Cape Town - Her kids have a long way to go to bridge the gap from toddlers to teens, but Gail Nkoane Mabalane’s latest role is giving her a taste of what’s to come.
The actress is filming scenes for Blood & Water, a new Netflix show that tells the story of 16-year-old Puleng Khumalo, who discovers her older sister was abducted at birth and sets off to unravel the mystery of her missing sibling. Gail (34) had to dig deep for the role.
“I’ve never played a teenager’s mom before, let alone a mother who has more than one child,” she tells DRUM.
“The journey has been particularly exciting because I’ve made that transition in my life. “Although my children aren’t teenagers, I’m getting a glimpse of what to expect. “I just hope they’re a bit easier on me,” she quips.
The actress loves every moment of parenthood. She was last seen in drama series The Imposter and stepped out of the spotlight to raise her two adorable children, Zoe (4) and Khumo (1). But she couldn’t resist the role on the Netflix show, which will be available on the streaming service next year.
The series, directed by award-winner Nosipho Dumisa, also stars Sello Maake KaNcube and Xolile Tshabalala.
“I try to select roles that are different from what I’ve played before, something that’s going to challenge me in a different way,” Gail says.
“I try to go places emotionally that I’ve never been before. That’s the most important thing – the role has to excite me.”
We’re chatting to Gail while she’s taking a break from filming the show, which is being shot in Cape Town. “I’m in Johannesburg every chance I get because my children are so young. Even if it’s for a day, I fly out and make sure I spend time with my family.”
Jetting up and down has been taxing but Gail can always count on the support of her husband, Kabelo Mabalane. The power couple have been happily married for six years and although spending so much time away from her family is tough, she says it helps that Kabelo understands the demands of the entertainment industry.
Her husband has always been her rock and it’s thanks to Kabelo’s support and her faith that Gail was able to open up about her battle with hair loss. Earlier this year she revealed she’d been diagnosed with a type of alopecia.
“A few months ago I went to the salon for a routine hair wash. To my shock, after my wash, a big chunk of my hair was GONE!” she wrote on Instagram.
“Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia was the diagnosis . Simply put . . . a very common cause of alopecia or hair loss in black women.” She’d always had symptoms, she says, but “it was nothing major for me to worry about”.
At first Gail tried self-medicating but eventually sought help for the problem. It was tough to reveal her diagnosis to the world but she was determined to raise awareness about the condition.
“I knew I had to use it as a platform to empower and educate because I know a lot of women who’ve been struggling with hair loss. “Usually we shy away from it, we cover it up and we hide it because we’re scared and embarrassed about it. “I just thought it was important for someone to speak up and call it what it is. The moment you’re able to put a diagnosis or a name to it, people feel a little more comfortable about seeking help as opposed to them being scared because they don’t know what’s happening to them.”
Her diagnosis has led her to redefine what beauty is, she tells us. “It’s important for me to embrace whatever phase I’m going through, and it’s taught me not to find my identity in the way I look, but in how I feel about myself on the inside. “It’s also taught me to teach my daughter, who has beautiful natural hair, to understand that, yes, your hair is beautiful, but it doesn’t define you. You can find your identity in something bigger than that,” she says.
There have been plenty of life-changing events over the past few years for the girl from Kimberley in the Northern Cape. In 2006 her brother, Craig Nkoane, died when he was electrocuted at work. Six months later the family suffered another devastating blow when mom Julie died of complications from the autoimmune disease lupus, leaving behind husband Venus and daughters Gail and Denise.
In 2010 things started looking up for Gail when she auditioned for Idols SA and made it all the way through to the top 10 of the talent show. When she was voted off, she decided to move to Joburg where she later met Kabelo. Gail tried her hand at acting and soon bagged a part in drama series The Wild.
“I knew I wanted to be part of the industry but I wasn’t really clear on how,” she says. “When I entered Idols and acting came from that, for me it was really an opportunity to see how it goes. “I got the role in The Wild with no experience, so I took the opportunity to get an understanding of how the industry works. I grew from that role and developed a love for acting.”
She chuckles when we ask if she’ll pursue a career in music one day.
“I decided a long time ago to just treat one rabbit at a time. Since breaking into the industry I’ve spent so much time focused on acting “I’ve grown in that department and left music in the past. Maybe when the right time presents itself I’ll try music.
“For now I’m really enjoying acting. It’s something I wish to continue building on.” When she’s not working, Gail enjoys spending quality time with her family. Now that she’s flying between cities, the actress says she’s come to appreciate the little things. “One of the things I’ve learnt is to value the quality of time as opposed to the quantity. “When I am home I try my best to always be present and as involved as I can be because sometimes you can be there physically without really being present. “I’m more intentional with the time I have with my family. It’s the little things, like putting the phone away, building a puzzle and sitting down for a coffee with my daughter or going to watch a movie with my husband.”
She lives for her family, but now that Zoe and Khumo are growing up, Gail wants to spend more time honing her craft.
“There’s a saying that sticks with me: consistency is always better than speed. “It doesn’t always matter how quick you get to your destination as long as you’re consistent in your pursuit towards it. “Just stay consistent because eventually you’ll get there.”