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Thando Thabethe talks upcoming crime series Reyka and playing a strong female lead

Photographer: Aart Verrips

Reyka, the much anticipated, brand new African thriller-drama debuts 25 July on M-Net.

The 8-episode series follows a flawed but brilliant criminal profiler, Reyka Gama played by Kim Engelbrecht (Dominion, The Flash). Haunted by her past, she investigates a string of brutal murders committed by a serial killer in the sugar cane fields of KwaZulu-Natal. Having been abducted as a child by a farmer named Speelman played by Iain Glen, (Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey), Reyka is traumatised by the experience but this also helps her enter the minds of Africa's most notorious criminals and turn them inside out. Cast members include, Leeanda Reddy as Alia Sewsunker, Hamilton Dhlamini as Hector Zwane, Mavuso Simelane as Samuel Zwane, Anna-Mart van der Merwe as Elsa, Nokuthula Mavuso as Portia, Rashaan Stackling as Thuli Gama, Gabrielle De Gama as Young Reyka and Desmond Dube as Pastor Zig.

Thando Thabethe appears as Constable Nandi Cele. Confident, forthright and empathetic, she often acts as a moral compass for her colleagues.

GLAMOUR: For those that may be unfamiliar with you or your work, can you tell us about yourself, journey into acting and some of your most memorable roles?

Thando: My journey into acting started as a little girl. I was 13 years old and did school plays like everyone else and I think that’s where the bug bit me, as they say. I fell in love with the medium and somehow knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I went on to study at the University of Johannesburg. While there, I did all the stage productions I could and soon landed my first role on TV at 19 years old. It was a sitcom on SABC 1 called My Perfect Family, that ran for three seasons and it catapulted my career. After that I did many drama series on South African television such as Owethu, Generations the Legacy, which still is one of the biggest soapies in South Africa, for about four years. I then did a show called Housekeepers for two seasons. Those are the most notable TV roles. I have also done a few films such as Love Lives here, and How to Ruin Christmas: The Wedding. Those are the ones that are at the top of my mind but I’ve had a good 10 years in the world of professional acting.

GLAMOUR: What do you believe is your greatest strength as an actor?

Thando: My greatest strength as an actor definitely has to be the ability to empathise - to be able to remove yourself and empathise with the character that you’re playing is very important. I think my greatest strength is to truly feel and fall in love with the character. At any given moment I am able to transition into what needs to happen and to truly feel what the character is going through so it’s not so much acting, it almost becomes as though something takes over me, a possession if you will. It’s an incredible art form and I think it is such a beautiful thing to be able to do. Empathy together with life experience - I think there is a lot that has happened in my life that has allowed me to empathize.

GLAMOUR: Reyka is a fast-paced detective thriller - are you a fan of this genre?

Thando: Absolutely! Who isn’t a big fan of thrillers? I think anything that has you on your toes, wondering about what is going to happen next is a good watch and I think Reyka is up there with some of the best things I’ve ever seen!

GLAMOUR: Can you tell us about your character, Constable Nandi Cele?

Thando: Nandi Cele is a young, ambitious detective who is looking to climb up the ranks. Obviously Reyka ranks much higher than she does and Nandi looks up to her. She seems to have had a great upbringing and is very close with her family so the events that happen in the sugar cane fields hit home to her. I think she almost felt as though it could happen to her and to think that it has happened to her people is a very scary thought. She is a loving, ambitious person. I think ultimately her ambition is what gets in her way.

GLAMOUR: Do you like your character in any way?

Thando: Probably just on the level of ambition. She is very inquisitive and always wants to learn new things and I think that that is totally me!

GLAMOUR: What was the most challenging aspect of this role and how did you prepare for it?

Thando: The most challenging aspect of this role was probably that I had never done an action genre before. I had never held a gun before the series. Fun fact: I was really scared of guns before the series so I prepared for it by going to an outdoor shooting range and I got familiar with how to handle a gun. I think it was important for me to be able to sell it in the most authentic way that I could.

