Zoë Wanamaker was born in New York, but relocated to London with her family after her father Sam Wanamaker (who reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the South Bank) was blacklisted during the McCarthy witch-hunts.
Both her parents were well-known actors. Before Sam’s vision of rebuilding the Globe was realised – it took thirty years – he had an extensive screen and stage career, and also directed a number of films and television series. Zoë’s mother Charlotte Holland was a Canadian actress who forged a successful career in radio. Zoë decided to act after spending a summer in Stratford with her parents, but was discouraged by them as they did not want her to enter an industry full of rejection and fierce competition.
Zoë enrolled the Central School of Speech and Drama and after three years, began working on stage immediately. She became an associate at the National Theatre and a trustee at Shakespeare’s Globe. In the 1960s, she acted as an assistant stage manager at the New Theatre in Bromley, and in the early ‘70s appeared in a number of productions in the north of England and Scotland. This includes a role as Lulu in Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, a production which ran at the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh in 1972.
The 1970s also saw Wanamaker make a break into the realm of television. She is possibly best known for her role as Susan Harper in the popular BBC sitcom My Family. She starred alongside Robert Lindsay and Kris Marshall as the Harper family’s ever-optimistic mother. Her screen work also led to a role in the Harry Potter films. She played Quidditch teacher Madam Hooch in the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
On stage, Wanamaker appeared alongside David Suchet in All My Sons at the Apollo Theatre, and spent three months in New York appearing in the Broadway production of Awake and Sing. Wanamaker returned to the West End stage to play Meg in a revival of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Partyand Constellations at the Vaudeville Theatre.