AN UNCONVENTIONAL LOVE
Being married to an ITALIAN MAN, motherhood, not following the RULES – MAMPHO BRESCIA shares all.
Most of us have a love-hate relationship with the manipulative villain, Iris Zungu, on the award-winning Mzansi Magic soapie Isibaya. When you meet Mampho Brescia, the talented actress behind the bad girl, you can’t help but wonder if she’s plotting something devious. The 37-year-old portrays Iris with such authenticity that it’s hard to recognise the real person behind the role.
But Mampho is friendly, enigmatic, and a delight to talk to. She’s right on time for our interview at the posh DaVinci Hotel in Sandton. She looks exquisite in a simple faux-fur gilet matched with an over-the-top beanie that clearly reflects her unique style. There’s no way Mampho can blend in with the crowd.
She’s with her manager and husband, Nicola, but he’s not joining us for the interview because he doesn’t compete with his wife for the spotlight. He just wanted to make sure that everything was in order. “A lot of the time I have to do the public thing alone because that’s my space, and Nicola is not interested in this,” says Mampho. When she’s not in the spotlight and the cameras are off, Mampho revels in her home life with her Italian husband and their two-year-old daughter, Rainn.
Classic love story
Mampho’s face lights up when she starts talking about her partner. Sometimes love finds you in unexpected ways and forms, and little did the Soweto-born actress know that love would come to her in the form of an Italian man. Mampho’s love story is like a romance movie: girl meets guy, they fall in love at first sight, and live happily ever after.
Mampho and Nicola met at the gym. The actress says it was unexpected; she was not looking for commitment at the time. “I was pretty young and had just come back from studying in Japan. I was still trying to find my feet and ease back into life at home. As I walked into the gym, Nicola looked at me, and right then he knew he had to talk to me. It was love at first sight. I would normally have been apprehensive, but there was something about his aura, and I couldn’t say no when he asked for my number.
I was surprised when he called the next day asking me out for dinner. He wanted to pick me up, and after refusing several times, I eventually let him have his way. When I saw him waiting in the car, I was enamoured. I was excited to see him,” she says.
“He took my breath away. There was no denying our chemistry. In that moment, I was certain we were going to get married. There was just something so soothing and warm about him. He has this amazing presence and peace about him,” she says, smiling.
On their first date, Mampho asked Nicola about his intentions, proving just how comfortable she was with him. Within three months, they were already discussing marriage. “He was 37 at the time, ready to settle down. Although I was only 25, I was ready for our relationship to progress to the next stage. You feel it when you meet your soulmate, and, quite frankly, age has nothing to do with it. We were happy to be together,” she says.
They were married a year later, but they didn’t do things the conventional way. Nicola’s parents didn’t write a letter to Mampho’s parents asking for their daughter’s hand in marriage, nor did he pay lobola, and there was nothing African or traditional about the wedding.
“I didn’t want to complicate things. My husband didn’t pay lobola, and there were no negotiations with my uncles and family. I didn’t have a problem with that, but obviously not everyone was happy with how things were done. It was not a big deal to me,” Mampho remembers.
“Nicola and I discussed what we wanted for our wedding, for ourselves. We were happy with our decision. We told our parents we wanted to get married and we wanted nothing more or less. We just wanted a simple wedding without external influences.”
Mampho believes culture is learned. “I always question why things have to be done in a certain way. I don’t easily conform to things and traditions just because I’m expected to. Those traditions are not what we wanted for ourselves. We have the right to create
our own culture. I don’t want to be dictated to; I guess I’m a rebel in that regard. But I do respect other people’s cultures and opinions.”
The Sagittarian star explains that there have been many challenges along the way for her. “It has been difficult to be me, because people look at you and think you have no respect, forgetting that these are the choices I make for myself. Even in marriage, I never wanted to compromise myself. I value my individuality and never wanted to be like anyone else. I’m grateful that I have a husband who appreciates and embraces me for who I am.”
Creating our own culture
Just to show that she lives by her own rules, Mampho decided to get married in a red dress – something her family was not prepared for. “My late mother and mom-in-law were not happy when we told them I was getting married in a red dress. All mothers have this perfect picture of what their daughters will wear on their wedding day, and unfortunately I didn’t live up to their expectations. Even though my mom was not happy with that choice, she understood; she allowed me the freedom to be who I wanted to be. She accepted that I was not going to have a traditional wedding. She taught me what she believed in, but as a person you make your own rules and create your own life.
“I also refused to wear a veil, and that did not sit well with my family. I didn’t care about the meaning behind wearing one and had zero interest in wearing it. My husband was supportive. I’ve never believed in conforming to what society deems right or wrong,” she adds.
When asked how people reacted when they saw her wearing a red dress, Mampho says some were obviously shocked, but others expected it because they know she’s never been the traditional type. “Everyone always has something to say, and it doesn’t bother me. We have only this one life to live, and you have to do things that make you happy. We can’t live according to people’s opinions of us.”
The Brescias had the wedding in South Africa, attended by family and friends. She says their unconventional “white wedding ” was one of the most beautiful days of her life. “I remember walking down the aisle towards my husband, and that for me symbolised walking to my destiny. It was deeper than just a mere walk along a path,” she says, sipping her cappuccino.
“The most fulfilling thing about my wedding was both of us saying our vows to each other. It’s such a big commitment and responsibility when you vow to love each other through everything. It becomes so real when you start your life together. Nicola and I wanted the wedding to be about us. Everyone wants to be part of the fairytale and planning of the wedding, but no one is there behind closed doors. It was important for us to create our own culture, our way of how we want things to be done in our family. But, naturally, there were disagreements about what we wanted to do.”
