force to reckon with
SAFTA awardwinning and twotime International Emmy-nominated actress Thuso Mbedu (27) chats to Kwanele Mathebula about her apprehensions regarding the entertainment industry.
At first glance Thuso Mbedu seems unfriendly; hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. This is a stark contrast to the ever-laughing and bubbly persona we see on social media. She’s quick to let me know that she’s aware of people perceiving her this way. She describes herself as an introvert, which often comes across as being unapproachable. It’s interesting that once she starts talking, I change my first impression of her – she’s friendly and outspoken. Her breakout role as high school student, Winnie, on Mzansi Magic’s Is’thunzi has established her as one of South Africa’s rising stars. In 2017, at just 26 years old, she earned a nomination for best performance by an actress at the International Emmy Awards. Although she didn’t win, the following year she won the best actress award at the South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA) for the same role. Both recognitions came as a shock to her, especially this early in her career. “It took a while to believe that I was nominated for an Emmy award. And, travelling to Los Angeles in the US was an amazing experience. I have been dedicated to my craft since the beginning of my career, and the nomination confirmed that all I’ve invested was worth it,” she says proudly. In September, Thuso received news that she has been nominated for an International Emmy award for the second time. this is a rare and welcomed feat for the starlet. “Last year, I was told that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, to have it happen again, is humbling. The first nomination was great, but the
second time is sweeter. I am blessed and humbled to be representing South Africa and the talent that it possesses at the awards ceremony,” she says. The actress also shares that although this is a great achievement, she’s still determined to reach her goals.
A couple of days after winning a SAFTA, news of her joining SABC 1 soapie Generations: The Legacy broke, and she wasn’t happy about it. “The SAFTA win was unexpected. So, seeing news headlines about me joining Generations instead of celebrating my achievement was an unpleasant surprise. I did not get to enjoy my victory because it was overshadowed by this,” she recalls. The young actress has had a rocky relationship with the soapie that dates back to her first audition in 2015. “The first time I auditioned was before the 16 cast members were fired. Soon after that, the soapie was renamed Generations: The Legacy, and held auditions to replace them. I stood in solidarity with my fellow actors, and decided not to go to those auditions,” she says. Although she had not auditioned, she still received a callback from the producers. The actress found herself in a predicament as she was offered roles on Scandal! and Generations:
The Legacy at the same time. “When I received both offers, I asked the Generations producers if there was an exclusivity clause in their contract. They said yes, so I turned them down because I was new and didn’t want to commit to one acting job. I then went on to work on Scandal!,” she shares. Earlier this year, Generations: The Legacy reached out to Thuso offering her the role of Okuhle Cele, a young girl from rural KwaZuluNatal. A few months prior to this, she had spent time in Pietermaritzburg, and the experience of being back home motivated her to take the role. “I spent the December holidays with my cousins, and I loved how they spoke Zulu.” She shares that living in Johannesburg has slightly changed the way she speaks the language. And, when the opportunity to play Okuhle came, she jumped at the chance.
But, events took a drastic turn. “I was supposed to be on Generations: The Legacy for four months, but a week into shooting the producers offered to extend my contract to the end of the year. They brought up the exclusivity clause which bound me to appear only on the soapie. I declined because I had already signed on to shooting season 7 of MTV Shuga (a coming of age show about a group of high school students).” Her last appearance on Generations:
The Legacy was in August.
NAVIGATING THE INDUSTRY
Although her career is blossoming, it has not been without challenges. Thuso has been vocal about her struggles, particularly about the casting of untrained people based on their popularity on social media and the entertainment industry. “It’s difficult to watch talented and skilled people that I went to school with not getting hired because of not having a huge social media following. There have been instances on set when untrained performers struggle to deliver what is required for the scene, and hold up the shooting process,” she says. The actress got to a point where she stopped getting angry about it, after realising that her feelings did not contribute towards changing the situation. “I decided that since I noticed the problem, it was my duty to do something about it,” she adds. Whenever a cast member struggled, Thuso would pull them aside and offer assistance because they were likely to be subjected to ill treatment. She does this because she has had guidance from actresses that she worked with
It’s difficult to watch talented and skilled people that I went to school with not getting hired because of not having a huge social media following.
on a drama series, Saints and Sinners. Veteran actresses Nthati Moshesh and Sibulele Gcilitshana have been instrumental in helping her navigate the industry. “They gave me invaluable advice, such as the importance of acting out of passion and not for money and fame,” she says. Her mentors also extended their teachings to other aspects of her life including finances. Thuso recently bought her first home with the assistance of her sister, Noma Mbedu. “My sister has a full-time job, and through her I was able to buy a home, which was a liberating experience,” she says. Furthermore, she also credits her faith for getting her through tough times.
Thuso is currently shooting season 7 of MTV Shuga, after joining the show on season 5. “In this season, we are all grown-up and in university. I am excited to play a role other than that of a high-school student.” She also states that she’s done crying in her roles, as she finds them too predictable. Going forward, she wants storylines that are challenging, and which help educate the youth in a similar way as her role on
MTV Shuga. “I want to tell stories that I believe in, and to start important conversations because I am aware that there are children who are watching me,” she adds. This attitude extends to her social media, which she uses to push her work rather than personal life. “As active as I am on social media, it’s just an extension of my career that allows me to interact with anyone who has questions about my work,” she says. She occasionally deletes her social media accounts when she feels that a break is needed.
After spending an hour with this fascinating star, I relate to a lot of her experiences. Because, as a young woman starting out in a challenging industry, I have faced situations that required me to take bold measures in order to carve out my space in this journalism field. I now recognise that sitting across from me is a reserved woman who is fierce, self-aware and intelligent. I believe that she will stop at nothing to achieve her goals. And as a result, I look forward to seeing her back on our TV screens early next year, and wouldn’t be surprised if we see one of her written works on our small or big screens soon.