2022 is turning into the year of Zikhona Sodlaka.
The Mthatha-born actress has already earned DStv Mzansi Viewers’ Choice Award and SAFTA nominations this year for her fan-favorite role as Mandisa in The Wife, Showmax’s most popular series ever. Now she’s also stealing scenes in the African fantasy epic Blood Psalms, which had the most first-day views of any drama on Showmax ever.
In Blood Psalms, she plays Sithenjwa, the mistress of Senator Jabari (SAFTA and Africa Movie Academy Awards nominee Richard Lukunku) of the mighty Great Nziwemabwe. She’s traveling with him to the Akachi citadel for the upcoming wedding of King Letsha (four-time SAFTA winner Mothusi Magano), but she has her own reasons for attending.
When The Wife returns in November for Season 3, expect Twitter to be singing Zikhona’s praises for Blood Psalms every Wednesday and for The Wife every Thursday – especially as this season her character Mandisa goes through the most.
We caught up with the 37-year-old to find out more about starring in two hit shows at the same time:
Easy question first. Who’s your favorite Zulu brother?
My best little brother is only Nqoba. The others are fine. They know their lines and stuff. But it’s like Abdul [Khoza] is on the moon and everyone else is on Earth. I mean, next question. I love him, obviously. Is it evident?
It is! You have amazing on-screen chemistry with Abdul as Nqoba. What’s he like to work with?
First of all, thank you. What an incredible opportunity it is to work with such a talented man. I think our chemistry works because of how dynamic yet similar our characters are. One is a female version of the other and vice versa. It then becomes completely unfair that we get to play so much on set. He is the scene partner I didn’t know I needed.
Viewers are wondering if there will ever be a Mandisa and Nqoba spin-off. Is this something you would consider?
I think it’s a fantastic idea! I think the reason why people want a spin-off is because they do want to see that kind of love. That imperfect identifiable kind of love. The kind of love that is usually written about is fantasy. It’s like, ‘Oh, I wish I could be as pretty as…’ or ‘Oh, I wish I could cry as beautifully as…’ But with Nqoba and Mandisa, it’s very relatable. I think the spin-off would be dope.
How does Mandisa differ from the roles you’ve played before?
I think Mandisa is probably the most honest character I’ve ever portrayed. I love how extremely brave she is and how she’s unafraid of wearing her heart on her sleeve. They don’t write characters like Mandisa on television. Every woman has to be perfect, neat, and speak a certain way. Mandisa is the opposite of what women characters in South Africa are written as. But I know a lot of Mandisa’s in real life.
How similar are you in real life to Mandisa?
She’s Xhosa and I’m Xhosa; that’s all. We’re very different.
I’m shy and quiet in real life, so it’s been really lovely playing with somebody so loud.
That’s one of my favorite things about her: her absolute imperfection. Everything about her is so wrong to a person like me, who likes to hold back.
It doesn’t matter what she sounds like; it doesn’t matter what she looks like; it doesn’t matter what her size is.
This is something that was quite a sore point for me in Season 1 because I had just had a baby and I was just like, ‘Oh my God, do I want to play this role? Shouldn’t I wait until I’m an eight again?’
Playing her has taught me to be a little bit braver.
Tell us about your character in Blood Psalms in comparison.
Sithenjwa poses as a concubine but she’s more than what meets the eye. Her entire mission is to continue the legacy of her family and set things right by her sister and the gods.
It’s a very powerful story that sets women as epic powerful creatures. It leans a lot toward the times of the Queendom and when the world was led by powerful women. Just imagine the immense power of what the world was like when Queens used to run the world.
How would you describe Blood Psalms?
I call it the African Game of Thrones because it’s an epic. It’s a game-changer.
Blood Psalms looks action-packed. Did you get to do some stunts?
Yes, everyone was excited to be part of all that kicking and fighting. It’s just so cool. I actually think that, personally, I’m leaning towards that way of life: getting more into action and stunt work.
What do you hope the audience will take away from Blood Psalms?
I hope people will be reminded one way or another of who they are, and who black people were before colonialism. It’s pre-everything! It is pre-colonialism, pre-borders, and it is before the division of the countries in the continent. It was free rein. People could travel from any part of the continent to another. I hope that we get that vision of ourselves while watching the series.
Blood Psalms is shot entirely in vernac. Tell us about the role this played in the story.
The language of the show is so beautiful and poetic because there’s not an ounce of English in it. Viewers will be able to experience Sello Maake KaNcube in his Setswana language, Bokang Phelane, who plays Zazi, in her Sesotho, and then Richard Lukunku, with whom I play, in Lingala, which is his language. It’s frickin’ amazing; it’s just a dance of languages. What else must we do if we are not telling stories in our languages? In Blood Psalms, we get to hear ourselves. And when hearing ourselves, we affirm ourselves.
Why should people watch Blood Psalms?
Blood Psalms take us to a time that we don’t know, but it feels familiar. It’s like our ancestors lived like that. There’s a lot of respect, but also a lot of realism and a real sense of the epic. It’s fantastical but grounded. I think people will be blown away.
The Wife and Blood Psalms are both groundbreaking series. How do you feel to be part of such great success?
It’s very nice to be part of something that sets the standard. And the standard is high. I don’t want anything else for myself and for my career. I’ve had an unfair privilege to be part of some groundbreaking productions; it’s becoming a habit. It’s an honor. It’s a confidence booster. It’s also a reminder that South Africans are watching, and they know what they want. A reminder that these are the kinds of stories we want to see as South Africans. We want to see ourselves reflected on screen. We are patriotic in that way that we don’t want to be told something we can’t relate to. Tell us stories that reflect us.
Showmax has allowed storytellers to explore more than they were able to a decade ago. What impact has this had on the industry in your opinion?
Showmax is daring to be more authentic.
So yes to the money, and to the bravery of saying, ‘Tell this story even if it has never been done before’. The audience is ready for it. The biggest myth is that we aren’t telling certain stories because the audience is not ready for them, which is a lie. South Africa belongs to the world as well and people get to watch shows from all over the world, from Asian shows to European shows, American shows to continental shows. There is no way the audience is not wrapped and ready. We’re not living in isolation from what’s happening in the world. So we’re watching and streaming; now it’s our turn to join the party.
Binge the first three episodes of Blood Psalms first on Showmax, with new episodes every Wednesday until the end of November 2022. Season 3 of The Wife is coming first to Shin in November 2022.