Khanyi Mbau was close to falling into a depression during production of her latest movie, Red Room.
“I found myself in this really dark space having to live and breathe my character, and it caused huge problems in my personal life,” says Mbau.
The South African television host and actress plays a broken , beaten and destitute woman in the local thriller which opens in cinemas this weekend.
“I almost broke up with my boyfriend because of this film. We actually did break up a year ago, all because of the darkness that surrounded me, so it really changed my life,” she says.
Mbau portrays a rich businessman’s wife, Zama Marawa, whose husband is secretly immersed in the world of human trafficking, sex and betrayal.
Television host and actress Khanyi Mbau has starred in films such as Happiness is a Four-Letter Word and Frank and Fearless. Nhlanhla Phillips African News Agency (ANA)
Zama discovers this and has to deal with the feeling of betrayal and his death through suicide.
The loss causes her to lose the affluent life she has become accustomed to and she has to fight to rebuild it.
“Getting out of character is the most difficult thing,” she says.
“You spend 18 hours of the day playing this character, and the remaining few hours you are asleep.
“Then you’re back into it and it becomes you again. I had to detach myself from the role and not wear the wigs, not wear make-up, stay away from fishnets, to try to get me back.”
Mbau delivers an endearing performance alongside co-stars, Pakamisa Zwedala, Nick Soul, Francois Jacobs, Charlie Bouguenon and Cici Twala.
The movie is directed by Sans Moonsamy.
She says playing the role of Zama proved to be extremely challenging and complex.
“I would say this is without a doubt the biggest and most challenging role of my career so far.
“I think it’s totally set a tone for my career. I think I can now can sit at the table with actors and claim I’m an actress. I’ve really gone through the layers of actually being in a movie and acting correctly.
“As much as I am really happy with my performance, and it’s the biggest role of my career, I can’t say I’m proud.
“As actors we are never proud, because we will always feel we could have done things better. I put in a lot of work, and I am happy with what I’ve done, but I’ll never be proud.”
Mbau says the story mirrors her own life.
“It was incredible to be a part of this movie, but also really painful.
“I had to visit a sore point in my life and remove the scabs to see if I’ve really healed. I’ve also been abused by the man I loved. I’ve been disappointed by life so much. I’ve also been left holding the baby literally and raising my own daughter, and having to be in society with all the name-calling, so it was a reminder of all the pain I had gone through previously.
“I had to constantly remind myself that I am strong and I am a product of where I come from.”
Mbau says she had flashbacks of her own life during production of the movie.
“It was very difficult. I remember once we did a scene. We were sitting at a dinner table and I realised I was actually an object, a trophy for someone else’s ego. I was part of the furniture and decor of this man’s life. After shooting that scene I felt so down that I went home and cried.”
IN RED ROOM, Khanyi Mbau plays Zama Marawa, a woman who becomes entangled in the dangerous underworld of human trafficking after her wealthy husband’s suicide.
The movie focuses heavily on two issues - human trafficking and woman abuse. This is something that Mbau is outspoken about.
“I’ve been a battered wife before, and I know the syndrome and I know how it feels. It takes a piece of your life away forever and I’m still trying to put the pieces together, but I’ll never get them all back.
“Woman abuse is a serious issue in South Africa. We only have to look at what happened this week. The news of Babes (Wodumo) was deeply disturbing. But it is happening on a regular basis and it’s terrifying.”
“Human trafficking is also something that terrifies me. I’m a mom to a 12-year-old girl. I can’t imagine losing her. I can’t imagine someone taking her away from me and throwing her into the sex industry.
“The innocence that my daughter has scares me, so it’s an issue that is very close to me, and a cause I will definitely be taking up later in the year.”
Mbau says it was an easy decision to join the cast of Red Room after she read the script.
“Like many other actors, at first I was most interested in what I would get paid for starring in the movie. It was about the figures, how much are they going to give me, how long am I shooting, would it be worth my time.
“Honestly, the money they offered me was below the money any actor could get for the film, but when I read the script it made me realise I needed this. This was something I just had to do.”
Aside from the challenges she faced playing the role of Zama, Mbau says it was also “terribly hard” being away from her daughter for such lengthy periods.
“It was very tough. The guilt of not seeing your child is horrible. That’s like being a loser. It makes you feel like you’re a drunkard of a parent, who neglects their child. It is a guilt that actors carry, but being in the industry is also a life of service and sacrifice. It gets better but never goes away.”
Mbau also co-produced Red Room. This was a first for her.
“It was a learning curve, an education. But definitely something I loved and something I would do forever.”
Mbau says she hopes that South Africans come out in their droves to support Red Room.
“Beyond the entertainment value and the texture of the film, that is so beautiful and makes you feel so proud of being South African, it is the conversation and dialogue that it brings that is so important. It’s an uncomfortable place that we all don’t want to go to but that we really need to.”
She also has a strong message for local actors: “Our actors are great, but they fail to understand that beyond your acting there’s also a star element.
“You need to live the brand, the lifestyle has to change, you have to behave like a movie star for people to take notice of you.
“I don’t blame people for not taking local actors seriously because they don’t take themselves seriously.
“It doesn’t happen only when the director says ‘action’ and the lights are on, it’s also how you present yourself when you walk into a room. You need to own it in order for people to take you seriously.”