Terry Pheto talks about her impressive year

2016-12-04 11:57
terry pheto
Terry Pheto. (Photo: Getty Images)

Johannesburg - Terry Pheto’s appearance at the British Independent Film Awards, where she is up for a best supporting actress award, will be the crowning event of a very impressive year for her.

Pheto will stand alongside other nominees, including Naomie Harris and Shana Swash, after being nominated for playing Naledi Khama, the younger sister of Botswana’s first president Seretse Khama, who is played by David Oyelowo, in the upcoming film A United Kingdom.

“When you are recognised by your peers, it’s a beautiful feeling. It’s validating to be recognised among some of the world’s most well-known actresses, and for a small contribution in such a big story … I am over the moon, and I am humbled,” Pheto told City Press this week.

“Because it shows that if you commit to something, regardless of how big or small your role, the world is watching.”

Accepting the role

Pheto says the role in A United Kingdom came her way last year.

“It all started, I think, in the middle of 2015, when I was given a script and I was asked to audition. And I auditioned, got a call back, and then I was given the whole script,” she says.

“Once I got the whole script, I knew I had to fight for it, that I had to be a part of this story, because it is such a beautiful story. But it’s also a new and fresh story – even though it’s not new,” she says.

“Many of us kind of know the story of Botswana, and that Seretse Khama married a white woman, but we didn’t know how they met, how they came to be together and how beautiful their love was.

“And I also just loved my character and how strong she is in the film, and how family-orientated; and that it’s all about sisterhood. Even though we [she and Ruth Khama, played by Rosamund Pike] start out a bit cold, it is acceptable, because when you love someone and they bring someone new to the family, you question the intentions of the new person.”

Naledi is a silent, proud and stoic woman who will not bend to patriarchy and the virulent racism in the former Bechuanaland and Britain.

“I think she would have done what any sister would have done – protect her brother, her legacy, and once she realised that her and her new sister-in-law were on the same team, she embraces her and protects her, and says ‘let’s hold each other’.”

Moulding her character

Pheto auditioned for the role of Naledi because, “more than anything, no one knows who Naledi is, and for the first time people will go: ‘Oh, Seretse had a sister and they loved each other; they were very close.’

“We spent a lot of time shooting on location and speaking to the family, and they told us how much they loved each other,” she says.

Unfortunately, Pheto was unable to meet Mme Naledi because she was very ill while the film was being shot, and then passed away a few months later. So Pheto relied on people who knew Naledi to help her mould the character.

“In a way, she [Naledi] represents the women of Botswana, because we don’t see too many of them. She’s very strong; she’s present and I love that she is there. And she knows who she is.”

Pheto says the movie is important for South African audiences because it shows how apartheid had such a devastating effect on neighbouring countries, including Botswana.

The last time City Press spoke to Pheto, she was in the US for her duties as an Emmy Award juror – another big achievement. Since then, “a lot has happened”, she says.

“I played Mama Winnie Mandela opposite Laurence Fishburne. There are other things I am busy with that will come out in the new year,” she says.

“I’ve been so blessed, and I thought 2015 was a good year because I really wanted to produce my first film [Ayanda], and it was so well received and I was so content. But then you realise there’s more, and you can always do more … I am happy with my career.”

A United Kingdom opens in cinemas on Friday, 9 December.

(Photos: Getty Images)

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