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.

Bona - - Upfront & Personal - Pho­tog­ra­phy by Jurie Pot­gi­eter

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.

STAND­ING FIRM

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.

LOOK­ING AHEAD

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.

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