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
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