Images by: Mlungisi Mlungwana | Creative Director Ayanda Sithebe | Make-up by Phumzile Mhlongo
Editor: Mandisa Vundla
Profile by: Mathunzi MacDonald |
“Infectious” is a dull expression when compared to actress Mapaseka Koetle-Nyokong. Her Instagram page creates great-expectation for meeting the Bloemfontein beauty. Her captivating laugh begins to brew while she gets her makeup done, as her husband eagerly assists the team in converting their new business space into a set for her shoot and interview with Actor Spaces. Sundays in Sandton are not as busy as weekdays and this is the reason Mapaseka decided that her new establishment would not open for business. The team is welcomed graciously and soon the laughter makes an appearance on a discovery; that the hats I had hoped to feature in today’s shoot are more comedic than effective. Mapaseka is barely phased and slips into her garment “thespian style” behind the counter. Passerby’s stop and marvel at our guest as their eyes move with our photographer, Mlungisi Mlungwana, as he kneels on, pacing and standing on the Sandton sidewalk for the perfect shots. My eyes anxiously move to our CEO and creative director Ayanda Sithebe who graces our meeting with his insightful presence. We are famished as we sit down for our conversation but excited at what is to be discussed. Mapaseka defines acting by explaining that ” Acting is not acting. Acting is telling a story.”
Mathunzi MacDonald: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Mapaseka Koetle-Nyokong : I wanted to be a doctor, at some point a lawyer but I was still young I was still in primary school. You know I thought maybe I’ll wear that coat and ask people ” wa kola? Are you sick?” I thought it would be nice cause you know I was young and I didn’t know much.
My sister and my brother were both teachers and although I love teaching I didn’t want to be a teacher. So yeah, it was a doctor or a lawyer. That’s what I wanted to be.
M: So when did you figure out the acting thing?
MKN: When they started introducing the OBE curriculum, I don’t know if you remember it, but there was a subject called Arts and Culture. So in Arts and Culture and in Life Orientation, they would put us into groups and whatever topic we were given, we had to act it out. In Bloem, we call them di sketch. That is when I saw that I could actually do this. I mean everyone would be like “Wow!”. I remember one of our first topics was about drugs and I had to act high and say ‘moo, I see a cow’ and I killed it! From there I just fell in love with it. I fell in love with having people watch me when I perform and figured this is something I wanted to do.
M: So where did you study?
MKN: Well, I actually did my first year at AFDA. It was so expensive so I was always hungry. Literally hungry! So I did some research with the help of a friend and moved to City Varsity where I learned a lot. That’s where I did my Acting for Camera qualification.
M: Was there any point during your studies where you considered an alternative career?
MKN: Never! Never ever. The day I moved to Johannesburg to study acting I never looked back. There was a point where I remember not being able to do my second year because I didn’t have money. I didn’t give up. I told myself “I’m here to study so I can be an actress, so I am not going back home. I will just have to confuse that enemy. I definitely cannot go back home without doing it”. So there never was a point where I thought of doing something else. I enjoyed every moment. Every activity we were given, everything we did. I really enjoyed school.
Ayanda Sithebe: Where do you draw your energy from and what motivates you not to give up?
MKN: My mom. She is a single parent, so she was always proud of me. You know how they(parents) are. Even when you’re in grade 11 they go around telling everyone you’re in grade 11 and they give you so much hope. My mom would brag about me. Even though we didn’t have anything, like money, she would still brag about you(her children) you know. When I passed matric she was the “My child passed matric and she’s moving to Johannesburg” talking mom. Imagine if I moved, didn’t study, got pregnant and went back home? She would be so disappointed. I felt like I was her last hope so I thought that I have to do this. I draw that energy from not wanting to disappoint her. My sister is the last born but I used to behave like one until I got married. Bo last born bo gone. So my mom is my biggest fan, biggest inspiration, she did so well.
M: So your most prominent role is Dintle on Scandal. What are the challenges that come with playing such a character and what are some of the similarities between your characters?
MKN: Challenges; it is that she is so complicated and complex. She is not normal, and that can be challenging for me because every time I read the script I say to myself, oh my goodness is she really going to do this or say that? And I don’t understand her but I’m not judging her or anything like that. There is just something that is not normal about her and I believe that it is because of how she grew up and her past. I just think there are issues about her that are caused by her past that shape how she thinks and how she sees things. So the challenge is that she is not normal.
AS: Did you feed that to the character? Did the writers give you that freedom to use your own voice and speak through her?
