Not many actresses have the gravitas to pull off cunning with panache.
And if Masasa Mbangeni has established anything since rising to prominence on the small screen as Thembeka Shezi in Scandal, it is that she is capable of gravitating towards Machiavellian territory with conviction. It also explains why she walked away with the Best Actress in a TV Soap accolade in 2015.
Now she has been cast as Celia Mahlamvu Jele in e.tv’s Harvest – a role that is bound to earn her plenty of praise.
Tonight caught up with her after a taxing day on set. As always, that didn’t impact on her level of professionalism or her enthusiasm. She says: “I’m excited and nervous. It’s scary. You never get to see the rushes or what others are doing in their scenes. You just trust that it’s going to come out right.”
Before delving into her role, which she auditioned for sometime in October or November last year, the series looks at three strong women who, after losing their husbands, take over their illegal – not to mention cutthroat – business empire. Mbangeni’s character is at the helm as the CEO.
Meanwhile, Clementine (played by Vatiswa Ndara) is Celia’s biggest ally. She comes from humble beginnings as a farm girl. Her affable nature masks her ability to exact vengeance on those that wrong her. Then there is Tshepiso (Khanya Mkagisa), a trophy wife who has been kept in the dark about her husband’s real business interests. Celia doesn’t feel inclined to ruin her rose-tinted impression of things so she assigns her to take care of all the company’s CSI initiatives.
Mbangeni admits: “She (Celia) is a very interesting woman. Incredibly intense, incredibly passionate and incredibly violent. She is quite far removed from anything I have done before. So it’s been interesting discovering her as we go along. She was born into abject poverty but had great vision for herself. She had a strained relationship with her mother. And, similarly, has a very difficult and strained relationship with her daughter Ndoni (played by Anathi Seyisi). She married Mandla (Mutodi Neshehe), with hopes and dreams of the future she wanted to build. But you know how it is in life: money changes everything. “My entry point into the story is meeting a woman who has everything but happiness and love. The story looks at what happens when you have the house, the dog and the kid. On the outside, the house is immaculate, beautiful and perfect. But when you delve further inside, you see the cracks.”
Of course, Celia wasn’t born the ruthlessly hard-wired woman she has become.
Mbangeni adds: “As the story unfolds, you realise she actually gave up a lot to have it all. She is willing to do whatever it takes, but the cost is too high. And her sins of the past come to revisit her perfect life.”
The setback hit her like a tsunami. The actress points out: “That’s when you understand why she is such a hard woman. Why she might seem so difficult to love and why, when emotional stuff happens, it’s so difficult for her to connect. Life has dealt her a really rough hand. And she’s been trying to play the hand she’s been given.” Without giving much away, let’s just say the new law over the legalisation of marijuana feeds perfectly into the storyline – even though it was written long before the recent turn of events.
If you were thinking there might be some catty tension among the predominantly female cast, Mbangeni says this is not the case. She has nothing but praise for her co-stars.
She says: “I’m working with such stunning ladies. Vatiswa and I do a lot of scenes together. She’s such a generous performer, very giving and very passionate. And Tshepiso is so effervescent. I have the time of my life in my scenes with them.” Once this shoot is put to bed, Mbangeni will be returning to the stage for The Suitcase at The Market Theatre. She says, “I’m going to be opposite Siyabonga Twala, which is a dream come true. I’m looking forward to it.”
Harvest airs on Thursday May 1 at 9.30pm on e.tv.