It is so impressive to see an individual transcend from being an artist and entertainer on our shows, to developing into more roles off screen. Nounouche sat down with Mthatha-born, award-winning actress Zola Nombona on her long-standing experience in the acting industry and how it has developed over the years. We also talk about her most exciting role yet; being a mother as well as her entrepreneurial endeavours.
Acting requires one to get into the depth of the character one is portraying. Please share some of your rituals in preparing or getting into character besides script reading & interpretation.
Firstly, I’d love to reiterate the importance of script-reading. As the first point of the map, it allows you to start off in a direction with the character, and ensures that you know where you’re going. Outside of that, there’s a lot of prayer involved and internal questioning to assess who the character is, in relation to myself. This is so that when I am on set, I can avoid a lot of myself bleeding into the character – so this is to allow the character enough space and room to be able to use me as a vessel completely. It is also vital to analyse what differentiates me from the character, in relation to what makes us the same, because for a character to link with an actor, there has to be a part of you that resonates.
The industry is fluid and very competitive. It’s not easy to always be at the top or within trends. After so many years of acting, what are some of the lessons you have learned to own your staying power?
The key is to not panic when the stage is not yours. This career is seasonal, you will not always be at the top unless it’s your season. Not being in the limelight at the time as often as you are used to, often causes a lot of panic and doubt and to the extent of even worrying that perhaps your era is over and you start settling in that dark space. But, understanding that it is a seasonal thing and cycle, where new faces and voices come in and you exchange places – it only signals a time for growth and preparation for a different phase and calibre of characters than what you’ve done before. It is not easy, and I may not have it figured out but I’ve come to learn that when you’re at that place of silence, that is where discipline is required. There’s value in stillness and understanding the process means believing enough and fighting enough to ensure that you are ready when it is your turn again.
Social media is not making it easy for the current crop of entertainers and creatives, with the immediate and constant backlash. How do you navigate the social media space?
I navigate social media by treating myself as a business. Whatever we put out there, needs to be well thought out and you need to think carefully about what you say. The space is volatile and there are minesweepers all over. It brings a new discipline and requires you to think about things and not be reckless. Social media is such a powerful space and it just needs you to navigate it intelligently and strategically. Regardless of the risks it comes with, when you understand what you want from the space then you can optimise its use.
Covid-19 hit the creative industry very hard. We have also witnessed an alarming number of deaths by suicide stemming from mental health issues. How do you stay sane and balance out your private and public life?
I pray a lot. I pray to God and give it to God. Yes I do my part but I also have an understanding that my life unfolds according to God’s will. A lot of pressure people face is that we think we have to do it all. I am so glad I have the love and knowledge of God, understanding who I am with God and who He is in my life. That relationship and allowing God to be God alleviates a lot of pressure and has given me the anchor to not go with the big waves that come and go but to rather be centred and understanding who I am in Christ.
Due to Covid-19, there has been evolution in the industry including digital/online castings. What’s your take on this and how has it been for you?
I am so challenged, and I am honestly struggling with it. The self-tape situation is very different and as unfortunate as it is, we have to adapt and learn this new phase. Especially when it comes to acting, as an artist you feed so much from the other party. Losing that human contact and human energy transferral has been really challenging but I’ve been learning and trying to find new strengths in it. The (covid-19) experience has shown us how much we are so codependent on human beings and need and charge from one another. It has reminded us of ‘ubuntu bethu’ that we need and in fact, lack. We lose a lot of colour as artists who feed from people’s energies so it hasn’t been easy. But we have tried to make the most of the new dynamic and we learn as we go.
Equal pay for male and female actors has been an ongoing issue. Are we seeing any changes?
No, hey. I haven’t seen any changes. I think, the longer you are in the industry, you get more in-depth of an understanding of the differences. It is up to us who are growing with the industry to take up more lead roles as executives, or writers and producers to initiate the change we want to see. We need to fight, educate and try to rectify this issue. It will be a long process as this has been happening for years in the industry, but trying is something that we need to do.
How has motherhood changed and maybe shaped your life as a young woman?
It has transformed my life into pure beauty. It has cracked the shell and introduced me to such a beautiful process of growing up. The journey of being a mom is a precious one and experiencing this love has changed me. I’ve gotten braver, I’m fighting harder now, and this drive is fuelled by this process. Motherhood is challenging, but it’s a process that has allowed me to grow, feel a different kind of love, and has also fed into Zola the artist, and I am embracing every moment.
What would you suggest going forward for brands to embrace the women in the creative arts, and highlight their contribution to the industry?
As women, we need to be in those positions that allow us to control the narrative. The more we fight to get into those positions, the more we can make our way to platforms where we can have a say. How else can we infiltrate a media space that is led by someone that you’d have to teach and constantly remind to acknowledge and see us. And when we get into those positions, let us keep the door(s) open for our fellow women. It is important to rope women in and challenge, educate and expand ourselves to be ready to lead in spaces like that. We can’t always cry on the back foot, we need to fight to get into the front seat.
What can we look forward to from you as a brand in the near future? Any other projects fans should know about and support?
Getting into business is very challenging and time-consuming. At the moment, people should look forward to LXVE (Zola Nombona’s newly launched shape wear like) growing. It’s something that I’ve been working really hard on our products and to expand our brand. Getting support from the public as Zola the businesswoman. Has been something that I really really appreciate, as I know it can be challenging for someone to see you as something other than what they know you for. So I am just focused on building, putting in the time and effort required to make this brand successful and solidify myself in the entrepreneurship space.
As for Zola the actor, I cannot really speak about the projects because they have not come out yet, but people can keep their eyes on our social media pages and stay tuned for the upcoming announcements
What do you wish you knew earlier than you did?
I wish I knew that it is okay to be in my power and celebrate my power, and not hide under the guise of “I am fortunate” and not explore knowing what else to gain out of being part of a mass media show and just being an actor. I wish I knew that I can be a lot of things and not just restrict myself to acting
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to explore acting and sharing their talents publicly?
I’d advise them to keep working hard and to understand that things take time. There’s no need to rush themselves, and to not come into the space for the applause, and to trust their love for the arts. They need to trust their art and understand that the applause will come, and not be impatient because that could be very disheartening.