ACTOR SPACES | NTHATI MOSHESH | Portraits

NTHATI MOSHESH

It is the morning of August 5 in the affluent suburb of Portview in Roodepoort
The highly secured mansion is home to the popular Mzansi Magic drama series,
‘Greed and Desire’

We drive through the gated street and make our way into this beast of a house where
locating Nthati Moshesh feels like searching for a needle in a haystack. When she eventually
makes her way, with coffee in hand and a smile as warm the gown she’s wearing to keep
the cold at bay. I don’t need to break the ice with Nthati, she has a way of melting into
people and before we know it, we are outside sinking ourselves into the benches.

Joking about before the intimate conversations begin, behind her is a luscious
garden staring back at me and I am looking at her, with such reverence curios to know,
after over 20 years’ of acting experience. What exactly does the word ‘Actor’ meant to her?

She takes a moment, overwhelmed by the power of the word and all that it embodies.
She begins to unpack its meaning with unwavering conviction.

“‘Act’ – Means you’re playing, you’re assuming, you’re assimilating a role. You’re acting something out ‘or’- Means you’re playing within a certain boundary or you’re not. If you’re going to call yourself an actor it means you’re going to have to get rid of the ‘or’ because you can’t say I’m acting or I’m not.When you act, you become the doer.”

Startled by her own words, she takes a moment to pat herself on the back, reiterating
sarcastically ‘I came up with that.’ We chortle but not for long because Nthati’s morning
schedule is tightly knit, there is barely space to weave myself into the
minutes she has in-between her shoot. To whisk her away while the crew resolves any
technical glitches.

We had just been asked to clear the set area because sometime sets feel like peak hour traffic.
It’s always rush hour, time is money and scenes must move steadily without
obstruction. So I leave the room and wait patiently at a safe distance,
in an outside area where benches stand idle, waiting to be sat on.

When the sun came out of hiding, Nthati was done with her morning shoot.
Her make up still bold on her face, her hair styled in a short bob flaunting her jawline
and youth.  She looks too young to have been one of the first black graduates from Natal Tech, now known as DUT. But she confirms with a mouth full of disbelief. Perplexed by how anyone could have caught wind of this “Someone must have whispered this in your ear.” She says.

Chuffed with myself in having flattered her with knowledge she didn’t think anybody
deserved to know. I sensed a tinge of shyness in her voice, the kind that makes one say
Well… There were others before me.

“I was actually the third black graduate from Natal Tech. First was Thuli Mtshali who graduated in 1988], then Lindelani Buthelezi in [1989]. I graduated in [1990].” I wanted to say: ‘Nthati, this is not the Guinness World Book of Records, you were third and that is an admirable history record because since graduation, you have maintained your staying power within the industry. Bravado”

Although Moshesh is modest about her achievements, when she speaks of her acting profession, even I want to step back to give room to all that power. I goof around she says, but I’m very disciplined. I am never late! The word ‘Action’ is a trigger for her and once it goes off, Nthati Moshesh seizes to exist. She is either Thandeka on Home Affairs, Dibuseng on Thola or Mamohato on Saints and sinners.

But in 2015 she was neither. Moshesh hit a dead end when she endured a financially dreadful. This was the first time she had ever experienced unemployment for 8 months. There were no lights or cameras, just the dim reality of having to gather the humility to allow her family to step in and assist.

When she shared the story of how her sister would ask how much she needed to survive the drought.
I could see that glint of shyness reappear in Nthati’s eyes, so she underestimated the figure.
But her sister knew better, she understood what it took to keep her sibling afloat and she
gave more than Nthati had asked for.

I now understand why Family is like a sacred portrait for Nthati. Why she looks up to her
late father. She was a daddy’s girl. And when she struggles with cracking an emotional scene she says: “Daddy I’m not coping, then she feels his presence and hears his encouragement.
Unfortunately Thola is the role where Nthati lost her dad, so he never got to watch that drama.

“My dad got so emotionally involved in my stories, after watching me on screen, he would ring me up immediately with commentary. He’d ask ‘Now what on earth were you doing there?’ His question were always directed to me, his daughter, not the character I inhabited.”

Nthati cannot refrain herself from re-enacting her father, throughout our conversation.
She keeps switching to dad would have said mode and at this point I have forgotten that this is
my first encounter with the SAFTA award recipient. It feels like I’m in conversation with a long
lost aunt and as the imaginary niece I’m concerned about her healing process.

If art is truly a tool for healing, how does acting serve the wounds?When Nthati explained how her role in Thola was dedicated to her late dad I must say, confusion kicked in until she said

“ I played that role as though dad was watching and he was giving me feed-back as usual” So that role was a silent conversation with her father. Something Godly, close to prayer. Nthati believes ‘God Directs Her Life.’ She says: “It’s almost like with each death my relationship with God is elevated. I realize that he is the source of my income. Not my producer, not my agent. At the end of one role and into the next role I say: Then lead me to where I’m supposed to go.

And the next phase in Nthati’s life was Thola, that’s where God lead her to when
her contract with Scandal drew to an end, after a period of eight years on the Soapie.
Her self-esteem plummeted when they let her character go. She began doubting her acting abilities.
But Thola was an ego booster, it reaffirmed me”

Thola also meant, lead roles for women over 40. The Television industry seem to be retiring lead roles for actors over 40 years of age. Imagine all the active performers over the age of 40 rotting in their homes because the industry is only creating opportunities for young actors to take the lead.
Nthati raises a deep concern for the forgotten aging veterans.

If you look at most Soapies right now, you’ll see that the lead roles are getting younger.Meaning the younger faces are getting employed as leads. Then you look at mam’ Marry Twala’s generation, I can almost count the ones that are always employed on one hand. What must happens to those actors who are still passionate be-tween age 60- 80? There is no longer space for them.

It’s such a great misfortune that we dispose of the elderly before their bones retire.
The industry can be shrude and even the fittest lose.

But Moshesh has managed to stay afloat, her head is steady above the water
even when death keeps coming for her loved ones
In their memory, I ask her to assemble a cast that could embody her parents and sister in-law
as they were in the flesh and to include her ideal production team to execute her life-story
titled: God Directs My LifeShe staggers a bit, then realizes that she already has her team mapped out.

Tshepo Matlanyane: [AD]
He is world class material. He is the king of AD who anticipates an actor and a director’s needs.
You won’t even notice if a cast member is unavailable, because Tshepo
can compile a schedule without inconveniencing anyone.
So will save me money because, he will work smart.

Khanyi Matlanyane: [Line Producer]
She is like my younger sister/Voice of reason.
The Matlanyane’s would be my right hand.

Wardrobe: [Personal Stylist]
One of the biggest disappointments in my career has always been wardrobe.
I’ve always had a problem with my wardrobe on every production I’ve worked on.
But there’s a man who styled me for my Drum shoot. He understood my body.
I’d get someone like him, who’d style my actors more than just clothe them.

Michael Mothombo: [DOP]

Directors:
Thabo Khambule
Danny Miller
Zolani Phakade

The Cast:
Nandi Nyembe: MY Mother
Owen Sejake: My Father
Sister In-law: I would need someone else’s input because I would make
an emotionally biased decision.”

Maybe one day, her biopic documenting her journey, strength and will power to live will
launch on the big screen in the mean-time, catch her on Greed and Desire.

PORTRAITS |NTHATI MOSHESH

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