It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say Leleti Khumalo, 47, is a South African acting icon. The respected thespian has proven her chops as a performer and excels on the screen.
She has starred in critically acclaimed films such as Sarafina, Invictus and Yesterday, which earned South Africa its first best foreign language film Oscar nomination in 2005.
Her role in the 2016 film Free State, earned her a best supporting actress nod at the South African Film and Television Awards last year.
Her work on television has seen her maintain roles in long-running shows such as Generations, Hopeville and Soul City, proving her mettle as an actress.
In SABC 1’s Uzalo, she recently played the matriarch pastor’s wife, MaNzuza. Her character was shot and died earlier this week, marking the end of her three-year duty on the show.
Many wondered why Khumalo was leaving the show. Some thought she had fallen out with the show’s creator, Duma ka Ndlovu, while others said the role was not challenging her acting skills in the way she needed.
It turns out she had finally decided to do what she had been yearning to do for years: go behind the scenes.
During a production break Khumalo is finally able to take my call to speak about her new venture. As the lead actor and co-executive producer of Imbewu: The Seed, a new daily drama on e.tv she co-produces with kaNdlovu and Anant Singh, she has entered uncharted territory.
The drama also stars Thembi Mtshali-Jones, Mpumelelo Bhulose, Rafeal Griffiths, Vuyokazi Tshona and Fundiswa Zwane.
Imbewu: The Seed is produced by Grapevine Productions, a joint venture between Singh’s Videovision Entertainment, kaNdlovu’s Word Of Mouth Pictures and Luyks Productions.
It’s rare for South African actors to also be executive producers of shows they star in. What brought on this move to become the executive producer of Imbewu?
I’ve been acting for years and I felt it was time that I got involved behind the scenes. Most actors only know about being in front of the camera – we don’t try our hand at directing and producing shows. It’s something I have been thinking about for some time and I guess I was waiting for the right time and opportunity. Venturing behind the scenes is a chance for growth as a player in the entertainment industry. So when Duma and Anant came calling, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
Does this mean that you have the power to drive the narrative and storyline of your character?
Yes, which is exciting, but also a challenge. It’s almost a double-edged sword. But what is great is that I now have a say when I don’t like the direction of the character. It’s something I can speak to Duma and Anant about. That power, however, comes with great responsibility.
I imagine this has made you approach your performance differently, since you now know the inner workings of the show.
It does, which is why I said it’s a challenge. Previously I would just know as much as the writers would tell me, but now I’m heavily involved in the show, which then poses a challenge as I know everything. I’m trying very hard to make sure that I take every moment as it happens on the show. Thank goodness for directors we can speak to and consult, to make sure we aren’t messing up.
You’ve just left Uzalo for Imbewu. Are there any similarities between the two shows, besides being shot in KZN and sharing Duma as a creator?
Oh, they are totally different shows. Imbewu is more of a dramatic thriller. The episodes will leave you on the edge of your seat wanting more. And the thing with Imbewu is that we are telling real stories that people know, but somehow it’s taboo to talk about them. But they are there, they are interesting and they are perfect for drama.
What are these secrets?
Imbewu is about two brothers. Both grew up in rural areas, but one decided to leave the simple life and find his fortune in the urban environment. One of them cannot have children and the other is then asked by the family to impregnate his brother’s wife to carry on the family name.
Imbewu: The Seed premieres on April 16 on e.tv and will air weekdays.
Read the full article in the Sunday Tribune, Sunday Independent and Weekend Argus magazines, this Sunday.