You spoke yesterday about how Winnie Mandela never gave up her campaign for Nelson Mandela’s release. It seems you have a similar nature to the woman you’re going to portray. You were kicked off American Idol, and yet you never gave up on your dreams, and you kept at it until you not only succeeded but grabbed international attention and won an Oscar along the way. Where does that ability to keep going, against all odds, come from?
It’s definitely something inside, like even at times when I’ve felt like giving up, there’s something in you that just won’t let you do that, like it’s something that God just plants in you and it keeps driving you.
Is that how you’ve always been?
Yes. I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I was 7-years-old and I went after it and I never looked back, and I just kept my eyes on the prize and I kept on going. And I always say if you keep at it, it has no choice but to give in. It will give in.
What was it you wanted to do at seven?
I knew I wanted to do music. You know as kids my mother kept us occupied with extra-curricular activities – at first it was ballet, and then I did piano lessons, and different things like that, and modelling. I did modelling. But as soon as I was introduced to music, I was like “this is it, this is what I want to do”. And I started singing in church.
You have incredible skin. Any special beauty secret?
I guess it must run in my family. My family has very beautiful skin. It’s in our genes. I don’t know. I don’t do anything. I prefer natural. The only time I wear make-up is for things like this. Other than that I prefer natural. At home, I’ll give myself eyebrows and then I’m good to go. And I’ve noticed after working out that my skin’s so much healthier, so much more radiant. It’s like instant.
Have you visited South Africa before?
Not yet. I’m looking forward to it. The people I’ve met so far have been so welcoming and hospitable.
What preparation are you doing for the role of Winnie Mandela?
Well I had to do a transformation with the whole weight thing. And I remember when they approached me for the role, they said “we need you to lose weight for the role, and work with a dialect coach”. And I’m like “I’m not worried about the weight. What I’m concerned about is the dialect coach. It’s to get the accent down.” So I’ve been working on that. And researching and immersing myself in African history, you know South African history.
I’m still shocked, being an African American and growing up in school we not only learnt about African American history, but also African history and black history – but we never heard about Winnie Mandela and her dedication and what she did for her country. And to not know that – something so powerful – that’s something that needs to be told, and that’s something we should know about – and that’s my drive and my passion – to be able to tell that story.
It’s a story that’ll be interesting for a lot of South Africans because we had a less passionate take on her.
I know it’s extremely controversial – who she is and all of that…
So you know about Stompie?
Yes, it’s all in the script, everything. And it’s being put out there. You be the judge. And no matter what, she has done amazing things that we should all know and be aware of. And celebrate!