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He gained further recognition for his roles in Gladiator (2000), In America (2004), Blood Diamond (2006), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Furious 7 (2015).

He has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and two Academy Awards.

In 2004, Hounsou was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for In America, making him the fourth African male to be nominated for an Oscar.

In 2006, he won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Blood Diamond; he received Broadcast Film Critics Association, Screen Actors Guild Award, and Academy Award nominations for this performance.

He emigrated to Lyon in France at the age of thirteen with his brother, Edmond.

Soon after arriving in France, Hounsou dropped out of school and became homeless for a time.

A chance meeting with a photographer led to Hounsou being introduced to fashion designer Thierry Mugler, who encouraged Hounsou to pursue a modeling career.Hounsou's film debut was in the 1990 Sandra Bernhard film Without You I'm Nothing.