SHE might be one of television’s prettiest faces, but when she arrived for our interview, Nompilo Gwala (pictured) looked fresh-faced – no make-up, no big hair, yet still quite striking underneath her straw hat.

“It is is always interesting how this look attracts different kinds of men as opposed to when I have on a weave and make-up,” she said.

“Most men don’t admit it in the open, but they are drawn in by the weave. If you are all made up and polished, a brother looks at you and wonders to himself if he can maintain your lifestyle.”

It is those findings that Gwala infuses into a new character, Phindi, on Saints and Sinners, Mzansi Magic’s latest drama.

“She is pretty, a typical Joburg girl with ambition. She has daddy issues and that’s why she dates older men. They want her body and she wants their wealth so they do the exchange and everyone gets what they want. She has a complicated relationship with her mother and her best friend is a bad influence on her,” explained Gwala.

The role is important to the actress because it gave her the opportunity to show why women like Phindi do the things they do.

“Society always judges the ‘side-chick’ and she is considered a home-wrecker. I know some people who are labelled ‘side-chicks’ and I also know their story and why they find themselves in the relationships they are in. There is always a backstory, and almost always they do what they do as a means to an end.

“That’s what I want to show in Phindi. I didn’t want her to be the one dimensional ‘bling-bling’ type, but I needed to show her backstory.

“She comes from a family where all the responsibilities her absent father should have been taking care of are thrust on to her. She is not all bad because she loves her sister so much and will do anything to provide for her. It’s complex, but intriguing to portray,” she said.

Starring next to stalwarts like Tumisho Masha and Nthati Moshesh, Gwala could easily feel like a fish out of water, but she described her experience as a huge learning curve and the cast as supportive.

“These are people I have a lot of respect for and have watched for a long time while growing up.”

It was never Gwala’s plan to be an actress, her desire was to produce or direct. But destiny had other ideas when she stumbled upon her first acting job.

“It’s really funny how, when I was modelling, I heard about Inkaba. They were looking for a model for a small part. Portia Gumede had other ideas when I auditioned, giving me a bigger role as a main character on the show. It was really a pleasant surprise and I have never looked back,” she said.

Some people have mixed feelings about Phindi and the touchy subject of women who date married men.

“I am humbled by the support people show me. Of course, there are those who take the role seriously and have something to say, but I love how people talk about the show. Phindi is respectful when she needs to be, so much so you forget she is dating a married man. This makes people gravitate towards her as they understand her complex life.”

• Saints and Sinners, Sunday, Mzansi Magic (DStv 161) at 8pm.