Uzalo star Nyalleng Thibedi on Zekhethelo's drug hell

Written by TVSA Team from the blog Interviews on 31 Aug 2018
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If you've been hooked on a drug of any kind, you'll know that the above quote is exactly what your mind tells you when you try to break free.

Your mind slices you in two: one half knows you have to stop - your very survival depends on it - and the other half is your ultimate enemy, luring you with the promise of peace if you just do it once more.

This is the suffering that torments Uzalo's Zekhethelo (Nyalleng Thibedi) who crashed and burned this week after poisoning herself with the drugs she got from Mxolisi (Nay Maps).

This is the agony faced by so many people, myself included. My poisons are painkillers and cigarettes.

I used to take painkillers to kill pains I didn't have and took them to sleep - or to stay awake! Thankfully my battle with them ended a couple of years ago and I don't think about them anymore.

It's a different situation with cigarettes though as their deadly promises of comfort still torture my mind, body and emotions in difficult times.

I can relate to the turmoil that Zekhethelo faces so I chatted to Nyalleng to ask her about the impact of bringing Zekhethelo's story to life on screen.

This is what she had to say:

Tashi: How has the filming of her scenes changed you?

Nyalleng: When I first read them, I got a fright, because as an actor, that is one of the most challenging things to do, especially if you've never done it.

I've never smoked anything in my entire life - I've never even smoked cigarettes, so it was scary because you always want to be honest and the acting must not feel like acting so in that sense it was scary. 

Once I had done my research and incorporated the physicalisations... you know you start on the inside with the psychology and the emotions of it.

Once I'd overcome that, I started the journey and I grew as an actor because I believe acting is a journey and I believe this particular journey helped me step up my game.

On a more personal level, how it changed me... I grew up being put on a pedestal so I grew up to do everything right.

Doing something like this makes you less judgemental because if you are to nail a role, the rule of thumb for an actor is to not judge your character. Having to embrace what she's going through made me more empathetic as a human being.

Tashi: Do you mean towards people who are struggling with drugs?

Nyalleng: Yes, and also people in general who are struggling with stuff. There's sex addiction, there's alcohol and then there's drugs and you know, it just made me more emphatic to the things people are going through. 

There are people who drink but it's not as much as the next person, then there's people who smoke but they only smoke weed but they don't smoke cocaine but they still have to smoke everyday.

Tashi: Have you ever had any personal experience with addiction?

Nyalleng: No, I stopped drinking last year but I wasn't addicted to alcohol and I say this all the time to people, it's not a judgement thing but it's more to do with the industry that I'm in and alcohol is a gateway drug to drugs for some people.

I just got a fright because when you drink alcohol you lose half of your mind and whatnot and you could do stuff that you wouldn't necessarily do in your life when you're not drunk.

I wasn't addicted but I saw a potential to make that decision and I always say to my friends, if I could drink like some of them and handle alcohol well - 'cos I've got a small frame - so one or two glasses for me is just enough to set me off.

It's just a discipline thing. I've been very fortunate - there's a saying in America, by the grace of God goes I - I lived in New York and it's partly a drug hub so I was very fortunate that I never got lured into that lifestyle.

I say I'm fortunate because it can happen to anyone. 

You can see with my character, she was the least likely to fall into drugs in the whole story and yet it happened to her.

Tashi: What kind of research did you do for her storyline?  

Nyalleng: I spoke mostly to people who've been on drugs and I was so scared getting into it, I just didn't know what would be enough, but the more I spoke to people who've taken them or who were recovering and people who were out of it, the more I got it.

The thing with the acting is, once you get the psychology of it, then it's easier to get into other physical things so the more I spoke to the three categories of people, the more it made sense.

What was also nice, even just with people I'm used to, if I start the topic, then everyone would chip in and talk about their experience. It was interesting to find out that most people have tried it.

Tashi: Was the filming of the scenes taxing for you?

Nyalleng: Extremely, ja. I believe in Method acting so if I don't feel it or go there, then it's just not it - why am I doing it? I decided to act because it's something I want to do for the rest of my life.

You have to find something that you're willing to die for - something that means that much to you and I didn't want to do it 80%, it had to be 150% so it was taxing physically.

I think you will see in the story, I look horrible - the first two days I just felt that I'd had an out of body experience - I felt and looked terrible because it's something I felt from the inside.

I'll never forget, one of the guys who chipped in, said that he distinctly remembers the downer from the first time he had it, after it had worn off. That hit a nerve with me.

He said after he had a pill he just wanted to dance all night and then, come morning, the downer is so bad he had no words for it. I was like, "Ah, there you go, I have to feel horrible inside. My head has to hurt, my stomach has to hurt."

They also explained the physical impact of it. I also found that people had different reactions. For some it was their tummy, one lady said she just doesn't remember anything.

With all of that information I had to allow the character to show the impact on her, moment by moment.

Tashi: It really makes you think about people who are stuck in a desperate cycle. How do you help them and how do they help themselves? 

Nyalleng: It's also humbling because it's not something I'm used to, to portray it is really humbling.

Can you relate to Zekhethelo's suffering? Have you been through anything similar? 

Actors in this post: Nyalleng Thibedi

Shows in this post: Uzalo

Channels in this post: SABC1


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