IN CONVERSATION WITH THUSO MBEDU
Interview by Timotej Letonja & Jana Letonja
Alone yet together, different yet linked by their audacity, iconic and yet so similar… Dior has gathered together a group of remarkable artists, who are the true multi- cultural idols of a new generation, guided by a spirit of diversity and authenticity. In the same way that a perfume reveals its accords, each of them draws inspiration from the scent of Gris Dior and discloses a facet of their character. Filmed by Bardia Zeinali, a leading director on the avant-garde fashion scene, and photographed by Mikael Jansson, a star of fashion images, their creative intensity and their strength shine through.
Born in Pietermaritzburg, capital city of the KwaZulu – Natal province in South Africa, Thuso Mbedu established a successful acting career in her home country. She was twice nominated for an International Emmy Award for her breakout performance on the South African series “IS’THUNZI” in 2017 and 2018. That year, she was also featured on the cover of the Forbes Africa “Under 30“ issue highlighting African leaders. In 2021, marking the first time a South African actress has ever led a series in the U.S; Mbedu won an Independent Spirit Award, Gotham Award; and was nominated for a Critics Choice Award for her powerful portrayal of ‘Cora’, a young slave on the run in Oscar winner Barry Jenkins’ “The Underground Railroad“ based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Looking to expand her reach and impact, in 2022 Mbedu signed a First-Look-Deal with VIS Social Impact, the new cause driven production division of Paramount’s international studio where she will create, develop, and produce exclusive scripted and documentary programming focused on key pillars of equity, climate and health for Paramount+ outside the U.S. In the fall of 2022 Mbedu starred opposite Viola Davis in Sony’s historical epic “The Woman King“ directed by Gina Prince- Bythewood. Mbedu plays ‘Nawi,’ an ambitious recruit who fights within the all-female military unit led by ‘Nanisca’ (Davis). For her performance, The New York Times named Mbedu one of the 10 Best Actors of 2022.
Thuso, Dior encourages you to share what you dare to be, to do and to dream. We would love to hear what you dare to be, to do and dream of.
I dare to challenge myself. I dream to grow to new heights. I dream of being limitless, of being fearless. That’s what I aspire to do. And I dream to just completely break boundaries. Everything that they tell you that you cannot be is exactly what I aim to be.
Gris Dior invites you to express yourself unfettered and it gives you a chance to enjoy a moment of total freedom. How important is freedom to you personally and in your career?
Freedom to me is extremely important, especially because I’m within an industry where people try to tell you who to be, where people try to dictate how far you can go. And so to take on new characters, to tell stories of other people authentically, you have to be free within yourself and also so that you are not imposing judgments on the story, on the characters whose story you’re trying to tell. Freedom is extremely important. Freedom of mind, freedom of spirit,freedom of value.
Born and raised in South Africa, you developed a successful acting career there before becoming the first South African actress to ever lead a US series. How has your background helped you in your international career?
I think my background in acting instilled a crazy amount of discipline, because the conditions under which we work in South Africa are extremely hard and they need you to be on your A game all the time. So coming to this place, there’s a lot more flexibility. You can focus only on being an actor. But I’ve learned a deep respect for all departments and I think I bring that in my attitude to the different spaces that I come to. I say that simply because that’s the feedback that people I’ve worked with here in Hollywood have given me. They said it’s a good thing.
Last year signed a First-Look-Deal with VIS Social Impact, the new cause driven production division of Paramount’s international studio where you will create, develop and produce exclusive scripted and documentary programming focused on key pillars of equity, climate and health for Paramount+ outside the US. Why is this deal so important to you, especially with its focus on equity, climate and health, which are all hot topics right now?
It’s important because when we look back we realize that when we were growing up, a lot of the behaviors that we adopted were behaviors that we saw on TV. In movies we kind of took that as truth. And right now, there is a lot that’s going wrong in the world, so we have to be really careful as artists, as creatives about what it is that we put out there.
People’s health is deteriorating, people are suffering because of climate change, people are being mistreated in the workplace for various different reasons, people are being prejudiced. These are things that we can talk about, so that the generations that are coming up can learn what’s wrong and what’s right and how to then change their own reality,so that they do better than what we are doing right now. And then also it’s just an opportunity for me to shine a light on the talent that’s in South Africa, by developing it there. We’re using cast and crew who are there. We have the resources, we have the location. It’s just lack of opportunities more than anything.
The New York Times names you one of the 10 Best Actors of 2022. What are your biggest career goals that you want to achieve as an actress?
As an actress, I still wanna create stories that people are afraid to create. And they may look different in different contexts, whether it be they’re afraid, they feel like it’s a risk to cast black people or they’re afraid cast women as leads. I wanna tell those stories. I wanna tell stories that haven’t yet been told. I want to play within the realm of fantasy. I want to do a lot more action stories. I want to constantly challenge myself physically. I genuinely want to see what my body is capable of. I want to play a villain. I want to play someone that people will genuinely hate, so that I can understand the psychology of that character. One of my favorite characters was Heath Ledger’s Joker. That was an amazing performance. I would love to challenge myself with something along those lines and see what I’m truly capable of. And then obviously create, produce, direct and collaborate with other people.
What makes you identify with Dior the most?
When I think of Dior, I think of boldness, I think of timelessness, I think of breaking of boundaries. What I’ve noticed atevery Dior event that I’ve been to or every red carpet that I’ve been to, people have come up to me and said “Oh, that’s such a beautiful look. Oh, we would never have imagined it for Dior”. And I like that. When you see me, you see something new about Dior. People have their own expectations of what specific brands are about. And Dior is saying “We’re changing the game right now”. I have the pleasure and the honor to be one of the people that they’re changing the game with. Like I said, I’m always trying to challenge myself, I’m always trying to shake things up within my energy, within the spaces that I hold. And so to be bold, to be fearless, to dare to try, to dare to dream and change the way that things got done is something that I really relate to.
Photography MIKAEL JANSSON for Parfums Christian Dior