zawe Ashton, AKA Vod, is the coolest thing on TV right now". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  4. Heawood, Sophie (16 January 2016). "'I always play extreme characters': Zawe Ashton on life after Fresh Meat". The Guardian.
  5. Williams, Karla (June 2009). "ATN Interview with Zawe Ashton, The Frontline". Afridiziak Theatre News. Retrieved 17 August 2009.
  6. Bourke, Kevin (28 March 2008). "Into Harm's Way". City Life. Retrieved 17 August 2009.
  7. Szalai, Georg (7 November 2017). "Toni Collette Leads Cast of BBC, Netflix's 'Wanderlust'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  8. Zawe Ashton | Features | Screen Retrieved on 17 August 2009.
  9. "Full Casting for Recently Completed 'Blitz'". 13 October 2009.
  10. "BBC One commissions new six part comedy series, Lapland". BBC. BBC Online. 4 October 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  11. Catherine Morshead (director), Rosemary McGowan (producer) (24 December 2011). "Lapland (24 December 2011)". Lapland. BBC. BBC One.
  12. Dadds, Kimberley (31 October 2012). "Cosmopolitan Awards: Zawe Ashton shows off her winning assets in daring plunging gown". Daily Mail. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  13. Agency Listing - Zawe Ashton The Rod Hall Agency Limited. Retrieved on 17 August 2009.
  14. "LIFT 2010 leaflet" (PDF). Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  15. "Random Acts - Episode Guide". Channel 4. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  16. "Random Acts". Arts Council England. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  17. "Othello / Shakespeare's Globe". Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  18. Billington, Michael (28 September 2007). "Theatre review: Rhinoceros / Royal Court, London". the Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  19. Benedict, David (14 November 2007). "The Arsonists". Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  20. "THE CAGE - deborah gearing - playwright". Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  21. Billington, Michael (29 July 2008). "Gone Too Far!". the Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  22. "The FrontLine". 8 June 2016. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  23. Joel Horwood
  24. Gardner, Lyn (27 November 2009). "This Wide Night - Theatre review". the Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  25. Hickling, Alfred (13 May 2010). "Salome - Theatre review". the Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  26. Billington, Michael (30 April 2012). "Here – review". the Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  27. Billington, Michael (5 August 2015). "Splendour review – Abi Morgan puts four women in the firing line". the Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  28. "Splendour (Donmar Warehouse)". Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  29. Billington, Michael (1 March 2016). "The Maids review – Uzo Aduba is ferocious in Genet's lost landmark". the Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  30. "Monologues, Storytelling and the Science of Generosity - The Old Vic". Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  31. "Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox cast in Betrayal with Tom Hiddleston | WhatsOnStage". Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  32. "Betrayal Arrives on Broadway with Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton & Charlie Cox | Broadway.Com". Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  33. "For All the Women Who Thought They Were Mad -". 20 February 2018. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  34. Clement, Olivia (4 September 2019). "Soho Rep. Unveils 2019–2020 Season". Playbill. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  35. Lazarus, Susanna (15 March 2015). "Karen Gillan, Damien Molony and Zawe Ashton join new HBO series from OITNB creator". Radio Times. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
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