Nomsa Buthelezi  gets down to bare bones to play Lockdown’s Slenda

12 March 2020

Nomsa Buthelezi gets down to bare bones to play Lockdown’s Slenda

Slenda may be suffering from mental illness, but she’s very intelligent. She understands many things better than the sane inmates. She knows each and every corner of the prison – if she wanted to escape, she’d have escaped by now.

The character has really grown from Season 1. Even though I didn’t have such a big role in the first season, when Slenda fell from the rooftop and died, people were very upset. Somehow, Slenda was resurrected, like Lazarus from the Bible!

Slenda has helped people talk about mental illness. I grew up in Alexandra, and people weren’t aware of mental illness until Slenda came into the picture. Then they realised they also know people like that, and it helped them to understand people who are suffering from mental illnesses.

Some people believe it’s witchcraft. They don’t understand that someone can be depressed and in pain, and it triggers the mind without them being aware they’re doing something crazy. People will say, she is crazy. She’s not crazy – she’s in pain.

Finally, in Season 5, people will hear Slenda’s story, and find out why she carries a towel and treats it as if it were her baby. What really happened to Thuli? It’s a very sad story. Slenda was raped while Thuli was on her back, and the force of the men pressing on Slenda suffocated her baby. This trauma, and the other sad things that have happened in her life, drove Slenda mad.

Despite all this, Slenda has grown a lot and she is truly feisty. She is saying, okay, I’m a bit disturbed but I’m not crazy – I’m traumatised.

“When you’re a storyteller, you forget about yourself”

I’m very bubbly on Our Perfect Wedding, but I’m really different on Lockdown! They say, when you’re a storyteller, you forget about yourself. On the other show, I’m glamorous and beautiful – the hair, the heels, all of it. Then all of a sudden, I come with short hair and I look like a boy. It can be a shock for some people!

I feel connected to Slenda – I understand her. I have also lost a baby. Mine was a medical problem – I had a premature baby, while Slenda lost a grown baby of around a year and eight months. But even though for me, it was only 10 days, it was very painful. There’s no time limit on the connection between a mother and a child.

People have different ways of channelling their characters. Every character I do, I pray about it first, because I believe acting is spirituality. I say, I want to tell the real story – I don’t want to act it, I want to live it. The minute I put on Slenda’s clothes, I feel the pain in my knees and my side, because she fell. I connect.

After I was resurrected, I developed a twitch. (Director) Mandla N said to me, remember you fell from the roof last season. So you’re going to show us that that happened. So I said, I’m not going to show you – I’m going to live it. When they shouted “Action!” she starting twitching. When they shout “Cut!”, it’s gone again. Mandla said, what happened? I said, I don’t know. It’s the character who says I was injured. Everywhere I go now, people look for the twitch.

“I had the talent, but I didn’t believe TV was for big women – I’d seen women on TV and they were all thin.”

Nomsa Buthelezi

I was born and bred in Alexandra. The only thing I was the best at was acting. In drama class, I was number one. At the same time, somehow I have a photographic memory. I can read a script for two minutes and I know it. It helped me at school too – that’s why I skipped three grades. Even in Grade R, our teacher did a show for us. The whole cast forgot their lines, so I moved around and reminded everyone of their lines. In Grade 9 again, at Alexandra High School, I was in a play and there were many prominent people there. People forgot their lines again, and I saved the show. It’s a God-given gift I didn’t recognise at first.

When people asked me what I wanted to do, I said fashion designer, because I like clothes. But somehow, I ended up as a theatre actress. Someone said I have a future in the theatre, but I said, do you know how broke these people are!

My father encouraged me to go to my first television audition. I didn’t have the money, so he gave me R22 to go. I had the talent, but I didn’t believe TV was for big women – I’d seen women on TV and they were all thin. 

My dad is my lifetime ninja and number one fan. He goes around with my photo, and a file he has. He tells everyone, this is my daughter – even in the taxi.

What’s next for Slenda? People are going to see her other side, the sensitive part. I think her past is going to come knocking. She’s very fragile and emotional. When it comes to the friendship between Slenda and Mazet, it’s going to be flames.

My takeaway from Slenda is her strength. Whatever she’s going through now, she knows it doesn’t determine her future. Even as Norma, she gives me strength. Sometimes I’m weak or sick from other shoots, but when I come here, I’m charged up.

Watch Nomsa as Slenda in all five seasons of Lockdown so far. You can only watch all episodes on Showmax.

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