Nomzamo Mbatha on working with Bruce Willis in Assassin

By Xabiso Ngqabe13 May 2024

Nomzamo Mbatha on working with Bruce Willis in Assassin

You can always count on Nomzamo Mbatha to keep you on the edge of your seat. Three years after her first international breakout role in Eddie Murphy’s Coming 2 America, she takes the lead in the sci-fi thriller Assassin, sharing the screen with the legendary Bruce Willis in his final role. 

Her diverse roles include the long-running hit drama Isibaya, the award-winning film Tell Me Sweet Something and South Africa’s most Googled TV show last year, Shaka iLembe, as Queen Nandi, where she also served as the executive producer. 

With Assassin premiering on Showmax on 13 May 2024, Xabiso Ngqabe sat down with the Durban-born  SAFTA and Africa Movie Academy Award nominee to find out more.

What drew you to the role of Alexa in Assassin?

I loved the idea of delving into the thriller and sci-fi genres because I haven’t had the chance to explore them before. When I got the opportunity to sit down with the director after completing all the auditions, we realised that with sci-fi, thriller, and action, there’s a lot of emotion and heart involved. I really wanted to portray a complex character, who also experiences surprise in the end. But more than anything, I wanted to challenge myself in a different genre, to add sci-fi thrillers to the list of films and projects I’ve accomplished.

Tell us more about the role you’re playing.

Alexa is courageous. She’s a woman who has been mourning because her lover has died, and she hasn’t been able to find the right answers. She is not afraid to go to the very end to get the answers that she needs.

As the story unfolds, we witness her pursuit of truth and justice, while exploring the depths of her love for him and their shared experiences. As a character, she grapples with risking her life and the daunting prospect of uncovering the truth. Despite initial hesitations, she ultimately finds herself compelled to face the truth head-on and see the mission through to the end.

Your character goes through a lot. How did you bring that emotional weight to the character?

For me, it was the idea of grief, but not grieving for someone who has left the earth, but rather for someone who still has a chance to come back to me. Also, my character is trying to balance between the grief and worrying about whether I have lost him forever. But there’s also the complexity of hope – the hope that he will get better, that he will come back to me, that I will find the answers and hold the people who have put him in this state accountable. Little do we know that she’s the one who gets the biggest surprise in the end.

What was your preparation like for this role? 

I had notes upon notes – every kind of note imaginable. It took me months of wanting to do my very best. Obviously, I’m very nervous because I get to be alongside Bruce Willis, someone who’s had a career where he has done a great deal of action films and Hollywood blockbusters. I was very nervous, but once I started production, the nerves vanished. I wasn’t nervous at all.

This was Bruce Willis’ last role. How was it like to work with him and what lessons did you take from him?

Bruce Willis in Assassin on Showmax

I enjoyed working with him so much. He still has that amazing smirk – the Bruce Willis smirk. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from him is the beauty of humility. The fact that you can be the biggest star in the world but still greet everyone on set, just taking a moment to make people feel seen. It was beautiful to witness. It stuck with me that you lose nothing by being a global superstar but still have humility as your core.

You were the only South African in Coming 2 America and again, you’re the only South African in Assassin. What does it mean for you to get a lead credit in a Hollywood film?

It’s really inspiring and affirming in the sense that you are on the right path and the universe is saying yes to your dreams. I’m someone who doesn’t sweat the small steps and the small wins. I always feel that things are moving forward and everything is a building block. That’s a beautiful thing about being South African and being celebrated for achievements, not only in Hollywood but also even on the South African stage. It’s that warm feeling, support, and love.

Watch the trailer for Assassin

How important is it to see Black women diving into sci-fi roles like your role in Assassin?

The more of us there are, the better, because then we break the mould of old Hollywood that says Black people can’t be in sci-fi or that Black people don’t fit well into those kinds of roles. It was very important to be a representation of something that breaks the mould, and I think we continue to be in the conversation to be considered for those kinds of roles.

What are some of the prominent themes in the film?

The themes of strong and courageous women, identity, love, and scientific exploration are prominent in the film because we incorporate human drones. What does that even look like to be a human drone? It implies transforming into something otherworldly and being able to tap into different realms and times. 

You’ve played so many powerful female characters throughout your career. Who are the women in your own life who shaped the storyteller that you are today?

I’d say it’s a mixture of people I’ve grown up watching, who I felt have really been a fantastic mirror of what we can be portrayed in cinema and television. 

Looking at the matriarchs in my family, I think of my grandmother, who has taught me everything I know about running my own race, humility and treating people well. 

I’ve always leaned into the female narrative, whether it’s my peers, friends, family, or people in the industry. I look at those who were able to transform their careers from one narrative to another, like Oprah Winfrey, and how they find different avenues to transform their brand and tap into various opportunities as businesswomen, creatives, and voices of reason in the industry. I also look at women like Angelina Jolie who have inspired my work with the UN and have also influenced my work as an actress and filmmaker. 

What are you currently watching on Showmax right now?

It’s always great to come back home because my friend Nondu always recommends some good shows. Right now, I’m obsessed with and loving Youngins. It’s hilarious and awesome. I’m also enjoying catching up on all the drama in The Mommy Club and The Real Housewives of Durban. And I love my HBO shows that I watch on Showmax. I’m currently enjoying House of the Dragon and can’t wait for the new season. Keep bringing us those international shows! 

Watch Nomzamo Mbatha in Assassin, now streaming on Showmax.

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