It’s evident from how Thuso Mbedu kicks butt in all her roles that the LA-based, South African actress was born to act. Thuso’s The Woman King co-star the Viola Davis sang her praises during a recent interview, saying: “To me Thuso is translucent talent. Light comes through in every shade and that is how I see her emotional life come through with this character of Nawi. It is that immediacy. It’s that accessibility that only a few have. And I think it’s the building block of a very incredible actor. I also find Thuso to have incredible integrity. And I find her to be someone who absolutely works hard.”
Oprah Winfrey, on the other hand, hailed Thuso’s performance in Amazon Prime Video’s The Underground Railroad as the most consistent performance she’d seen in her lifetime. “I knew I wanted to do drama for the rest of my life when I realised, at the end of Grade 10, that it could be used for social change,” notes Thuso during her cover interview for our September/October 2022 issue.
THE DREAM CHASER
Post high school, Thuso chose not to apply to any university in her home province of KwaZulu-Natal. “I wanted to expand beyond my current situation which was why I applied to Wits University and the University of Cape Town,” she shares, adding that Johannesburg was always her steppingstone to the rest of the world — and never her “be it and end all”. During varsity, Thuso applied herself to the point where working part-time while studying wasn’t an option. “I wanted to focus and excel,” she says. And excel, she did! In third year, her academic excellence earned her a place on an acting exchange programme at New York University. And, she proceeded to pass her honours with distinction. Boom!
“I gave myself five to six years to save enough money to come to the US and see what happens. Our industry is tough so it’s not really easy to save, but by the grace of God I had saved up enough money by 2019 to come to the US for two and a half months. I told my agent back in South Africa not to send any briefs because I wanted to see what I’d be able to do from the US. If nothing came of it, then I would’ve learnt lessons I would apply back home. That’s when The Underground Railroad happened,” shares Thuso. On what her own career journey has taught her, the 31-year-old says: “It’s about staying ready, applying yourself, pursuing excellence in everything that you do and knowing that all the other noise does not matter as long as you’re focused on your goal!”
Below, are the two pieces of career advice Thuso swears by.
- Never doubt yourself. “The first piece of advice was from Berry Jenkins, one of the writers and executive producers of The Underground Railroad. He didn’t necessarily say it, but rather showed it by fully trusting the decisions me and my cast mates made while performing. Berry’s trust in me made me believe in myself. It was about trusting in the fact that I was on an international set and not doubting my talent. If Berry Jenkins could trust me then surely I could trust myself and be fully present in that?”
- Remain humble and humane. “The second piece of advice goes to Viola Davis. She always stresses that she is no guru of anything. Even though everyone puts her on a pedestal based on her accolades, she didn’t walk around the set of The Woman King handing out advice unprovoked. She is still fully human, something I really appreciated. Working with Viola wasn’t just an acting masterclass, but a masterclass in being human, too. By simply being yourself, you’re extending yourself grace that you can extend to someone else.”