October 5, 1975
Parminder Nagra was a British actress who first rose to prominence on stage and TV in her native England, before breaking out in a charming indie film sleeper hit, before becoming a familiar face in both movies and TV on the other side of the pond. Born October 5, 1975 in Leicester, England, Nagra was the eldest of four children born to two Sikh factory workers who emigrated from India's Punjab region in the early 1960s. She first became interested in performing while attending comprehensive school at Soar Valley College, where she played viola in the school orchestra and appeared in school plays. After graduation, she was approached by her former drama teacher, Jez Simons, who offered her a position in Haithizi Productions, a Leicester-based theatre company. Her first onstage appearance was to be in the chorus of the musical "Nimai" at the Leicester Haymarket Theater, but a week into rehearsals, the lead actress dropped out, and Simons picked Nagra as the new lead. Following this early success, Nagra decided to eschew university studies, and moved to London to pursue a professional acting career. She soon snagged the title role in a pantomime production of "Sleeping Beauty" at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. This landed her an agent, and in 1996, Nagra made her TV debut in an episode of the medical drama "Casualty" (BBC One, 1986-). She continued to work extensively on stage, appearing in productions such as "Skeleton" (1997), "Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings & A Funeral" (1998), and "The Square Circle" (1999), earning rave reviews for each. However, her international breakthrough would come in 2002, when she landed the role of Jesminder "Jess" Bhamra, a teenage Sikh who idolizes David Beckham and defies her traditionalist parents in order to pursue a career as a soccer player. Co-starring with fellow soon-to-be superstars Keira Knightley and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and shot on a shoestring budget, "Bend It like Beckham" (2002) was a critical and commercial smash in the UK, before becoming an unexpected sleeper hit in North America, grossing $30 million in the United States alone. The success of "Bend It like Beckham" lead Nagra to a meeting with John Wells, one of the producers of the smash hit medical drama "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009). She was cast as Dr. Neela Rasgotra, and would eventually become the show's longest-serving cast member, appearing on seasons ten through fifteen, including the two-hour series finale in 2009. Nagra remained a fixture on American TV after "ER" ended, landing series regular gigs on the likes of the J.J. Abrams-produced sci-fi drama "Alcatraz" (Fox, 2012), the suspense thriller procedural "The Blacklist" (NBC, 2013-), and the teen suicide drama "13 Reasons Why" (Netflix, 2017-). Nagra next appeared in Netflix's surprise horror hit "Bird Box" (2018).