#parent | #kids | How Alison Wright went from being adopted by parents in Sunderland to megahit show Snowpiecer


There are few Hollywood stars who have had to overcome such tragic circumstances at the start of their life as Snowpiercer actress Alison Wright.  

The 44-year-old, from Sunderland, came from humble beginnings having been adopted as a baby and raised by a single mother Maureen after her adopted father and sister drowned in a tragic boating accident.

Through sheer determination and talent, she pursued her lifelong dream of becoming an actress and moved to New York in her twenties.

It wasn’t until she was in her late 30s that she finally caught her big break, starring in hit show Sneaky Pete and even earning an Emmy nomination for her role as Martha Hanson in The Americans.

Now, Alison’s rising star is on the up-and-up, with the actress currently starring in hit Netflix show Snowpiercer, with the finale to the second season airing last night. 

She plays hospitality worker Ruth Wardell in the series, which concerns an enormous train that carries what’s left of humanity in a continuous race around an Earth beset by a new Ice Age.

There are few Hollywood stars who have had to overcome such tragic circumstances at the start of their life as Snowpiercer actress Alison Wright 

Alison came from humble beginnings having been adopted as a baby and raised by a single mother after her adopted father and sister drowned in a tragic boating accident (pictured with her mother as a child around 1983)

Alison came from humble beginnings having been adopted as a baby and raised by a single mother after her adopted father and sister drowned in a tragic boating accident (pictured with her mother as a child around 1983) 

Despite starring in some of Hollywood’s biggest hit-shows, Alison has tended to keep tight-lipped about her private life, and rarely shares snaps of friends, family, or partners online.

Adopted as a baby, Alison grew up in Kendal, in the Lake District, before tragedy struck when she was just a toddler.

Her adopted sister and father drowned in a boating accident, leaving her an only child with a single mother.

She now credits the adoption with leading her into a career in acting.   

It wasn't till 2013 that Alison made her big break after landing a role in the FX period spy drama series The Americans (pictured), for which she was Emmy nominated

 It wasn’t till 2013 that Alison made her big break after landing a role in the FX period spy drama series The Americans (pictured), for which she was Emmy nominated 

Now, Alison's rising star is on the up-and-up, with the actress currently starring in hit Netflix show Snowpiercer, with the finale to the second season airing last night

Now, Alison’s rising star is on the up-and-up, with the actress currently starring in hit Netflix show Snowpiercer, with the finale to the second season airing last night 

The down-to-earth actress, pictured here visiting Lindisfarne, maintains a close connection to the North East and returns to the region often to visit family and friends

The down-to-earth actress, pictured here visiting Lindisfarne, maintains a close connection to the North East and returns to the region often to visit family and friends 

Speaking out about being adopted during an interview in 2017, she told NPR: ‘There is no doubt in my mind that I would not be sitting here today had I not been adopted.’

The tragedy of Alison Wright’s childhood  

Adopted as a baby, Alison grew up in Kendal, in the Lake District, before tragedy struck when she was just a toddler. 

Her adopted sister and father drowned in a boating accident when she was just two-years-old, leaving her an only child with a single mother. 

Her mother remarried, and the family ended up moving to Sunderland. 

She has since found closure about the adoption, revealing in 2017: ‘It was something that was always a dark cloud hanging over me my whole life and it turned out that it didn’t need to be.’

She went on to call it ‘a miracle’, adding: ‘You know, it all turned out to be a very positive experience for me. It did come full circle for me.’

The actress said she has a great relationship with her birth family now, adding: ‘It was something that was always a dark cloud hanging over me my whole life and it turned out that it didn’t need to be.

‘I did come to get the closure and learn that it was indeed a miracle in my situation.’

By the time she was four, she had been signed up to a local tap-dancing class and was acing dancing exams.  

At the age of five, her mother Maureen remarried and the family moved to Sunderland.  

She has also spoken out on how much growing up in the North East means to her, telling Vanity Fair: ‘I grew up in the northeast of England in a city that was built on shipbuilding, which disappeared at a certain point with the industrialization, and then coal mining—which was also privatized and then wiped out in the 1980s when I was a child.

‘I had a real sense of unions and unemployment and striking and poverty and uncertain future.’

Her mother worked as a home-care and in-care assistant who looked after the elderly and those with disabilities, while hew father was an accountant. 

She signed up to Elsa Wilkins Dance School in Sunderland, where she practiced four times a week. 

Alison, who was adopted as a baby, credits the adoption with leading her into a career in acting and has called her success 'a miracle'

Alison, who was adopted as a baby, credits the adoption with leading her into a career in acting and has called her success ‘a miracle’ 

The actress made her film debut in comedy drama The Nanny Diaries, which starred Scarlett Johansson and Laura Linney, in 2007,

 The actress made her film debut in comedy drama The Nanny Diaries, which starred Scarlett Johansson and Laura Linney, in 2007,

At the age of 11, she auditioned for a role in a dramatic play called The Fifteen Streets, where she won the role as a ragtag kid.

After high school, she studied musical theater at Newcastle College for two years before moving to the US to become a Hollywood star. 

She moved to New York in 1998 where she enrolled in the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, whose alumni included Marilyn Munroe, Angelina Jolie and Barbara Streisand.  

Hustling to make her ambitions a reality, she began working as a waitress while auditioning for roles.   

Alison finally quit her job as a waitress to become a full-time actor months before she landed the pilot for her break-out role in The Americans

Alison finally quit her job as a waitress to become a full-time actor months before she landed the pilot for her break-out role in The Americans 

The actress made her film debut in comedy drama The Nanny Diaries, which starred Scarlett Johansson and Laura Linney, in 2007, before landing roles in off-Broadway shows  Rafta, Rafta… and Marie and Bruce.  

