Xolile Tshabalala playing a character who exudes niceness? Now that alone is enough to prompt raised eyebrows from viewers.

Fans who have seen Tshabalala at her menacing best – where she left her victims feeling like they had been hit by a nuclear bomb – have grown to love her loathsome and cunning ways.

So convincing was she that to this day, she struggles to exorcise herself from Julia Motene in SABC1’s Generations – not due to a lack of effort with roles in 90 Plein Street, Fallen, Soul City and a cameo in NCIS.

Returning to home soil in 2010 after attending the New York Film School to study film production and direction, Tshabalala – who bagged the role of the new Busi (replacing Ferry Jele) in Mzansi Magic’s Jacob’s Cross – was keen to put her newly acquired knowledge to the test as a director on the third season of 4Play: Sex Tips 4 Girls.

“I was supposed to be one of the directors,” she says. “But then Portia (Gumede) pulled out and they asked me to take on the role. Since I got back in 2010, I seem to be taking over someone else’s character – first in Jacob’s Cross and now 4Play: Sex Tips 4 Girls.”

It can’t be easy to step into the shoes of a character established by another actress, I note.

“It does put pressure,” Tshabalala acknowledges. “But you just carry on. As an actor, you run with it. I don’t have any inhibitions. Amanda (Lane) – the series creative director – has worked with me before and she trusts me. She said, ‘I know you will do what needs to be done’. At the end of the day, that helps me meet the character halfway.”

And ingratiating herself among the female cast of Kgomotso Christopher (Nox Madondo), Tiffany Jones-Barbuzano (Danny Gibson) and Mbali Maphumulo (Amira Mokoena) proved to be an effortless task.

“Kgomotso and I went to the same school and we shared the same dream of being professional actresses. Mbali I got to know on set, and she is a lovely person. Tiffany would come through when I was having a difficult time and say, ‘We got this and we’re doing this together’. We would just make the scenes work. The one underlining thing was to have fun and we would do that as well as support each other to help take the story forward,” she says.

Although comparisons between Tshabalala’s depiction of Noma and that of Gumede, who joined the creative team of Mzansi Magic’s Inkaba, is unavoidable, she takes comfort in the fact that, as an actor who has studied drama all her life, she is able to “embody any role”.

With the four female friends displaying that Sex and the City sisterly bond, she points out the storylines are more relevant, insightful and entertaining. And the journeys of the characters have been fascinating, thanks to their respective life lessons along the way.

Shedding light on the “new” Noma, who now enjoys a stable relationship with Humphrey (Simo Magwaza), Tshabalala offers: “Noma is a strong woman. But love also makes us all weak. Just when you think you have got everything under control, something takes you by surprise. The one constant is the love for her son.”

A hint for viewers – Noma is going to have to deal with a blast from her past, which threatens to uproot her entire future.

On her real-life career prospects, the actress says: “I will be in Suitcase, scheduled for the opening of the Soweto Theatre. Basically, I never plan my future. At the moment, I’m doing TV and stage. I just take it one day at a time.”

In the meantime, aficionados get to savour the lighter side of Tshabalala in a grounded and nurturing role. Now that is a treat, albeit an astonishing one!

4Play: Sex Tips 4 Girls airs on at 8.30pm tomorrow night.