We talk to Terry Pheto about her award nominated role in A United Kingdom

2016-12-09 08:01

Cape Town – South African audiences will finally be able to see Terry Pheto's award nominated performance in A United Kingdom in cinemas on Friday.

In the highly anticipated film which tells the true story of Seretse Khama, the first president of Botswana and his marriage to Ruth Williams, a white British woman – Terry plays his younger sister, Naledi. 

Her performance in the film earned her a British Independent Film Award (BIFA) nomination for supporting actress. (Read more here)

During a telephone interview Terry gave us some insight into her character, what it was like working with international stars and what the nomination means to her. 

What was it about this project that drew you in and made you want to become involved?  

I felt that it was one of the most beautiful love stories and one of the most important stories that needed to be told.

What resonated with you about the character of Naledi?

I am all for sisterhood and her relationship with Ruth epitomises that. Their relationship didn’t start out perfect but once they found a common ground it blossomed into a lifelong friendship. For me she is the essence of an African woman.

Can you tell me more about Naledi's journey to accepting Ruth and what the turning point in the relationship was?

I spent some time with the family, and what I learnt from them is that it didn’t take that long for them to get along. And even in the film you get the sense. It was hard for both families to accept the relationship. Botswana people have big hearts and they are very accepting of people. So it didn't take Naledi long to realise that they have something in common, which was their love for Seretse and they wanted him to have what is rightfully his. That's how the sisterhood started; they were friends right until the very end. 

What kind of research did you do into playing Naledi?

I had to rely on the production notes that they had, and there isn't much material on her. I got some pictures of Naledi and Ruth from the family. They also told me stories about her strength and how gentle and loving she was. I was looking forward to meeting her while we were filming but she was very ill and she passed away later before the premiere. At the premiere in Botswana I met her son and he said to me he was very happy and said that she would be very proud. 

There's one scene with Naledi that really stands out, when she asserts who she is. It’s a pivotal moment in the film. How did it feel to finally come into your own as a character?

That was one of the audition scenes and for me it was such a powerful scene and I am happy that we kept it in the film - for the first time to get to understand the people of Botswana. She gave the people a voice, when she spoke, she spoke for all of them. This resonates strongly for me if we can all find that voice, know who you are and what you stand for you cannot be shaken even in the worst circumstances like what they were dealing with. She always stood tall because she knew who she was.

How was it working with Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo?

It was a dream come true. They are such genuine actors. It was an amazing incredible time, I learnt so much from them, I admire both of them. It's always a treat to work with someone that you admire. David also produced the film it was his passion project and Rosamund gave all of herself in this role. 

You've been nominated for a BIFA for you role, did it come as a surprise, how do you feel about it?

I feel so honoured. It's such a validation to be acknowledged for your work. And to be nominated alongside such incredible women, it's quite humbling. It is such a special moment, I wish that Naledi had stayed around long enough to see the film but I know her spirit will be part of the production.

How does this film add to the racial discourse that's currently an important topic across the world?

It really is an important film for people to watch. For people to see how hard it's always been, how much has changed but on the other hand how much still needs to change. The message of the film is whatever you do, do it with love, if it's your energy and driving force you can change history.  And that is what Seretse did, he changed the future of Botswana. With love we can achieve the impossible and the world needs to see these stories so that we can realise how much we have in common. We may not look the same but there is so much we have in common which is human emotions: The ability to feel pain, hurt and love. If we pick love as the driving force we'll live in a better world.

See the trailer here:

READ MORE: Rosamund Pike SA interview: Love is a powerful weapon

(Photos: UIP)

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