The rise of Alison Wright

July 1976 – Alison Wright was born and adopted

1978 – Adopted father and sister die in a tragic drowning accident in Kendal

1979 – Begins taking dance lessons 

1981 – Her mother remarries and the family move to Sunderland 

1987 – Lands the part of ‘ragtag kid’ in a play in Newcastle called The Fifteen Streets  

1987-1998 – Studies at high school in North East before specialising in Musical Theater at Newcastle College 

1998 – Moves to New York aged 22 and studies at Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute

1998-2007- Works as a waitress while auditioning for roles 

2007 – Makes her film debut opposite Scarlett Johansson  in The Nanny Diaries 

2007-2013 – Lands small film roles and theatre gigs while working as an actress

2013 – Quits working as a waitress to pursue acting full time, lands her big break in The Americans 

2015 – Lands role in Sneaky Pete

2016 – Stars in The Accountant and Confirmation 

2017 – Earns Emmy Award nomination for Sneaky Pete and makes Broadway debut 

2018 – Lands role in Ask for Jane and stars as Emilia in Othello 

2020 – Stars in Netflix hit Snowpiercer  

Speaking to Absolute Music Chat, she said she ‘worked her a** off’, revealing: ‘I have always worked to support myself.’

She revealed: ‘ At one point I was doing a play Off- Broadway with Marisa Tomei, and working at a restaurant during the day.’

It wasn’t till 2013 that Alison made her big break after landing a role in the FX period spy drama series The Americans. 

She explained: ‘I only quit the day job a few months before I got the pilot for The Americans.’ 

She starred as Martha Hanson, a lonely FBI secretary who is manipulated into spying for the Russians,and eanred high critical praise before she was promoted to a series regular in the second season. 

Speaking of the role, she called it ‘career-changing’, telling Vulture: ‘It’s wonderful, every room I walk into for auditions or meetings, 99 percent of people are big fans of the show. 

‘Everybody in the business watches it and respects it. So regardless of our numbers and all those things that they measure, it’s a really admired show, and it’s great to be on a winning team.’

By 2015 she was also starring as opposite Giovanni Ribisi as Marjorie in the crime drama series Sneaky Pete, written by Bryan Cranston, which aired on Amazon Prime.   

In 2016, her career kicked up a gear and she starred as Justine in the action thriller film The Accountant and as Virginia Thomas in the HBO political thriller film Confirmation.

The following year, Alison earned a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for a guest appearance in The Americans fifth season, losing out to Alexis Bledel in The Handmaiden’s Tale. 

Meanwhile she made her Broadway debut as Jessie in the play Sweat, which opened at Studio 54.

By 2018, she was juggling on-going work on Sneaky Pete with a starring role as Ada in the historical drama film Ask for Jane, and as Emilia in a stage production of the Shakespearean tragedy play Othello at Delacorte Theater.

Finally, 13 years after she first appeared on screen, she landed a a starring role in the TNT post-apocalyptic dystopian thriller series Snowpiercer. 

The series is based on the 2014 film of the same name, written and directed by Bong Joon Ho and adapted from the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige.

The first season is set seven years after the entire world has turned into a frozen wasteland.

The only survivors left on Earth reside on a perpetual motion train known as Snowpiercer, with 1001 cars, that circles the globe.

By 2015 she was also starring as opposite Giovanni Ribisi as Marjorie in the crime drama series Sneaky Pete, written by Bryan Cranston, which aired on Amazon Prime

By 2015 she was also starring as opposite Giovanni Ribisi as Marjorie in the crime drama series Sneaky Pete, written by Bryan Cranston, which aired on Amazon Prime

The actress has called her role in the hit show The Americans 'career-changing' and said the experience had been 'wonderful' (pictured, at a red carpet event in 2019)

The actress has called her role in the hit show The Americans ‘career-changing’ and said the experience had been ‘wonderful’ (pictured, at a red carpet event in 2019) 

Snowpiercer was the #1 new cable program of 2020 when it debuted on TNT in May with 3.3 million viewers across both TNT and TBS.  

The series premiere was TNT’s largest debut since the 2018 bow of The Alienist, with Snowpiercer amassing 32 million viewers across all of the network’s platforms. 

The first season explored the themes of class warfare, social injustice and the politics of survival.

Finally, 13 years after she first appeared on screen, Alison landed a a starring role in the TNT post-apocalyptic dystopian thriller series Snowpiercer

Finally, 13 years after she first appeared on screen, Alison landed a a starring role in the TNT post-apocalyptic dystopian thriller series Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer was the #1 new cable program of 2020 when it debuted on TNT in May with 3.3 million viewers across both TNT and TBS (pictured with fellow cast member David Diggs)

Snowpiercer was the #1 new cable program of 2020 when it debuted on TNT in May with 3.3 million viewers across both TNT and TBS (pictured with fellow cast member David Diggs) 

The cast is lead by Daveed Diggs as Layton, who emerged at the end of Season 1 as the train’s new leader.

Sean Bean also stars as Mr. Wilford, with Jennifer Connelly ass Melanie, Rowan Blanchard as Alexandra, revealed to be Melanie’s daughter, and now Wilford’s new protege.

And it seems that Snowpiercer won’t be the end of the success for the jobbing actress, with a starring role coming up in short film Biscuit.

While it is unknown if Alison has a partner, her Instagram is full of snaps of her adorable puppy Luigi 

The down-to-earth actress continues to maintain a close connection to the North East and returns to the region often to visit family and friends.

And while it’s unknown if  Alison has a partner, her Instagram page is full of snaps of her adorable puppy Luigi. 

Speaking to Vanity Fair in 2017, Alison revealed she feels her star  is ‘just coming up’ in Hollywood rather than being ‘out to pasture.’   



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