MKN: I had to. I read the script and the first few scenes and I realized that I love her language. You can’t script her language. So they(the writers) give me the freedom to play with words and play with vernac. Not just vernac but street vernac. Dintle is so smart! Even though a sa ya skolong, she is very smart. I like how she always manipulates people and how she is always thinking. Those are the similarities. I’m a thinker… I’m always calculating and thinking about something. I love money the way she loves money. The difference is that I work for it and she just wants a sugar daddy. We even have the exact same energy! I don’t like being slow. I even speak fast which is sometimes a problem because people are like ” what did you just say? ” I speak fast because I think fast. We both think, love money, have the same energy and speak the same language.
M: Does it scare you, even a little bit, to know that somewhere in the world the character you’re playing exists? Writers have to draw from somewhere.
MKN: I think it didn’t shake me because there are so many Dintle’s that I know in real life from where I come from. Now I understand why they are doing the stuff that they are doing. Now, because of the character that I play, I can understand why it is they do what they do. Now it makes sense why someone would want to be able to give up their child. Why someone would settle to be in a relationship because of money. Why someone would not want to finish their matric because she doesn’t like school. You learn that really we are not the same. So now I’m not as judgmental as I used to be, saying things like “wooh ngwanyana o o dira eng”. We behave the way we do today because of the things we went through in the past. More than anything, I am no longer judgmental towards people like her. I’m not saying what they are doing is right, but I understand. Although something can be wrong it’s no longer about judgment but you understand and you’re able to feed the character and you can give her a voice to send out the message that there is a way out of every situation. I now understand. I understand.
M: Do you believe that in acting and in characters, there’s always a message?
There is. Even for us as actors. It’s not just a message you want to give to the fans who are watching but I myself am learning a lot from my character. Especially when I did the story-line where she gave birth. I understood exactly what she was going through cause I had also just given birth and I learnt from her that no matter what goes on, your child is your child. I mean imagine that, her first child, she had to give away but this time she told herself otherwise. It’s beyond the fact that Quinton has money or the father of her baby has a company. I see a different side of her from having this child. She told herself that she is not giving this child away. I’m learning a lot from her.
M: Tell me about ‘Moqoqo Friday’, how you came up with it and if you think it speaks to your comedic acting?
If you go on my Instagram, back in the day I had a dog, Duke. I used to have dialogues with Duke. I remember my best friend Florence and I used to play around saying, “ke December so you must hold on to your dog because your dog will run away, ha haha.” So I would always post stuff with Duke. I mean, Duke was even more famous than me! When he wasn’t visible people would ask me “hawu, where is Duke? ” I love taking videos of whatever it is I am thinking. So how Moqoqo Friday came about is, we were sitting with a friend of mine talking about marriage and in-laws. So I was saying, “isn’t it funny how as females we want a certain guy. A guy must cook for you, do certain things for you. But when your brother does all these things for his girlfriend ke boloi!” We want all those things, but when your brother does it “he has been fed”. So I said, you know what, let’s shoot. Let’s reprimand them because such things are not nice. So that is how it started. I have a friend at work called Tsakani, she’s very quiet and shy, and she only has one line but she makes the difference. I can’t do the show alone. She says her one line in siVenda and that adds to the show. Like I said, I’m always thinking, there’s always a story in my head. At this moment, I am thinking of the lady who is passing by. What is her story, what inspired her hairstyle? So I create these stories in my head. Something you should know about me is that I am scared of presenting. I do not like being myself in front of the camera. It’s hard to be myself in front of the camera. Even in school, I dodged presenting-class. I love being someone else in front of the camera because when people criticize you they actually criticize the character, not you. Whereas presenting is personal. Ke Mapaseka. What has happened with Moqoqo Friday is that people now know me by my name and not the character I play. They see a different side of me. I love comedy! One of my dreams is to do a Sitcom. I know I’d kill it. Movies, sitcoms and theatre; I think I just have that energy to do the things.
M: So why the restaurant business?
MKN: I remember after I gave birth my mom had to go back to Bloemfontein after helping with the baby. That was the most depressing time of my life. It was almost like a funeral, you know when everyone leaves it’s just you and everything comes back to you. Now I am alone here with the baby. My mom used to help me with everything. And my husband also had to go back to work. So I got so depressed, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to cook for myself. So Gorge is a franchise. There was a Gorge close to where we used to stay. So my husband used to call them and ask them to make breakfast and lunch for me before he gets home from work. Considering that I was panicking, I was breastfeeding, I mean this was my first child. That’s how I just fell in love with the Gorge brand. I mean everything is fresh and organic. I love their sandwiches and they just promote fresh living. They would deliver while I was at home and as soon as I was able to go out. I’d order from them. One day I remembered that I always wanted a business; to own something, but I didn’t know what. It’s so easy to just register a company, but the question is what do you do with it? My husband has a background in the restaurant business, he loves food and I also love food. So when the opportunity came it was an easy decision. I believe you should always be friendly where ever you go. You never know what seed a person you meet might plant. The owner of Gorge is actually a very friendly person. We had a conversation only to discover that he is selling a franchise. And here we are today at Gorge in Sandton.
