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Abena’s powerful role in British film A United Kingdom

Movies & Theatre

We kicked off the conversation with how her name is pronounced and Abena immediately said that she's used to people mispronouncing it and doesn't get offended.

“I got used to my name being said differently. It's Ghanaian, my father is the only Ghanaian in my household, he's the only one who says it right. My mother is not Ghanaian, and my South African family speaks Afrikaans, I would just say it correctly the first time but I don't take offence to it,” said Abena Ayivor.

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Abena Ayivor

The former Generations actress says she's called Lerato at least once a week, despite her having left the show more than a decade ago.

“I think she just resonated with them. She was such a naughty girl... a bad girl, but the response I get is always love.” She believes that making the character memorable means she “played her right.”

Ayivor can't hide the spark in her eye as she speaks about her role in the new British film 'A United Kingdom’.

The film tells the powerful love story of Sir Seretse Khama, the first president of Botswana and his wife Ruth Williams.

David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike bring to life the interracial relationship that caused an international uproar when they married in 1948.

Ayivor plays the wife of Khama's uncle, who is portrayed by multi award-winning South African actor Vusi Kunene.

Asked what it was like working alongside two Mzansi A-listers, Terry Pheto and Vusi Kunene, and international stars David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike she was brutally honest.

“I was intimidated, I can't lie! At least I knew Vusi, so I was like, ‘That's my person’. Terry... we've never met, but we’re cool.”

She notes some interesting on-set moments with Pike.

“I kept cutting her lines, and after the third time she was like, ‘Can I please get my line!’. So I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, am I unprofessional or am I a selfish actor?” Ayivor recalls.

After the shoot she went the green room to apologise to Pike.

“I went to her and I said, ‘I'm sorry, it was really just nerves. I don't want you thinking that I'm not a giving actor ‘cause I am’, and she said “No it's actually fine, you kept me on my toes.”

“I love the fact that I was getting to work on an international playing field with four of the world's best. Vusi Kunene has been doing this for a very long time and he's amazing. I felt I had to up my game, and I hope I did.

“I remember when the trailer came out, the last thing I expected was to see myself because my part is so small and I was like, ‘Wow, I'm in the trailer!’

“ And that means they must have liked my performance, as the trailer is the selling point of the film,” she beams.

Ayivor said it really hit her when she met Khama's family at the premiere earlier this year, and they commended her on her work.

“It was only when we were attending the premiere with the president's family and (they) came up to me and (said) ‘That's our aunt you played and you captured her spirit.“

She said she was up for the challenge and is grateful that her work was well received.

Ella was no ordinary woman, she was assertive, esteemed and very strong.

“I'm sure they (the producers) had their own ideas of what an African woman was.(I thought to myself) I'm going to show them what an African woman can be and it came from a place of pride. The world needs to see who we are, “ she adds.

She reveals that initially the director said Ella wasn't supposed to say anything as women in those days (the 1940's) weren't saying anything they just had to do that “generic ululating”, and is glad that the director rewrote the scene.

She was determined to “make them see that even in the 1940s there was this kind of black woman speaking her truth, decisively. I like the words she chose; they weren't too basic. Ella, she sounded educated and knew what she was talking about. I love all of that and I enjoyed it.”

Asked about her future endeavours, Ayivor who is also the head-writer for the highly anticipated MTV's drama series Shuga said: “ Nothing is lined up. Shuga has taken my life for the past six months, so it's almost done.

"And, yeah I would to do another film. Hopefully a bigger role this time! “.

She excitedly revealed the shooting for Shuga is scheduled to start next month.

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