Thando Thabethe as Nandi in REYKA

GLAMOUR: Can you comment on the cast and the experience of working with them?

Thando: I think the cast is made up of some of the most incredible talent; I am going to go ahead and say in the world! It was just incredible to be amidst all of that amazing energy of just pure talent. As much as the genre of the show is a thriller and sometimes very dark, I think we found beautiful moments where we sat on our own and had conversations completely unrelated. I think that is very important - when you’re doing something like this to be able to tap out and tap back in because you feel comfortable in the environment, you’re in. The cast is truly just some of the most incredible actors in the world and it was an honour to be beside them on set.

GLAMOUR: Your character is described as being idealistic - how did you find the balance portraying idealism and realism and having the scepticism that those involved in crime investigations usually have?

Thando: I think the whole theme around the show is exactly that - the idea of finding balance between idealism and realism. I think in Reyka, that it is not all as it seems, which I think is very important when detectives go into an investigation, finding out what is real and what is not. I think that was a difficult balance to portray but it worked because that is a normal battle that people have to find out what is real and what is not real, and it was exactly what Nandi was going through. She is generally idealistic but in the way in which the story is set, it becomes hard to tell the difference.

GLAMOUR: Your character spends a lot of time working together with Reyka, who has an opposing identity - can you comment on the contrasts between the two characters and how they end up complimenting, or even changing, each other?

Thando: Yes, Reyka and Nandi are completely different. Reyka, like I mentioned earlier, is very sporadic in her decision-making. She is very ambitious and tows the line between what she is supposed to be doing and what she is not allowed to do, Whereas, Nandi plays it by the book. They managed to find the balance because if one person is doing the one extreme and the other one is doing the other extreme, somehow, those two middle grounds managed to find each other. I think in terms of their moral compasses, Reyka has been damaged if you will, whereas Nandi comes from a home where she has been protected and I think she brings to light the idea of what it is to be protected and what is okay and what is not okay, which I think Reyka wasn’t always aware of until her conversations with Nandi. Nandi definitely brought that to her and Reyka teaches Nandi the importance of following your ambition and, let’s just say, sometimes you shouldn’t always follow all the advice you receive.

GLAMOUR: What do you love the most about being able to portray interesting characters and strong female leads?

Thando: I love being able to walk into the shoes of different people, to live a life unimagined - a life I otherwise wouldn’t even be able to dream of living. That’s what I love about this medium of work and that’s why I always try to seek characters that I have never done before. In terms of female leads, they are my favourite identities to watch on TV! I love that we are now in a world where women’s voices are heard, where women’s art is trusted enough to lead and where we are celebrated and understood. Our downfalls and our stories are being told and it is so important!

GLAMOUR: It has been said that the level of local productions has risen to that of foreign productions. Do you agree and is Reyka a good example of this?

Thando: I agree 100%! The level of production on Reyka is just simply astounding. To be able to be a part of it, I can’t even describe it to you. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I cannot wait to see what else South Africa has to offer. I think we are on an upward trajectory and I am immensely excited to see where we go from here and progress.

GLAMOUR: Can you talk about any future projects and ambitions?

Thando: I am currently in a production on a new series that I think everyone will love! I can’t say too much on it yet, but it’s really exciting! My future ambitions lie in creating and telling more stories. I’m diving into producing which is a completely new world for me, and I am so excited about that. As I continue my career I hope to tap into many more aspects of filmmaking! Reyka has given me a taste and it tastes delicious, so I’d love to eat it up a little bit more.

*For updates and more go to the Reyka webpage and join the conversation by using #ReykaSA on Twitter (@MNet)/ Instagram (@mnettv)/ Facebook (@MNet) and DStv Twitter (@DStv)/Instagram (@dstvza)/Facebook (@DStvSouthAfrica).

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