The many faces of Win­nie

Pheto’s dream role

CityPress - - Front Page - NTOMBIZODWA MAKHOBA ntombizodwa@city­press.co.za

Terry Pheto is the first South African ac­tress to play strug­gle icon Win­nie Madik­ize­laMan­dela. She will star in a six-hour minis­eries ti­tled Madiba, set to be re­leased early next year. And she has big shoes to fill – not only Madik­izela-Mandela’s, but those of ac­tresses who have pre­vi­ously played her: Amer­i­can Jen­nifer Hud­son and the UK’s Naomie Har­ris.

“I think when you have a dream, it scares you some­times. This is my dream role. It’s a role I’ve al­ways wanted to por­tray,” she says.

Pheto will star along­side US ac­tor Lawrence Fish­burne, who will play Nel­son Mandela.

The six-hour minis­eries is based on two Mandela books, Con­ver­sa­tions with My­self and Nel­son Mandela by Him­self. The story tells of the younger man in the early 1960s, deal­ing with the po­lit­i­cal violence that en­gulfed South Africa.

Madiba will also fea­ture other Mzansi ac­tors: Katlego Danke, Hlomla Dan­dala, Sdumo Mt­shali, and Pal­lance Dladla. Pheto says the Madik­izela-Mandela story needs to be told. “It’s about time for this icon to be recog­nised and her jour­ney ac­knowl­edged.”

For Pheto, this is not just any role. Play­ing Madik­ize­laMan­dela has made her grow both as an ac­tor and a per­son. She ad­mits that be­fore she knew she would get the role, she was al­ready at­tached to the char­ac­ter.

“I’m very lucky to be do­ing what I love. I’m suc­cess­ful be­cause I work hard. When peo­ple see your suc­cess, they think you’re lucky, but there’s a lot of work, dedication and sacri­fice,” she says.

“But there is no greater blessing than wak­ing up ev­ery day and liv­ing your dream.”

Madik­izela-Mandela is fa­mously de­ri­sive of in­ter­na­tional ac­tresses por­tray­ing her. So does Pheto have her blessing?

“Mandela’s grand­son Kweku Mandela is the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the minis­eries. So we’ve got all the bless­ings from her,” she says. Kweku is the grand­son of Mandela’s fist wife, Eve­lyn. Pheto was un­able to spend time with Madik­izela-Mandela be­cause she has not been well for the past few months. She says she was for­tu­nate to meet her in per­son in the past.

“I feel like I’ve spent time with her be­cause, grow­ing up, I knew her po­lit­i­cal work through my grand­mother’s ad­mi­ra­tion of her, and she was the only role model I had.”

Madik­izela-Mandela, she says, is a big in­flu­ence in most women’s lives.

To pre­pare, she says, she read Madik­izela-Mandela’s book and the let­ters she wrote to Madiba. She also watched doc­u­men­taries and in­ter­views with her from the 1960s.

“I was for­tu­nate to have enough ma­te­rial to work with,” she says, but adds that it’s al­ways hard to play some­one who is alive – and so well known.

“You al­ways want to make sure you don’t try to mimic the per­son, but tell her story as sin­cerely as pos­si­ble. One of the hard­est as­pects to nail is her voice. “I could never mimic her; there is only one Win­nie Mandela. I can just try to tell her story the best I can and the way I un­der­stand it. But we do have a di­a­logue coach who makes sure we are con­sis­tent,” she says.

Pheto prefers not to be com­pared with Naomie Har­ris and Jen­nifer Hud­son – her in­ten­tion was never to play the role bet­ter than any­one else.

“What gives me an ad­van­tage is that I’m a South African and I un­der­stand the essence of what makes a South African. Th­ese are unique things other ac­tors didn’t have.

“I took this role with my heart; I have so much re­spect for Mam’ Win­nie. There are very few peo­ple I looked up to and she is one of them. Play­ing her made me re­alise how she sur­vived ev­ery­thing she went through.

“You can­not help but ad­mire her spirit and courage, and how she re­mained poised.”

Pheto says what af­fected her most about Madik­ize­laMan­dela’s life was how lonely it was for so long.

“The only time she saw peo­ple was when she was ha­rassed by po­lice. You can imag­ine as a young bride, your hus­band is in prison and you have to raise two chil­dren alone. I don’t know how many women can sur­vive that.”

PHOTO: FILMMAGIC

Terry Pheto WELL PLAYED US ac­tress Naomie Har­ris as Win­nie Madik­izela-Mandela

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