Our “So you want to be…” series aims to help you in choosing a career by featuring a practising professional to tell us what to expect in their field. This week we speak to actress Thuso Mbedu. The 24-year-old from Kwazulu Natal made her TV debut in 2014, on the Mzansi Magic soapie Saints and Sinners. She has gone on to appear on soapies Isibaya (Mzansi Magic) and Scandal (eTV).
Live SA: What does your job entail?
Thuso: It entails research of the character you’re playing, learning lines and other preparation to help you get into character. Preparation is that fine line between an actor playing a character and an actor becoming a character. This job also entails the willingness to open yourself up and being emotionally vulnerable, and I think that’s what people struggle with. Finally, the job’s fine print needs you to be able to interact with people who celebrate your craft (aka the fans).
Live SA: Walk us through a typical day, when shooting.
Thuso: It depends on the shooting schedule. If it’s an early call, I get fetched at about 5am. So I get ready real quick, dressed down, and sleep in the car on the way to set where we get fed and made up. Depending on how intense the scene is, you might run lines or you’ll tackle them when you face the director and you shoot the scene. You laugh and eat some more, then go home happy, but tired. If it’s a late call then I wake up, run through lines by myself, pretend to workout, then head to set, and it’s the same from then on. Set days are always great.
Live SA: Where and what exactly did you study?
Thuso: I did my BA in Dramatic Arts at Wits University.
Live SA: Who are your favourite local and international actors?
Thuso: Locally, it’s S’dumo Mtshali. I have mad respect for him. I worked closely with him as he was my brother on Saints and Sinners. The magic that he is able to create just from that one simple character is astounding, and then having witnessed all his other works has actually left me in awe. I’d love to see him on a theatre stage.
Internationally, it’s Denzel Washington. I’ll leave that one there. You need to just view his body of works and you’ll know what I mean.
Live SA: What lessons has acting taught you?
Thuso: A lot goes into getting into character. You have to understand the character’s backstory, the emotional and mental state, their general mind set, in order to authentically portray them.
Live SA: What should an aspiring actresses study?
Thuso: Drama. Drama (as we did it at Wits, and as my time in New York showed me) does not focus on acting only. It’s bigger than that; it challenges you emotionally, mentally and intellectually.
Live SA: What are some of the misconceptions about acting?
Thuso: People think when you’re on TV, you’ve made it and you’re moneyed for days. Yes, established actors have that luxury, but most actors fall below that mark. A lot of people also think that it’s all about the glamour but it’s far from being glamorous. The hours are long and irregular, the work can be emotionally, physically and mentally draining. The greatest misconception is that acting is not hard work. There is the constant stress of chasing roles because most jobs don’t last that long. You don’t only spend time honing your craft and improving your skills, but you devote hours to finding and attending auditions. And when those don’t happen, you look for other jobs to supplement your income, leaving little time for leisure.
Live SA: What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?
Thuso: Overcoming any challenge. I think that’s growth. On a broader scale, inspiring people to do best in their individual spaces is truly gratifying.
Live SA: What has been your career highlight thus far?
Thuso: Apart from having worked with some of South Africa’s greats like Nthati Moshesh, Sibulele Gcilitshana, S’dumo Mtshali, Tumisho Masha and Sello Maake Ka Ncube, I cannot say I have a real highlight.
Live SA: What’s your dream role?
Thuso: Any lead role written by [American TV producer and writer] Shonda Rhimes would be a dream role. If I had to choose a character type it would be something close to that of the Joker (as played by Heath Ledger) in the Batman movies. I know that would push me very hard.
Live SA: Does the job pay well?
Thuso: Depends on where you are. My soapie experience would lead me to say “No,” and the series life would have me say, “It’s okay.”
Live SA: What is the most challenging thing about what you do?
Thuso: The entertainment industry is a very volatile and unstable space. You have moments when you question why you chose this route, when there are so many other things out there that you could’ve done that would afford you a comfortable life. But then you remember that it’s not just about you. It’s about purpose. And so you keep pushing on. You have to remain faithful to your dream, faithful to your purpose (and beliefs) and faithful to your craft. It’s not always easy when it’s not giving you back what you’ve put in.
Live SA: Do you have any advice for aspiring actresses?
Thuso: Define why you want to get into the industry. If you know why, then you’ll push through even when you’re experiencing resistance. Don’t be disillusioned by what you see on TV because it will break you. Study for it or go for training.
Follow Thuso on Twitter