In 2014, with just R500 in her purse, a suitcase filled with clothes and no real plan, Thuso Mbedu hopped on a bus and made her way to Johannesburg.
Mbedu was determined to make a career in the entertainment industry, because she believed that God had given her a craft which she had to share with the world. And now she has.
Last year, Mbedu was nominated for an International Emmy Award for her role as Winnie, in the first season on Is’Thunzi– Damaged But Not Broken, a teen drama series on Mzansi Magic. Although she did not win, just the mere fact of being nominated was enough to pave the way for her stardom.
This week, the actress took the number one spot on the 2018 Forbes Africa Under 30 List, ahead of local rapper Cassper Nyovest and fashion designer Orapeleng Modutle.
Actress Nomzamo Mbatha took fourth spot while musician Kwesta wraps up the top five.
Mbedu was also cast as a principal member on SABC1’s Generations: The Legacy this year.
On Is’Thunzi– Damaged But Not Broken, Mbedu’s character, Winnie is a streetwise, ambitious go-getter who has her heart set on marrying a rich and famous rugby player, but her fantasy turns out to be a lot more challenging to achieve than she imagined when she gets exiled to live with her strict aunt in Bergville, KZN.
“I really took a leap of faith when I got to Johannesburg. There was no plan, but I knew I needed to survive and I needed to do anything and everything it took to find work in the industry. For a while I squatted with friends. Then I auditioned for Saints and Sinners, I went into that audition as if it was a do or die moment. And it paid off,” said Mbedu.
The actress said after her role in Saints and Sinners, work went quiet again and she was very discouraged.
“The industry is so unstable for artists these days. There was no work coming my way and what was more discouraging was that agencies didn’t want me to sign up because I didn’t have enough experience, but how was I do get the experience if they didn’t give me a chance,” she said.
Eventually, after a rough six months, Mbedu got another audition, little did she know, this one would earn her the International Emmy nomination.
“I was down for the longest time and my sister was helping me pay my rent. I wasn’t meeting my bills and eventually had to apply for a loan at the bank, so when I auditioned for Is’Thunzi I did so like it was my last audition ever. And it paid off. I finally had work again,” she said.
While Mbedu said she loved her time on Is’Thunzi and owed the nomination to the cast and crew. She wishes she could play roles that are closer to her age.
“The oldest character I played was 21-year old. And It’s not that I don’t enjoy playing these roles, but the industry recycles storytelling for school kids or teenagers, and I want to experience a more authentic and mature storyline now. Mature roles are 3D characters and are more complex, so want to extend myself more,” said the actress.
Her favourite role to play, if she was given the opportunity, would be a villain. Mbedu said she is intrigued by the psychological work behind the character that takes viewers on a journey.
Aside from her onscreen work, Mbedu has been working on her own scripts with award winning director and scriptwriter, Amanda Lane as her mentor.
“In university I was exposed to a lot of American shows via streaming and I enjoyed watching these shows. And I would always hear people around me say that they don’t watch local TV because most of the stories are recycled and not inspiring. So I got to a point where I wanted that to change so instead of complaining about local TV I decided to start writing scripts,” she said.
Currently she is working on a crime action series which she showcases women taking control of their own destiny.
“What I learned through this journey of writing is that South African men are still very uncomfortable with heroin leads in storytelling, and so I would like to change this - I had no male figure in my life to take care of me, and I made it through. I want to empower women,” said Mbedu.
“The second story I’m working on is a romantic drama which is also led by a women and shows were my state of mind is at this point after the death of my granny. The other is an action film but that needs a big budget, so that’s on hold for now,”she said.