‘Petronella has taught me a lot’ - Thembsie Matu on her role on The Queen

PHOTO: Onkgopotsi Koloti

Johannesburg - She’s as feisty and fabulous in real life as she is on the small screen and you can feel her presence immediately when she enters the room. She beams at everyone around her and it’s easy to see why she’s stolen the hearts of thousands of Mzansi viewers obsessed with the hit show The Queen.

Thembsie Matu has become a much loved presence thanks to her larger than-life character, Petronella. The gutsy domestic worker has helped her find fame and fortune on the small screen – and now in the digital realm too. And thanks to her natural comedic talent being showcased via Petronella, or Sis’Bee as her fans like to call her, Thembsie is going to branch out into stand-up.

“I never thought of doing stand-up comedy, but people in Kimberley called me and said they have put me in their line-up for a show because people want me in their space,” the 52-year-old says.

“When I say things I don’t say them with the intent to make people laugh, I just say things and people happen to laugh – it’s a gift God gave me. For me, stand-up comedy always seemed like organised laughter but Petronella has opened my eyes to a lot of things. I am learning and unlearning all the time.”

Another motivating factor for her choice to venture into stand-up is her children and family who have encouraged her to do it because her supporters are longing for her and she has the ability and talent.

“They told me, ‘Mom, you have been doing this for years, why are you hesitating? You have something that people want. More than that, you have the gift to make people happy – use it’.”

Her children are her world. The seasoned actress, a married mother of two, still lives in the township and isn’t a celebrity at home. There she’s just mom to Unathi (26) and Mamosa (23). Although they’re no longer young kids, Thembsie still looks out for them. “I set an alarm periodically. If we have to be somewhere at nine in the morning, everyone is up at five in the morning. Then I reset the alarm for six – at six, they must be done bathing and be doing something else. At seven, we leave.”

This is how she was raised and punctuality is important to her. Thembsie opens up about the little things that were instilled in her as a child in Thokoza Township, like good posture. “Good posture opens up the spirit, makes you breathe better and adds a little more confidence to your demeanour,” says Thembsie as she stands in front of a blush-pink background that matches her bright-pink lipstick and starts posing for pictures.

As soon as the photographer starts shooting, Petronella comes out to play. The studio comes alive with laughter and someone walking by could easily assume there are 50 people instead of five. Its uncanny watching “Petronella” in our studio.

 How did Petronella come about? “I was training dancers for a wedding scene on The Queen and Shona (Ferguson) pulled me aside and told me about this role they had and that he thought it would be perfect for me,” Thembsie shares.

“I was given a character bible to understand the kind of character Petronella is. I channelled my mind to think exactly how she would think,” she tells DRUM. She prepared by studying three people she knows and combined their characters to become the famous Petronella.

“One of them is a woman who loves being around young people, to the point where she thinks she’s one of them. She’s always there, giving advice and sharing her own experiences.” This is evident in the relationship Petronella has with Zandile Msutwana’s character, Vuyiswa the detective. She always gives her advice, sometimes a bit risqué, and as a result of Petronella’s kindness Vuyiswa opens up and tells her everything about her life.

 Lively Petronella is loved by her fans because of the quirky things she says, her singing, the ridiculous advice she gives and her smart mouth when dealing with her husband, Mjekejeke, and her boss, Gracious Mabuza (played by Rami Chuene).

“You know, sometimes when the episode is too short I am asked to prolong the conversations Petronella has with people. Most of the things she says aren’t in the script. I just imagine what those three people I know would say in that instance.”

She says she couldn’t have foreseen how big her character was going to get. “ You know, you have no idea what all the support and love I’m getting means to me. “They transport me to a place where I’m just full of gratitude and respect for them. “I mean, they inspire me to do more and just reach for my dreams – they make my dreams attainable.”

Thembsie’s popularity has spilled over to her social media. Her online profile – which boasts more than 8 500 followers on Twitter, 8 000 on Facebook and almost 28 000 on Instagram – came about by accident.

She arrived on set a few hours early one day because of transport issues and because she was a little tired she took a nap. While she was snoozing the rest of the cast arrived and started taking videos and pictures of themselves together for their social media accounts. “Rami Chuene came to me and said people on social media were asking where I am.

“That’s when I realised people actually want to have a connection with me because they wanted her to give them feedback on why I wasn’t in the videos and pictures. “I decided in November last year to join Twitter and Instagram and even though I’m still getting the hang of things, people are supporting and loving me – I’m so humbled, I’m so blessed.”

The massive outpouring of support for the former Zone 14 actress has helped her feel more confident about branching out into stand-up comedy. She also has an acting agency, where she helps train young up and-coming talent.

 “You need to believe in yourself, don’t doubt your skills and talent and you’ll go far,” is her advice to young people. “I started my career with a shorthand course at a college simply because my parents wanted me to study something and didn’t necessarily understand this acting business. “That course comes in handy now because sometimes when I’m briefed about a role, I write in shorthand, which helps me get all the information I need quickly. “Always remember that whatever circumstance you find yourself in will play an instrumental role in your future, so embrace it.”

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