“The industry offers a false idea of what success is” – Lerato Mvelase

Actress Lerato Mvelase opens up about motherhood, acting and the hard truth about the industry

Mvelase has always been a performer at heart and, fortunately, she’s managed to make a career out of her gift.

She began her foray into acting in 1995 with theatre, which she says has helped her to develop her craft, stretching her from one aspect of performance to the other. She’s learnt to understand the purpose of what she says and the moments of silence, as well herself as a performer and how to engage with other actors.

“Theatre has done so much for my career; it’s helped me to be an overall performer with a full understanding. Every actor should experience theatre at some point because of its nature,” she says. As an actor, it helps you tap into your talent, she says, which you can translate when you’re on TV. “Theatre helped me to understand what my mind, body and spirit can do when I tap into a role.”

Late last year, Mvelase got a call from the producers of Isibaya. She says her role on the soapie has given her the opportunity to play something other than a woman who’s been through hardships and has to cry in every scene. “It feels amazing to play something different. There are dynamics in every human being, and one thing I’ve always wanted to show is that I’m a strong woman. As much as pain is a part of everyone’s life, I’m a strong woman who wakes up every day and faces challenges with strength, which is what my character is about. That’s what excited me about the show.”

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However, she points out that being on a programme as big as Isibaya has forced her to find her own identity on the show as the the public has already fallen in love with their favourite actors and may be critical of those who join the show. “Slowly but surely I’m finding my own feet and identity,” she says. “The role is growing and I’m enjoying it.”

Mvelase says being on Isibaya is a defining moment in her career. “I’ve enjoyed playing the role of a woman who confidently enters a male-dominated space and remains truthful, determined and honest.”

She also plays the naive Rosie on Saints and Sinners. “I can’t stand her,” she says with a laugh. “She’s completely different from me  – she doesn’t seem able to think for herself or challenge anything she believes.”

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The actress says that even though her career hasn’t progressed as fast, she’s grateful she hasn’t compromised her values, children, friendships and family to get ahead.

She says many performers aren’t satisfied with their development and progress, often comparing themselves to other actors and doing anything – including backstabbing each other – to get ahead. Some will go as far as sleeping with producers or decision-makers within the industry to get a role. “It’s sad to see how much people are willing to lose themselves and the extreme lengths they go to, to get what they want in the industry.”

She says the industry has offered a warped idea of what success is: if you’re not on every cover of a magazine or being interviewed on certain shows by certain presenters, then you aren’t successful or relevant. Mvelase says that for her, not being at every party or event doesn’t mean she’s less relevant – and she’s just fine with the space she finds herself in.

“It’s an industry that can sell you a false idea about what being happy, loved and success is,” she says.

She adds that she hopes to inspire younger artists to find fulfilment in their lives. “Your personal life will inspire your career and your social standing, and you won’t lose yourself.”

The mother to two girls says being a parent is one of the toughest jobs, as you no longer live your life for yourself but for your children. She describes it as being one of the most selfless and powerful experiences a woman can have. “You realise every decision you make after leaving that hospital has absolutely nothing to do with you.”

Motherhood has shown her the beauty within herself and her many facets. “I’ve realised I’m a patient person but also not as strong as I thought.”