Vanessa Nt­lapo takes off the gloves and re­veals how she got fight­ing fit to star in box­ing drama Jab.

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When 19-year-old boxer Bee Sondlo’s ( Vanessa Nt­lapo) fam­ily is about to be evicted from their home in Langa in Cape Town, she en­ters the world of sports gam­bling and pro­fes­sional fight­ing. But like Sylvester Stal­lone’s hit box­ing drama movie Rocky (1976), Jab isn’t “a story about box­ing or win­ning; it’s about the courage to fight – in life and in the ring,” ex­plains Jab writer-pro­ducer Lu­cilla Blanken­berg. She drew on her own years of ex­pe­ri­ence train­ing as a kick­boxer at the Ot­tery Youth Cen­tre in Cape Town, where Jab was filmed, to tell Bee’s story. Play­ing Bee has been 23-year-old Vanessa’s tough­est fight to date, but the act­ing new­comer tack­led it like a champ.


If you’re watch­ing sea­son 2 of Traf­fic! (2014- cur­rent) on e.tv on Tues­day at 21:05, you might’ve seen Vanessa play­ing preg­nant school­girl Zanele. “I had three episodes and then they killed me off,” she says. Jab is her se­cond TV role and she went for it de­spite hav­ing no box­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “I’m an ad­ver­tis­ing ac­count exec. Be­tween my 9-to-5 and go­ing to cast­ings, I try to bal­ance the two,” the lively and con­fi­dent Vanessa re­veals. “It was daunting to think of the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing a boxer but fun as well. It’s so kick-ass and it would be so cool.” But while we meet Bee when she is al­ready a great boxer, Vanessa was start­ing from less than scratch.


“I wasn’t even at ba­sic fit­ness level,” she ad­mits. “My fit­ness level was at mi­nus 10%. I don’t go to gym and I hadn’t done any sports since I left high school. Af­ter I got the call, I started get­ting ex­cited about it… then I went into panic mode.” So un­til the film­ing started, Vanessa com­bined her in­tense train­ing and diet rou­tine with her day job. And yes, that was tough. “I went from ex­treme junk eat­ing with lots of fizzy cold- drinks to six meals a day of pro­tein and good carbs. I’d do my 9-to-5 and then they’d pick me and I’d go to gym ev­ery day and train for two hours and get home at eight or nine, eat and pass out – all for about two weeks be­fore I came to set.” Good thing her com­pany granted her a two-month sab­bat­i­cal while she filmed!


Vanessa de­scribes her first train­ing bout with Lu­cilla with great hi­lar­ity. “It’s easy punch­ing some­one – well, not easy be­cause you feel bad half the time – but tak­ing a punch is dif­fi­cult. I re­mem­ber my first time in the ring, af­ter about two weeks of train­ing, was with Lu­cilla. She just went com­pletely crazy and went into full-on box­ing mode. I lit­er­ally ran out the ring. I was like, ‘I’m un­der at­tack!’ So I went from de­fend­ing my­self to just run­ning. I was like, ‘What the heck?’ Ev­ery­one laughed. I felt gen­uinely threat­ened. The very first punch I took landed on my fore­head and I felt like my brain shook. It’s a re­ally weird feel­ing.”


But in learn­ing to box for the se­ries, Vanessa picked up the same spirit Bee re­veals through­out Jab. “I feel like I’ve re­ally trans­formed from be­ing a very girly girl who wouldn’t punch peo­ple or take punches, to be­ing some­one who en­joys be­ing in the ring,” she says. “I’m more con­fi­dent now. It has made me fo­cus not on the outer parts but on the in­ner parts of me. It teaches you dis­ci­pline. It teaches you phys­i­cal strength, in­ner strength and con­fi­dence. It’s a life les­son: you take the punch and you move on. You’re bruised but you will be fine by next week. It’s life.”

Get­ting into box­ing shape was a blood, sweat and tears work­out

for ac­tress Vanessa Nt­lapo.

The punches fly in the

new drama se­ries.

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