Thuso Mbedu: From out of work to Emmy nominee

Johannesburg - In the past few years, Thuso Mbedu has quietly crept on to our TV screens and stealthily smacked viewers in the face with her subtle yet powerful acting skills, going on to grab the attention of critics and industry folks around the world.

Her most recent role as Winnie in Mzansi Magic’s drama series Is’thunzi landed her a 2017 Emmy Award nomination for best performance by an actress. Last week, she was nominated for an SA Film and Television Award in the Best Actress in a TV Drama category.

“Our industry is full of extremely talented individuals, so to be recognised is great because it affirms that I’m on the right track. It also pushes me to work even harder so that each role I play is better than the next,” she says.

With two seasons in the bag, fans describe Is’thunzi as one of the better productions on our screens.

The story line follows Winnie as she leads her diverse crew of “ninjas” – Londi (Zikhona Bali), Noxolo (Yolanda Kgaka) and Thishiwe (Makgotso M) – as they try to find their way through the obstacle course that is life.

Stuck in the rural town of Phelumoya, where hopes and dreams go to die, the streetwise and ambitious Winnie refuses to give in to hopelessness. Even after her fairy tale goes awry and she is ostracised by the town for driving her best friend’s mother to “suicide”, her never-say-die attitude keeps her going.

While pursuing their dreams, the ninjas form a bond of sisterhood that becomes both their strength and weakness. They mature in ways that far exceed their own and their viewers’ expectations.

About lessons learnt from Winnie, Mbedu says: “That we can never judge the next person. We are all different and have different life experiences that mould us into who we are and who we become, and affect the choices we make.”

She was cast as Winnie after struggling for six months to find work. By the time she walked into the audition, she was on the verge of giving up. And her recent success, she says, hasn’t made her immune to receiving a hard-to-swallow no when it comes to auditioning for new projects.

Victoriously finding her way through life despite blows such as losing her mother to a brain tumour at the age of four, Mbedu told #Trending that she attributed her confidence to being determined to learn to love herself for who she is.

“Being dark-skinned, you go through the typical phases of not feeling pretty enough. But you grow up and realise that there are so many versions of beauty and that, if I try to subscribe to only one version, I will never truly be happy with my looks.

“Reading a lot has also contributed to me discovering who I am ... Through reading, one is exposed to vast and different worlds, experiences and stories from people in all walks of life.”

Viewers will remember Mbedu for her roles as Boni Khumalo in Saints and Sinners, Nosisa in Isibaya and Kitso Medupe in Scandal! 

Having received her performance training at Wits, where she graduated with honours, she says Winnie is her most challenging role to date.

“Winnie Bhengu is feisty and unapologetic. She is a mercurial problem-solver who adapts easily and does not let circumstances determine the course of her future. She will do whatever it takes to get where she needs to be, but she still cares about the wellbeing of the next person. She makes outsiders and the rejected feel welcome and loved. She is a true leader and friend.”

About the privileges her male peers enjoy in the industry, she says: “Male opinions seems to have a higher value. They get paid more, but, most importantly, they are able to play different roles in multiple productions simultaneously and not be told that they are ‘everywhere.’”

(Photos: Supplied/City Press)

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