‘I was able to play her because she and my sister have similarities’ – Thuso Mbedu on her Emmy Award nominated role

2018-12-01 16:04
Thuso Mbedu. (Photo: Dino Codevilla for DRUM)
Thuso Mbedu. (Photo: Dino Codevilla for DRUM)

She strides into the snazzy hotel in the north of Joburg casually clad in a denim jacket and T-shirt, her denim shorts revealing her smooth summer-ready legs.

Up close her flawless fresh face could fool anyone – actress Thuso Mbedu looks closer to 20 than 27.

She’s accompanied by her actress friend, Makgotso M, and the two chat animatedly as Thuso dresses for our photoshoot.

Makgotso reveals she’s on a mission to turn sneaker-loving Thuso into a girly girl. “We’re getting closer and closer to the goal,” she laughs. “Soon you’ll be wearing heels every day.”

Thuso rolls her eyes. “You wish,” she responds.

The bubbly actresses get on like a house on fire. They hit it off after meeting on the set of Mzansi Magic’s Is’thunzi, where they played thick-as-thieves BFFs Thishiwe and Winnie.

Playing the sassy, go-getting Winnie in the teen drama series earned Thuso a Hollywood nod. The Pietermaritzburg- born performer was nominated for an International Emmy for best actress for two years running – the youngest and only African nominee, and the latest in a string of local stars who’ve flown Mzansi’s flag high.

She lost out to British actress Anna Friel in 2017 and to German actress Anna Schudt this year , but Thuso, clad in a dramatic turquoise strapless Gert-Johan Coetzee gown, was the toast of Tinseltown atthe New York ceremony.

She was billed a breakout star and Hollywood hotshots said she was destined for greatness.

Yet the famous aren’t always fortunate.

With four years’ experience she’d hoped the nomination would boost her career but instead it hit a slump. Suddenly jobs dried up, Thuso tells DRUM. “I’d hear a production company wanted to cast me for a role but after the nomination they couldn’t because I was ‘too expensive’.”

She’s no stranger to adversity and Thuso recently made a triumphant return to TV with a role in Generations: The Legacy. She sizzled as the social medialoving Okuhle Cele, cousin of Sphe (PearlMonama) and Fana (Duma Mnqobi).

“I read the script and internalise it,” she says about how she gets into a role.

“I think about what the character is going through without placing any judgement on her. I do tons of research.

“Sometimes I annoy the directors with my questions but I need to know the character’s background. If she went to private school, that will inform her decisions and reactions to things.”


To bring Okuhle to life Thuso wanted to know as much as she could about the character – including how strong her accent is.

“I could do that heavy Zulu accent because of a woman who used to help at home,” she says. “It’s the tiny things that help me deliver a good performance.”

She was 16 when she gave her first powerful performance. The Grade 10 learner had written and recited a poem for a school play at Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School.

“I titled the poem The Girl with the Smile,” she recalls. “It was a reflection of me and how people see me in contrast to what’s happening inside of me. When I performed the poem the reception wowed me.”

The audience was moved to tears and Thuso, who had dreamt of being a dermatologist one day, knew she was on to something. The poem, she says, spoke about pushing through pain with a smile.

When she was just four years old her maths and science teacher mom, Sibongile Mchunu, died of a brain tumour.

 “My sister is two years older than me. She told me that before Mom died she called us and spoke to us, but I don’t remember.”

Thuso’s parents separated before she was born – leaving her school principal grandmother, Thokozile Zulu, to raise her and her sister Noma (29).

 “I’m so grateful she left us in the very capable hands of our granny. That woman was everything, she loved us so much we didn’t have a void.”

She wishes her grandmother had witnessed her star rise but Thokozile died aged 82 in 2015 – two years after Thuso finished her drama degree at Wits University, leaving the sisters to take care of each other.

“She left us with the knowledge of faith in God and that’s what keeps us going strong after her passing.”

Thuso also studied physical theatre and performing arts management at Wits and spent two months at the renowned Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York in 2012 on a scholarship.

She landed her first major recurring role as Boni Khumalo in the Mzansi Magic drama series Saints and Sinners in 2014. But two years later it was her portrayal of Winnie – whose dreams of marrying a rich and famous rugby player were dashed when she was exiled to live with her strict aunt in Bergville, Kwa-Zulu-Natal – that got people talking.

Winnie is nothing like her, Thuso says. “But I was able to play her because she and my sister have similarities,” she says. “Winnie and my sister are both risk-takers and they look out for the people they care for. Winnie was passionate about getting herself and her brother out of the township; similarly Noma has always looked out for me.”

The sisters are close. “Noma and I just got a new house and I’m having so much fun assembling furniture and stuff.”

Her DIY is getting better with practice and she has time to turn their new house into a home as she’s not starring in anything at the moment. Her Generations job has ended but the talented TV star isn’t too worried about being jobless.

“God is so amazing,” she says.

Her smile causes a slight wrinkle at the top of her nose, shifting her glasses upward.

“He’s proven Himself to me many times so this time I’m very calm and quite happy.”

She’s content to be making a home for her sister and her niece, Zen Mbedu (5).

Both Noma and Thuso are single even though the TV starlet was romantically linked to Trending SA presenter Dr Musa Mthombeni (27).

Thuso laughs off the rumours. “Musa and I met through a mutual friend, Akhumzi Jezile, when we were students at Wits. At the Saftas we happened to be in matching outfits. Then Musa, being playful, tweeted what he did and things got out of hand.”

Musa set social media on fire when he posted two snaps of himself and Thuso – who bagged the Safta for best actress in a TV drama – looking warmly into each other’s eyes. “I’m ready to risk it all,” hecaptioned one snap.

“Ready to default a few home loan repayments here . . . Ready to move to the homelands and start farming . . . Ready to be a father of 12 . . .”

She’s not about to become Musa’s makoti but the pair have become friends.

“After Akhumzi passed away I was naturally very worried about Musa. But we aren’t romantically involved,” she says.

She’s in no rush for love. “In my second year of studies I made a decision to stay single until I was 24. And then 24 came but I wasn’t impressed by anyone, so I’m staying single until I meet someone who interests and captures me completely.”