Leleti sinks her teeth into telenovela role

2015-01-18 17:00

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The journey back to her hometown of KwaMashu has proven to be surprisingly challenging for actress Leleti Khumalo – both professionally and emotionally.

Khumalo, a veteran in the industry, feels torn between the role of actress and playing mother on set.

“?...?because of the new blood on set I find myself giving guidance and paying back all that I can to the new talents,” she laughingly says as she chats to City Press over the phone from Durban.

Khumalo shot to fame in the 90s when she played the iconic role of Sarafina, later starring alongside Whoopi Goldberg, Miriam Makeba and John Kani in the movie adaptation.

Fast forward 23 years and there’s no denying Khumalo is a superstar following her work on radio, in Hollywood flicks like Hotel Rwanda and Yesterday, and even a role on local soapie Generations.

Yet now that she’s back on screen for the new SABC telenovela Uzalo, after taking two years off to raise her children, Khumalo is rediscovering how difficult it is to be “in front of the camera again” – having first cut her teeth in theatre.

“The process has not been easy. It’s been challenging but in a good way.”

But it seems the biggest challenge for Khumalo has come from her return to KwaMashu, which has pushed her as an actress into unexplored terrain emotionally.

“It has not been easy to be shooting at home,” Khumalo says.

She’s frank about the criticism she has received from Uzalo producer Duma Ndlovu.

“Most of the characters are from KwaMashu but I remember the other day Duma said he doesn’t feel the essence of uLeleti wa KwaMashu,” she says as she tries to express the challenge of finding the character of the young Zulu girl who grew up in the KwaZulu-Natal township.

The actress initially missed the auditions for Uzalo.

However, the show quickly found her a spot on the cast and now Khumalo will be playing Zandile Mdletshe on the 300 episodes of Uzalo.

Khumalo plays the wife of a pastor, Zandile, alongside Isibaya actor Bheki Mkhwane, who plays the role of a God-fearing patriarch and church leader.

“I feel I was meant to be part of this show,” she says. “How else do you explain the call after being told I had missed the auditions, only to receive a call that said I could still be part of the show?”

But despite the producers bending over backwards to include her, Khumalo is aware of her shortcomings when it comes to television.

“For me theatre will forever remain my first love, followed by film, then TV. With theatre there is no time to falter: you only have one chance and there is no time to correct your mistake. It is that cut-throat, but I still love it.

“I am still not comfortable with acting on TV – even with so many years of experience, I still get nervous,” she confesses.

Her self-criticism, however, is due to a deep sense of responsibility – and gratitude – towards her audience.

“For me, the greatest satisfaction lies in having contributed to bringing about a true reflection of the life of the people of KwaMashu?...?it is a responsibility I carry with me every day as we try to give South Africans a show that is both authentic and reflective of their everyday struggles.”

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