Terry Pheto leads the film stars of 2015

Without much fan­fare, and with­out any drama, Terry Pheto has had an amaz­ing year, one she says she couldn’t have imag­ined would be so good. In an early morn­ing call from New York City, she tells Gugulethu Mh­lungu all about it

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It’s been rather fab to watch Terry Pheto qui­etly slay­ing 2015. As the year rounds off, she stands out as one of the bright­est stars in our film in­dus­try. This was the year she truly spread her wings.

Terry the Emmy ju­ror

Pheto (34) is one of the most gen­er­ous in­ter­vie­wees any journo can get. She’s cour­te­ous, keeps time, and is lively and warm – even when ex­hausted and jet-lagged.

It’s 4am New York time when we chat, a few hours af­ter the 2015 In­ter­na­tional Emmy Awards cer­e­mony.

“I haven’t slept ... We came back from the awards; I was so hyped and then I re­alised it was 4am,” says the star, who looked fan­tas­tic in a black Erre Fash­ion en­sem­ble.

Ahead of the awards, it was re­vealed that Pheto was one of the ju­rors who chose the win­ners – a big se­cret she had to keep for months.

“I was ap­proached at the be­gin­ning of the year, and I re­ally didn’t ex­pect it. It’s still such a great hon­our and priv­i­lege be­cause I still con­sider my­self to be up and com­ing – and here I was, of­fered the huge op­por­tu­nity to work with peo­ple I re­ally ad­mire.”

Pheto says that al­though she was a lit­tle ner­vous, she wasn’t too in­tim­i­dated by the process of judg­ing global con­tent.

“I sat on the SA Film and Tele­vi­sion Awards jury panel some years ago, so I am fa­mil­iar with the ad­ju­di­ca­tion process ... But of course, one of the key dif­fer­ences here is you are look­ing at work from around the world ... It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to see what other coun­tries are do­ing ... It was re­ally great and I would do it again.”

Terry the style icon

While Pheto was in New York last Sun­day, the 2015 SA Style Awards were hosted at Hyde Park. They hon­oured lo­cal per­son­al­i­ties and in­di­vid­u­als deemed style icons, and she was one of those named.

She laughs. “Wow, that was amaz­ing, and I will keep my dresses steamed and my hair brushed,” she jokes.

“But se­ri­ously, I love fash­ion, I love beau­ti­ful things, and I love beau­ti­ful peo­ple, so I am very glad to have been given the award, and to have some­thing I love earn me recog­ni­tion. I love that you can use fash­ion to tell a story, such as in film, where wardrobe is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant.”

Pheto, who burst on to the act­ing scene in the Os­car-win­ning Tsotsi, says she uses her pro­file and in­vi­ta­tions to high­light young South African de­sign­ers.

“I love be­ing able to give some­one a chance to show­case his or her work to a new and big­ger au­di­ence,” says the star, who wore a blue African-print shift dress by lo­cal man­u­fac­turer Char­lie Ir­ish (lead­ing to mas­sive de­mand for the dress) at the Los An­ge­les Film Fes­ti­val ear­lier this year.

There she met Ava DuVer­nay (di­rec­tor of the award­win­ning Selma. DuVer­nay also picked up Ayanda, a film Pheto co-pro­duced, for dis­tri­bu­tion in the US). Pheto also wore a red num­ber by Gert-Jo­han Coet­zee at the week-long fes­ti­val.

She cer­tainly walks the love-lo­cal-fash­ion talk. She wore a pur­ple David Tlale gown to the lo­cal pre­mier of Ayanda, is a lover of Thula Sindi’s gar­ments, and is of­ten spot­ted in Kisua and Qui­te­ria & Ge­orge on the red car­pet. She’s also graced the cov­ers of on­line mag­a­zines Pre­v­i­dar and Style Africa this year.