The reality of marriage
Mampho says her opinions about marriage before she got married were influenced by her surroundings, her parents’ divorce and society in general. “We grow up with these societal rules that we have to be married by a certain age, or you will not be respected as a woman. There are so many rules created for women, forgetting that we also have a choice if marriage is not what we want. We also neglect the fact that marriage is constant work and commitment. No one tells us that to stay in love is difficult; you see it with friends and others around you. People don’t tell you the truth about marriage – they sell fantasy. Marriage can be joyous, but it’s also challenging at times. My parents had a terrible divorce, and from that experience I knew I wanted someone who would be an incredible father to my children. I wanted someone I could submit to and honour because of what he puts into the relationship,” she says.
Even though Mampho understands that a happy marriage is a work in progress, she is in a happy place. “Our first year of marriage was bliss. We were in the honeymoon phase for a year. Our love was so easy and uncomplicated.
Jacket, Neville Masondo; Jeans,
Topshop; Heels, Castello.
“But it’s more difficult now because we fight about small things, like how to discipline our daughter, and sometimes get on each others’ nerves. We have this idea of what marriage is, and that it’s perfect, but you get in it and then realise that there are those days when you both annoy each other. But my husband is too smart for me because he just says sorry when he knows I’m picking a fight,” she says with a knowing smile.
Adjusting to new ideas
Today there’s a new family member in the Brescia household, and things have never been the same. Mampho admits her daughter has definitely shifted the way she relates to her husband and their marriage in general.
“So much has changed in our home because there’s now a princess. Rainn’s the new queen of the house. All these years life revolved around me, but not any more, and it’s been interesting to adjust to that. I have also become less selfish, which is a good thing. My precious Rainn has brought so much joy, light, love and fulfilment into our lives. We enjoy spending time with her,” says Mampho.
In the same breath, the actress quickly explains that their little miracle is in her terrible twos, and her dad is finding it difficult to set rules for her and lets her get away with almost anything. “Some days I’ll get home only to find Rainn playing with my make-up, and of course her daddy doesn’t mind. My husband adores our daughter, and she adores him as well. But he is too lenient when it comes to discipline. Unlike him, I’m such a disciplinarian. Rainn gets away with everything, and I tell Nicola that saying ‘no’ doesn’t make him a mean daddy.
“We enjoy doing fun things together as a family like watching cartoons and reading to her. She does a lot of activities with her dad. He has a keen interest in music, so you’ll often find them connecting through music in the studio.” Mampho says the greatest joy in her marriage is witnessing her husband fall in love in his new role as a father. “His transition to fatherhood has been such a joy. It’s always beautiful watching him connect with our daughter,” she says, becoming silent for a few seconds to reflect.
There’s no doubt Mampho is living her dreams and is fulfilled in many ways. Her radiance gives it away. But how does she manage to balance her career and her family? When she’s not shooting, you’ll often see her travelling with her BFF, Terry Pheto (whose Instagram photos we sometimes live vicariously through).
“I’m always on the road; I have endless shoots and am always busy,” says Mampho. It’s important to prioritise your time, and I’m so lucky because I have the most understanding, supportive and compassionate husband. We sit down and discuss how we are going to dedicate time for family. I love working, and right now I can’t imagine myself being a stay-at-home mom. We make time for important things. My husband sacrifices a lot for me. My happiness is his priority.”
Being a celebrity comes with people wanting to know more about you, and many are curious that Mampho has married a man of a different race, despite it being 2015. She reveals that she sometimes gets interesting reactions from people when she’s with her husband. “Yes, I am married to an Italian man, but there’s more to my husband than just being white. I don’t understand why one has to emphasise that I’m married to a white man. He is a human being. Why not regard him as a human being first?” she asks.
“I don’t think it’s such a big deal, though. I’m never shocked when people look at me differently, because throughout my life, I’ve been judged for the choices I make for myself. I get judged for a lot of things – for my obsession with make-up, my life, for this and that. People judge me because they think I have everything in life, but that’s not true.”
With all these misconceptions, Mampho is not fazed by what people think of her. She says she’s grateful to have a partner who loves her wholeheartedly despite all her imperfections. “I’m married to an almost perfect man. He sees me for who I am, supports me, and I feel so cherished by him. Our marriage is a roller-coaster ride for him because I’m pretty unstable. I’m an artist, and when I go to work, every part of me is working. I have to get on set and be someone else and then get home and find myself. Sometimes he wonders which character he is dealing with. One time I came back from work and he wondered if Mampho or Iris just walked into the house. I think to a certain degree he enjoys the craziness and gets a kick out of it,” she laughs.
The sweetness of working together
“Despite my craziness, my husband still loves me for who I am. You have to be with someone who embraces you for the person you are, and be loved for being you. If there’s one thing I have learnt in my marriage, it is that you need to be loved for who you are. You also have to learn to compromise, because life is not all about you. The greatest accomplishment in my marriage is the sweetness of being able to work and function as a unit and not being completely selfish.”
She advises newlyweds to always communicate, saying that it is key in any relationship. “No one really knows the formula, but I do know when there’s a deep sense of respect that goes beyond even love.”
Even though she’s been married for 10 years, Mampho is still excited about the physical side of her relationship. “I’m hoping we can always have great sex,” she says. “I never want that part of our life to be boring.”
I’M MARRIED TO AN ALMOST PERFECT MAN. HE SEES ME FOR WHO I AM, SUPPORTS ME, AND I FEEL SO CHERISHED BY HIM.
Dress, Neville Masondo; Sneakers, Superga.
Shirt, Tik Lee; Skirt, Neville Masondo; Bra, covergirl’s own; Heels, Castello.