Nirvana Nokwe-Mseleku stars as Sihle Biyela in the hit new Showmax Original Outlaws, which is currently at #1 on the streamer’s Top 20.
From Tshedza Pictures (Adulting, The River, The Republic), the modern-day Western tells the story of two families at war with each other: the Zulu, cattle-farming Biyela clan and the Basotho, cattle-raiding Ts’eoles.
To say Nirvana is showbiz royalty is an understatement. She is the daughter of legendary musos Bheki Mseleku and Tu Nokwe; her aunt is Mango Groove vocalist Marilyn Nokwe; and her grandparents are Durban thespian Alfred Nokwe and opera singer Patty Masuku. Nirvana started singing professionally when she was just four years old – with the likes of Mam Busi Mhlongo and Bra Hugh Masekela.
While she’s been on screen before, including playing Mbali in the International Emmy-nominated crime series Reyka, Outlaws is her breakthrough lead role. We spoke to the multi-talented artist to find out more.
What attracted you to this role?
My initial thoughts when I first read the script were, ‘This is it’. This is the story and the character my soul yearned to play and tell. It really is a meaty one.
Sihle represents a really well-rounded view of what it means to be an ever evolving Zulu girl, who’s hungry for more and whose values are genuinely rooted in community and truth. I loved how innocent she was, and how the level of her light was also indicative of the level of her darkness. Sihle is smart, sensual, kind and respectful, but she’s also a skilled woman who will take desperate measures in desperate times. She doesn’t gloat about what she’s capable of because she genuinely would like to preserve her grace. But I also feel she’s not fully aware of what she’s capable of until she goes through the loss of the people who ground her. I loved that we could show all of that in one show.
How much do you relate to Sihle?
Sihle and I have a lot in common. As measured as she is, she is a bit self sacrificial. And I say this with the greatest empathy, because I know what it feels like to be so overwhelmed and taken by what others are going through that you want to be the light and the Band-Aid that helps them feel whole again and appreciated. I work really hard to make sure that the people around me feel loved and appreciated, that they know the magnitude of their value and that it is seen, at least by me. Sometimes I go to great lengths, almost to my own detriment. I could see that in her too. She’ll do anything for genuine love. She’s an intuitive woman. I think that people can manipulate that side of her a little bit. She’s got a strong mind and she’s grounded but she’s yet to learn the balance of fulfilling her role in society and still honouring her humanity and her needs.
What was it like working with your co-star Lehlohonolo Mayeza?
Aww, Mayeza is the sweetest and kindest soul.
It’s funny because at our callback we had a chemistry read. I didn’t even look at the scheduling of the partners, I just went straight to him and told him that he’s the one I’m doing this with.
He’s so upfront about his truth. He and I have such a special bond; he’s a very kind and well-intentioned gentleman. I love working with him. He really made me feel safe and I’d like to think he shares the same sentiments.
Talk us through the chemistry between Sihle and Leruo?
Sihle and Leruo are, at their core, cut from the same cloth. They share the same values and that’s what makes them feel safe around each other. I think Sihle sees a lot of her father and brother in Leruo. The men in Sihle’s family are steady and constant in their love. Not in a flashy or materialistic way, but “ngendlela enobuntu phakathi” (in a way that shows their humanity). It’s very actionable. I think those are values that Sihle realises she needs in a lover through her interactions with him. He makes her feel at home.
What acting practices did you and Leruo work on to ensure that your chemistry come across as authentic?
There was an internal monologue exercise, where we would write a poem or a letter to the other without sharing it out loud but then showing what we wrote through our eyes and a bit of a staring contest. It was fun. It helped us shape the bond in a gentle and meaningful way.
Can you tell us about moments that stood out for you while filming Outlaws?
There’s a scene I did with Keketso [Mpilo], who plays Tlali on the show. The cow that was cast was in crazy synchronicity with us. Every scene that involved cows was so beautiful.
Is there anything you’ve had to do for the first time while filming?
I shot a gun for the first time. I was so scared; my goodness! The idea of having and utilising something that could end your life was beyond frightening for me. But after the first try, the fear started to dissipate.
What was it like to work with the likes of Nolwazi Shange, Siyabonga Shibe, and Mmabatho Mogomotsi?
Bab’ Siyabonga Shibe taught me, ‘Don’t be afraid to be ugly, ubuhle ub’phiwe, don’t be afraid to be ugly. For truth is more important than beauty.’
Sis Nolwazi Shange taught me, ‘Give to every moment like it’s your only shot.’
And Mmabatho Mogomotsi told me, ‘Always find a way to be well, to recover and recuperate. Be well.’
I learnt the value of camaraderie and how important it is to maintain that, no matter what. I learnt that a healthy working environment is a communal affair. Everybody has to humble themselves, be honest, show up the way they said they would, and work towards making each other feel safe.
What are you hoping viewers will take away from the show?
I pray that they’re able to transform their ideas of right and wrong, and be able to look at things and people from a deeper desire to understand, not condemn. And hopefully afford that same kindness to themselves.
Image Courtesy: Supplied