After a brief time-out from TV to establish his business, Mzwandile Ngubeni returns to centre-stage on the popular telenovela ‘The River’.
By: Musa ‘Gift’ Mqwashu
The talented actor delivers a tour-de-force performance as the pilot, “Elvis”, who is determined to take down “Lindiwe Dikana” (played by Sindi Dlathu).
Before taking a five-year hiatus from in front of the camera, Mzwandile appeared in many local productions like Generations, Isidingo, Intersexions 2 and Backstage, to name a few.
He tells Blacklight during a Zoom conversation that he is elated to be back to his first love – acting.
Blacklight: How does it feel to be back on screen?
Mzwandile Ngubeni: It’s very different and exciting. I am serving my purpose – I have always been a performer. I studied performance at The National School of the Arts and graduated from AFDA (African Film Drama Art) in 2003. It is a great honour to be back, especially on a show like ‘The River’.
BL: What made this role so perfect for your comeback?
MN: “Elvis” is so different from all the characters I have played before. I have always played the good guy. Those are the type of roles that even in my hiatus, agents and producers would send me. What made “Elvis” different is that he doesn’t match any of the characters that people have seen me play on screen.
BL: Was there a particular reason behind the hiatus?
MN: There are two particular reasons: 1) I genuinely wanted to start a family and be more stable. As actors, we do not get paid enough to start a family, have a wife, and kids and take them to [proper] schools. 2) I wanted to start a business. I run a business called Mazothe Media; which offers media services for radio, audiovisual, industrial theatre and executive facilitation – I needed to go and build that and come back [to acting] when things had settled.
BL: What did stepping away from the screen teach you about yourself?
MN: I learnt that sometimes you have to make hard decisions. Stepping away from acting was a tough decision because that’s all I knew – it’s what I wanted to do from the age of eight.
BL: Being an entertainer requires a lot of giving of oneself; how have you navigated the pressures of the industry?
MN: By being humble, true to myself and respecting everybody, and most importantly respecting the job. The pressures of the industry require one to be humble and not forget where they come from.
BL: It cannot be an easy decision to take a break from what you love. What was the psychological impact of letting it all go?
MN: The psychological impact of staying away was huge. You have to keep your mind and heart on the vision that you set-up for yourself. It’s been five years since my business has been running, and God blessed me with a role like “Elvis”, which makes it all worth it.
BL: What did you have to implement in your life to prepare you for this next chapter of your life?
MN: I had to find the passion again; it is difficult now because you cannot go to the theatre. If it was pre – Covid-19, I’d be spending time watching a lot of theatre shows. With this one, I had to go online and watch a lot of psychological references. “Elvis “is a psychologically challenged young man who knows what he wants and is on a mission to get it. Finding that tricks; to make him believable was a conscious decision.
BL: What are your intentions with your career this time around?
MN: I want people, producers, writers and broadcasters to see that there’s versatility in what I do. Yes, I do a lot of presenting, but I trained in performance art. I am still open to doing presenting work; I have got a show coming up that I cannot talk about right now.
BL: How important it is to be spiritually rooted in these dark times?
MN: If nobody has understood the power of God and the importance of faith over the past year, then they will never understand it. If your faith is strong, then you do not go around trying to prove it to anybody. Faith is your personal journey and a conversation with your God.
BL: How do you nurture your “self”, so you can perform at your highest level?
MN: I have learnt to do this by finding out what pulls me into the dark, identifying it, and understanding the things that make me become a dark person and blocking them. In our community, we do not realise that our [personal] wellness is connected to our family and community – whether we are connected by blood or not.
BL: What are you looking forward to the most in this new chapter of your life?
MN: I am looking forward to expressing these new characters that have not been unearthed. There are so many stories and narratives that have not been told. There are many up-and-coming creatives, directors and I hope they see the work and want to create with me.