By Grant Moyo
Actresses and actors are often highly empathetic people who inhabit the skin of characters that are different from themselves, for as long as they stay grounded they build characters from a place of truth and acceptance, says British-Zimbabwean actress Tanyaradzwa Fear.
Having ventured into the international film and television scene in the United Kingdom and United States affectionately known as Tanya, she recently reclaimed her full name after realising the need to join the chorus of African artistes embracing their heritage. Best known for playing the character Harlow in Hollywood film, Kick Ass 2, Tanyaradzwa admits that although acting was always close to her heart, she was not sure if it was possible to pursue it as a career until she went to study performing arts in Los Angeles at the age of 19. She ascribes the confidence in her abilities to diligence and patience.
Born in London to a Zimbabwean mother and English father, Tanyaradzwa did her primary education at Whitestone Primary School in Bulawayo as well as St Mary’s Catholic School in West London. She was awarded “academic buttons”, the highest accolade for straight A grades while in high school at Christ’s Hospital boarding school in West Sussex. The international actress excelled in languages, particularly French, Latin and German, which she studied at Advanced Level. She holds a Bachelor’s Honours Degree in Comparative Literature from King’s College London.
In 2019 she was named one of 25 rising stars by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in Los Angeles (BAFTA LA). To date she has starred in television and film productions like Netflix’s Spotless, Doctor Who, a British science fiction television programme, and A Moving Image, a social justice film directed by Shola Amoo. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic she wrote, directed and starred in the viral comedy series Shoot Your Shot, a romantic comedy exploring pandemic-era love.
“Growing up as a person of mixed race in the UK, I was exposed to many different cultures. London is a melting pot so I would say that my upbringing was extremely culturally rich. I went to a boarding school which had its challenges, but I had an amazing education. I was bullied at school which definitely left a mark emotionally, but I am proud of how I found means to survive to get to this point. From a tender age, I always felt the desire to perform. From taking numerous dance and performance classes to putting on shows for my family, it was always in my blood,” Tanyaradzwa said.
“Being curious and always reading, I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world through the transformative power of kindness, the emotive power of performance and the unique power of my own personal light. Enrolling in an acting school in Los Angeles brought me out of my shell, hence I decided to move to Hollywood later in my career after I realised that there were more opportunities for actresses and actors of colour there than in the UK.”
The actress acknowledges that despite having had big moments acting alongside prominent Hollywood movie titans, acquiring leading roles in blockbuster films, and getting the opportunity to play a Zimbabwean character on stage in London, she is very much still in the process of steadily growing her career. She says all the roles she has played have brought their unique challenges.
Though working in theatre was a new challenge as she usually works in television, the actress says she is keen to do more theatre once the Covid-19 global shock is contained. Despite that playing a bully in Kick Ass 2 was very far from her comfort zone, Tanyaradzwa pointed out that she was there to do her job and portray what high school is really like for the majority of teenagers.
“The first Hollywood film that I starred in was Kick Ass 2. This was an incredible moment for me as it was pretty early on in my career that I got to be in a project with a seasoned actor like Jim Carrey (Canadian-American). On this job I learned about shooting with a massive crew and just how many people are involved in megahit films. A Moving Image was my first lead role in a feature film. It was a particularly meaningful project for me because it had a socially conscious message at its core. It challenged people to interrogate how the process of gentrification can have detrimental effects to existing communities as people no longer afford to live in places they had built over decades. It celebrates the African and Caribbean communities in South London. I loved this experience as I got to shoot with critically acclaimed director Shola Amoo,” she said.
“More recently, joining the cast of the iconic show Doctor Who (BBC One) was such a fun experience, it was an honour to be a part of such a long-running show. The cast was incurably kind and supportive, we had a blast together. A play called The Epic Adventure of Nhamo the Manyika Warrior and his Sexy Wife Chipo that I performed in at the Tricycle Theatre (now called the Kiln Theatre) in London was one of my favourite jobs. It was the first time I played a Zimbabwean character, which was a huge source of pride for me. It was a hilarious play and I remember it as one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
Giving an insight on Shoot Your Shot, Tanyaradzwa said creating the viral comedy series was a huge triumph for her and her team. Working with a crew and a cast, the show was created remotely in the middle of the pandemic using innovative methods of remote shooting and AR filters to compensate for the quarantine measures. Tanyaradzwa acknowledged that it was challenging and incredibly exciting to write, direct and star in this project.
With her impressive work endorsed by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in Los Angeles, the actress says having the support of the esteemed institution has opened many doors for her and has been vital for networking. Emphasising on the importance of mastering the craft in the high-demanding Hollywood industry, she hinted that going through the experience of training prepares actresses and actors in terms of honing techniques and developing characters. Tanyaradzwa, however, admitted that though it is possible to build a lucrative acting career in Hollywood, but with many industries that are dominated by a certain type of person or group, there can be barriers to entry, which are either evident or covert.
“We audition usually several times, it is a gruelling process and there is a huge amount of rejection involved, that’s part of the job. As we get further along the process, we do screen tests in front of the production team which can be daunting and exciting at the same time. Scripts often change as we shoot and I have experienced it many times, so as actresses and actors we have to be adaptable and understanding. The greatest lesson I have learned is to collaborate with my peers and keep pushing anyway, despite the challenges. I think forgiving oneself, and operating from a place of playfulness and exploration makes a great actress or actor,” she said.
Tanyaradzwa has facilitated workshops at Amakhosi Theatre in Bulawayo, and she is very much involved in the arts and culture scene in Los Angeles and London. Privileged to be spreading the message of cultural pride, the international actress works with a management that believes in her as a multifaceted artiste.
Guided by her ethos that there is power in community engagement, she mentors several young and aspiring filmmakers. Indeed, for actresses and actors to attain desired career goals, it is important for them to have an aligned vision with their associates, clearly articulating the route they intend to partake in.
- Follow Grant Moyo on Twitter: @TotemGrant