When South African actor, Thuso Mbedu, reflects on the gifts that resulted from portraying the character, Nawi, in the highly anticipated upcoming film, The female king, there is a particular experience embedded in his heart that comes to mind. “Phew. I think I’m not a very controversial person or a competitive person, and Nawi a thousand percent is,” Mbedu says, reflecting on the seismic difference between her and the character at the start of the project. The 31-year-old star, who audiences will see step into the role of Nawi on the big screen next September, plays an orphan who is more afraid of being alone than of dying and whose quest for a sense of belonging leads to join an army of women led by Nanisca (played by Viola Davis).
Initially, when it came to navigating conflict and asserting one’s wants, one’s needs, one’s discontent – all those things that go along with occupying comfortable space in the world – Mbedu was more introspective . She used to walk away from a dispute and take time to process her feelings, choosing to address issues of if and when she felt ready, unlike her character, Nawi, who openly agreed to speak her mind and face the conflict head-on without apologies. “Even in practice, one of the biggest notes was, ‘So get mad, Thuso, get stronger,’ you know?” Mbedu talks about the rigorous preparation for the role, which stretched her mentally and physically in a way that seems hugely rewarding in hindsight. “On set, in performance, in fights, (director) Gina Prince-Bythewood always had to push me, like, ‘Use your voice, use your voice, take up space.’ I’ve lived an existence where I basically apologize for being, for existing — and Nawi isn’t. She’s like, ‘I’m here, and you’re going to have to take care of me. And that’ is that.’ So I think it’s a gift that I stole from him, a bit.