Terry Pheto on playing Winnie
When the news of Terry Pheto taking on the role of the iconic Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in the new Discovery channel mini-series, Madiba, broke, it came as no surprise to many. Terry first graced our screens with her talent back in 2005 where she played Miriam in the award-winning film Tsotsi.
DRUM caught up with Terry at the screening of the Madiba series yesterday to find out how she felt about her role.
- What was the highlight of playing Winnie?
The opportunity to play the character and knowing that there was a happy ending was definitely my highlight. Winnie’s story is very painful and sad yet it’s also very inspirational because of her courage and her bravery. I’m very glad she’s still alive to see everything she went through wasn’t in vain and she lived to see a better South Africa.
- Having experienced some of the struggles that Winnie went through in your role, do you feel you would’ve been as strong as her in that situation?
It’s difficult to answer that because sometimes we don’t know what we’re capable of until we’re thrown into the fire and we have no choice but to fight. I think as African women we have so much in us that we actually surprise ourselves. Personally, I don’t know if I would be as strong as Winnie, but I do know that if there’s something I believe in, I’ll fight to see it happen.
- Did you feel any pressure from working with international actors?
Well, there’s always pressure when you step into a new character but it isn’t necessarily about other people. I always want to be better and I always want to grow. The pressure was more from playing a real character and not a fictional character and the responsibility of playing an icon so many people look up to.
- Is there a specific thing you did to get into character?
The costume department’s replica of Winnie’s outfits really helped me to get into character. I also did a lot of research, reading and watching of her interviews, old footage and documentaries. All of that helps because it’s something you’ve seen before and you forget about yourself.
- Did you have to learn Mam’Winnie’s vocal tone?
There are certain choices one has to make as an actor and with me, I want to be honest to the character and that doesn’t mean mimicking the character because it could be distracting. Like Madiba, she has a distinct voice and I didn’t want to focus on that because to me, matching the emotion is more important than what I sound like. I’m South African after all and I do speak in a South African accent. I just had to remember how people spoke and how they wrote back then was different to how we do those things today.
- Are there any challenges you faced for this role?
Oh my God! I was an emotional wreck and a disaster. As part of preparing for the role, I had to read the script and do research on her life and that resulted in me feeling sad most of the time because I felt for her.