SAFTA winner Nolwazi Shange on playing the family matriarch in Outlaws

By Xabiso Ngqabe31 August 2023

SAFTA winner Nolwazi Shange on playing the family matriarch in Outlaws

Premiering on 6 September 2023 on Showmax, Outlaws co-stars Nolwazi Shange as Nandi, the strong-willed matriarch of the Zulu, cattle-farming Biyela clan, who are at war with the Basotho, cattle-raiding Tseoles. 

The KZN-born actress shot to fame as Precious in A Place Called Home, which earned her a SAFTA as Best Actress in a TV Drama. For more than a decade since, she has given us incredible performances in some of the most celebrated content in Mzansi, including SAFTA-nominated performances as Ntombi in Intersexions and Dezi in Otelo Burning. More recently, she played Sibongile, the villain we loved to hate in Mzali Wam, and had viewers on the edge of their seats as Mbali Khubeka on Scandal! She’s not only a star in front of the camera but is also involved with casting for some of Mzansi’s hit shows and movies.

Watch the trailer for Outlaws

We caught up with the Durban University of Technology alum about her role in Outlaws and how she has remained consistent with every role she plays.

What made you say “yes” to Outlaws?

The story. It’s also my first Showmax Original. That’s been my dream and I hope to receive more opportunities. 

Outlaws is like nothing we’ve seen in SA. What was your initial reaction when you got the script? 

My initial reaction was, ‘sign me up!’ I was immediately excited by the idea of being involved in action sequences and challenging my body in that way. It’s a first for me in the years I’ve been working. Listen, I’m not a small girl, and I found it quite cool that I could express and use my body in that way. Oh, what a thrill! 

Nolwazi Shange in her role as Nandi Biyela in Outlaws S1

Was this role more demanding than you thought it would be? 

It definitely was. There were a good few days of shooting this epic sequence and my body was challenged. A challenge I would gladly leap into again, given the chance. 

Are there any parts of Nandi you see in yourself? 

Oh, yeah! Nandi is head strong and determined. She doesn’t shy away from challenges but goes full steam ahead, with a very clear strategy in mind. She’s also just as nurturing and present. Maybe I’m over-hyping myself here, but I’d like to believe I possess these qualities. They are definitely qualities I resonate with. 

How do you manage to evolve with every role you play? 

Preparation. A step I never want to short-change. Who is the character I am playing? What is their goal? How do they relate to the other characters? I then watch to see if the choices I made translate and try to not repeat ‘tricks’ I’ve used before. It all comes from a place of genuine love and respect. I love performing and respect it as an art form. I want to continue improving. That’s my drive. 

Talk us through your preparation for this role. 

It was very mental. I was lucky I had handled a firearm before and received training, so that thrilled me more than it intimidated me. We thoroughly rehearsed the action sequences, which helped when we got to set. It didn’t feel foreign. I like reading the script. More like study it. I speak to the actors to get their interpretations and better understand the story arch. That informs me with enough knowledge to allow instinct to lead when shooting. I believe the first reaction or feeling is always the right one. That’s what I commit to building on. 

How do you find ways to take care of yourself when processing emotionally intense scenes? 

I cannot allow myself to forget that it’s the character going through all this and not me. But I find I’m able to process it better with the assistance of silence and solitude and quiet meditation. 

How important is it to tell our stories as South Africans? 

We have to. And more than telling them, we have to consume them. We have to be an audience that watches our stories and when provided the opportunity, share positive feedback. It’s our responsibility. Otherwise, how will our industry grow? 

One word to describe Outlaws? 

Epic! It’s truly one of those epic dramas everyone would wish they were a part of. 

Why should audiences watch this? 

It’s a beautiful story with a great cast. It’s relatable, in that it explores how our differences are our strengths, and also how alike we are in our differences, how we can find common ground and maybe love in our differences. I really want audiences to be immersed in the story and just sit back and marvel at this beautifully told story. 

Watch Outlaws now on Showmax.