By Grant Moyo
Sibongile Mlambo, a Zimbabwean actress based in Hollywood, says she enjoys authentically portraying different characters, lives, and perspectives, especially those of fierce, strong, multi-faceted women. She was seen earlier this year on an episode of American comedy-drama television series God Friended Me, airing on CBS, playing the character of Princess Lulu from the fictional country of Longo. The illustrious actress will be seen next in the Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams-produced American drama horror television series titled Lovecraft Country, which is set to premiere next Sunday, on HBO.
Mlambo began her acting career in Zimbabwe appearing in commercials. Her childhood was filled with family gatherings, extra-curricular activities, as well as explorations in art, fashion, languages and youth outreach programmes. Somewhere along the journey she fell in love with performing, her talents eventually led her to Cape Town, South Africa, where there was more opportunity.
Her film credits include Message From The King with renowned actor Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Under the Silver Lake with seasoned actors Andrew Garfield and Riley Keough, The Last Face — directed by Sean Penn with veteran South African and American actress Charlize Theron, and famed actor Javier Bardem, as well as Honey 3 (Universal) where she played the character of Ishani, the fiery dancer, to mention but a few.
“My very first memory of acting was for fun at my grandfather’s house during Christmas. My siblings, cousins, and I would put on plays and performances. My first professional role was in the feature film, Kini and Adams in 1997,” Mlambo said.
“When I think of great performances, I remember how much I was affected by them and how the actresses and actors allowed themselves to be vulnerable and take the audience on a journey with them. There are a lot of good actresses and actors, the great ones are the ones that you remember, whose performances stand out.
“I think my big break was when I worked on Black Sails (Starz) in South Africa. It was my first international series where I had more than a couple of lines. I got to spend a lot of time on set with the lead actresses and actors who were from all over the world. Talking to them and hearing their stories opened my eyes to what’s possible and affirmed my desire to go to Hollywood.”
The well known actress who got her start in the entertainment industry in the late 1990s, but did not see a huge surge in her career until the mid 2010s can also be seen in Lost In Space (Netflix), Siren (ABC), Dark/Web (Amazon), Macgyver (CBS) and Teen Wolf (MTV), among others.
“I’d say Teen Wolf, Lost In Space and Siren were game changers for me. Teen Wolf was the first series I shot in Los Angeles, it was my first major recurring role with an American accent which was big for me,” she said.
“Lost In Space was the first series I was flown out for, it mostly shoots in Canada and the locations and sets are incredible. ‘Siren’ was my first series in a lead role, it introduced me to conventions and publicity which is a whole other world. These productions have all been very memorable.”
Giving her insight on the various characters she has played, Mlambo acknowledged that after getting a particular role, she looks for all the things she has in common with the specific character, and asks herself what she would do if she was in their shoes. She noted that she uses as much of her life experience as she can, and leave the rest up to imagination and research.
“A role that took me way out of my comfort zone was in Siren. I wouldn’t call myself a strong swimmer at all, but I spent half the show in the water,” she said.
“I made sure I was physically fit so I was ready for what was required of me. I had breath-hold training to learn how to hold my breath for long periods of time. I trained to get a Padi open water diving certificate, which taught me how to use diving equipment and how to work in deep water.
“It was scary in the beginning, I remember thinking I was going to die during the screen test but I kept pushing myself and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life.”
The worthy actress also pointed out on what goes on behind the scenes and on set during a production, hinting on some of the crucial elements that make up a good production like time management, communication, as well as coordination of cast and crew, to name but a few.
“In pre-production, the cast will meet the heads of the departments they will be working with directly, for example, hair, make-up, and wardrobe,” Mlambo said.
“During production, the cast will meet more of the crew on set, during breaks or off set activities. If cast is required for post production, they’ll be contacted by the specific department.
“The time frame you are given to practice script lines varies depending on the situation and production. It can be a minute if you’re in the middle of shooting a scene and a new line is suggested or a few days if you’re preparing scenes for a television show.”
She added: “TV shows tend to shoot faster than movies. On average it takes 10 working days to shoot an episode of TV with scenes varying from anywhere between three to six hours to shoot. A full feature film can take anywhere from two weeks to a couple of months, it really depends on the script.”
Mlambo, who is also a model and dancer, admits to have never let doubt stop her from fulfilling her dreams, she believed she would make it and defined all odds by working hard to overcome her fear of failure. To date, she has made progress as a highly respected international actress.
“Besides having to look my best, I have felt pressure to be sexy and to live up to Eurocentric standards of beauty. Defiantly, I am committed to portraying myself in the most authentic way possible. It isn’t always easy, but I believe that by embracing all of myself I can play my part in expanding the definition of what is considered beautiful and successful,” she said.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the world, most of Mlambo’s auditions have been online, and she expects that to continue throughout the year hoping to book her next project soon. In the near future, the successful actress looks forward to producing her own content and telling her personal stories.