She says she of­ten wishes she could wear ball­go­wns, as some women used to do in the 20s, “and just be in heels – but some­times, be­cause I am a pro­ducer, I must leave my heels at home and do my run­ning around. Although I am one of those peo­ple who can ac­tu­ally run in heels,” she jokes.

Ear­lier this year, Pheto was re­vealed as one of the new am­bas­sadors for lux­ury whisky brand John­nie Walker, adding an­other ac­co­lade to her ever-grow­ing CV.

Terry the film pro­ducer

Last year, Pheto launched her com­pany, Lead­ing Lady Pro­duc­tions. The first project she be­came in­volved with was Sara Blecher’s Pan-African fam­ily drama, Ayanda, which, like Pheto, has had a good year.

“I have been lucky enough to be part of screen­ings and Q&As about the film here [in the US] and they love it. What’s also been in­ter­est­ing is see­ing the dif­fer­ent re­sponses in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, be­cause peo­ple will re­spond to dif­fer­ent things, laugh at dif­fer­ent times, ex­press emo­tions at some­thing that may not have come up with other au­di­ences...”

Pheto says the movie is im­por­tant be­cause it is com­plex and of­fers young women an al­ter­na­tive role model in the form of Ayanda, played by young ac­tress Fulu Mogu­vhani, who de­cides to be a me­chanic, a job still con­sid­ered “not for girls”.

“The story hasn’t been seen be­fore and it was time for it. It is a beau­ti­ful story of growth, and I think it has res­onated so much be­cause it is hon­est and, when you tell a tale with sin­cer­ity, peo­ple will con­nect with it ... Ayanda is a role model. She shows young girls you can be what­ever you want to be. It is a com­plex story that deals with love and the loss of things we want, and the peo­ple we love; de­nial, sec­ond chances, lone­li­ness ... All the things that make the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. [It’s all told] through the eyes and life of this young woman, who is un­like any­thing we’ve seen be­fore. She is sexy with­out be­ing sex­u­alised. She’s driven, and we don’t see that a lot. She has crazy hair, works with her hands; she’s de­ter­mined ... We need more Ayan­das.” Next year will be the 10th an­niver­sary of Tsotsi. “I don’t know what we’re do­ing yet, but there will def­i­nitely be a cel­e­bra­tion!” Pheto says.

Terry the role model

Pheto’s first role model was her mother. “My mother was beau­ti­ful and hard-work­ing, and al­ways found ways to make things hap­pen with the lit­tle she had. She wasn’t for­mally ed­u­cated, but she was very smart, so she in­spired me greatly while I was grow­ing up.”

When I ask her whether she thinks she is a role model, she laughs and says: “I would love to be some­one a young woman can look at and say, ‘I am in­spired by that per­son and their work,’ but I also recog­nise that this role comes with huge re­spon­si­bil­ity. One I won’t say no to.”

Oh, and Terry the ac­tress

It’s easy to for­get Pheto’s pri­mary ca­reer – act­ing – in a year of so many other great achieve­ments. Her lat­est role is in the film A United King­dom star­ring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, who have just emerged from the mas­sive suc­cess of Selma and Gone Girl, re­spec­tively. Film­ing be­gan in Botswana in Oc­to­ber.

“It’s one of the most beau­ti­ful love sto­ries I have read, and I am so ex­cited to see what this film does for Botswana, and also for me. It’s a very pow­er­ful story.”

Directed by Amma Asante, the biopic is based on the true story of Seretse Khama (Oyelowo) – Botswana’s first pres­i­dent – and Ruth Wil­liams (Pike), the young white of­fice worker who be­came his wife and First Lady. Iconic, like Pheto.

You can fol­low Pheto on Twit­ter at @Ter­ryPheto


This year ac­tress and style icon Terry Pheto, seen here in a shoot for Pre­v­i­dar on­line mag­a­zine, added the ti­tles of film pro­ducer and in­ter­na­tional awards ju­ror to her grow­ing list of achieve­ments



Terry Pheto rounds off a great 2015

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