M: What does family mean to you?
MKN: Family means love. Family means everything. I didn’t grow up in an environment where my dad was present. I didn’t know what marriage should look like. When I entered the marriage industry I did not have an example. You know there was no reference for how a wife should behave or things a husband should do. All I knew was “the negative”, that one day he might leave you because my dad left us. Now that I have my family, I have my husband and my child, family means love, it really means everything. When I look at my daughter I think I wish I was her, because of the relationship that she has with my husband. It’s amazing. I still want to have that. You will never be too old to have parents. I’m happy for her. I’m happy that I have a humble, chilled husband who has just proven that I will not go, I will stay. When you grew up without a father you always have this negative thing towards men. Whether it’s friendship or relationships. But he gave me hope.
Family, is God showing off.
M: So how do you find the balance between family and such a demanding industry?
MKN: People always lie and say “Oh yes you can do it”. Yes, it’s possible but it is not easy. Marriage itself is a job. This week alone I’m in Monday to Friday from 7 to 7. It’s really really hectic. And it’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask your mom to look after your child for a while because you really need to nap. Sometimes we take simple things like naps for granted. That one precious hour. Especially when you have a child, you miss these things. You miss being able to sleep through the night without having to check on someone. That does not make me a bad mother.
It’s not easy but I’m trying. I told you I love money, so I have to do it. I want to have a nice comfortable life. I have to work hard. I’m an independent woman. I love to work. Our parents did it, with 5 children having no nannies, dropping the child off next door. Things are easier now, so it’s possible.
M: Dream role?
MKN: I love the characters that you can’t confirm. I’ve done so much with Dintle and people know that side of me. I wouldn’t mind playing a quiet character who doesn’t have to say much, but they are actually saying a lot. Imagine going through the most and just silently planning when you will retaliate with a bomb. I want that kind of role. Dintle is always talking, I’m always talking, so a character that doesn’t say much. I want to be lead, with a capital L! ‘Cause as actors we sometimes feel that we have to have a lot of dialogue to be in every scene for people to notice that you can, but that’s not always the case. You can keep quiet and say a lot.’ It would really challenge me because I always want to say something. And maybe one day a lesbian role. Something that is the complete opposite of me.
M: An actor that inspires you who is from South Africa?
MKN: Ntathi Moshesh. She’s amazing. With every role that she has been given. She is not a celebrity. She is so humble and when you meet her she shares information with you. I’m so happy that I got the opportunity to work with her. Jerry Mofokeng. Argh, he is smart. I love his work. Robert Whitehead, I’ve seen him on stage, he is beautiful. Sello Maake ka Ncube on stage is amazing. There are so many.
There is a lady in Isidingo, Soso. I love Soso. She is so raw. Sometimes as actors, we want to be on tv to look pretty. We are not on tv to be pretty; If you are crying and mucus runs down, that’s how we cry in real life. Actors like Soso are raw like that. They are not making the mistake of trying to look pretty on the screen; a mistake that we sometimes make. There is a difference between you and your character. Slay when you are done. There has to be a difference between you and your character. Consider what space your character is in. There is a scene that I did where I was slapped and the wig fell off and my hair was a mess, and I said it’s fine. My character is in hospital, she just gave birth, there is no time to slay and do your hair, -let’s be real. When we are telling this story, let’s tell it in the right way.
A: Do you think as actors we are not taking the craft as seriously as we should be?
MKN: Some, no. For some it’s a gig. It’s a paying gig instead of an opportunity to take a journey with your character. These days research on a character is nothing, which is sad. We don’t respect work ethic like time. I’ve never been late on set, even when I was pregnant. I worked throughout my pregnancy until the 8th month. I have never been late, ever, because I love this so much. I came from Bloemfontein to get here and work. I don’t want to disrespect God. God put me in this place at this particular time, so why must I disrespect Him and be late, be a diva or be unnecessary? I don’t wanna be disrespectful. And when it’s taken away from you again you will say “ke boloi” and it’s really you. We will rant that the industry is unfair but sometimes it’s you causing problems. How you interact with people, from the cleaner to the producer. Let’s be kind. Everyone is here to work.
M: Greatest lesson?
It will pass. Whatever you’re going through it will pass. Even good things pass. That’s the greatest lesson. And the secret is love. Love and laughter are medicine for everything. Laugh man!