Thuso Mbedu interview: ‘The Underground Railroad’

“I had to completely unlearn so that I could completely receive what the truth actually was,” two-time International Emmy Award nominee Thuso Mbedu admits about preparing to star in “The Underground Railroad.” The 10-episode limited series for Amazon Prime is based on Colson Whitehead‘s 2016 novel of the same name. It follows her character Cora, a slave in the southeastern United States during the 19th century who makes a bid for freedom from slaveholding Georgia and takes possession of her personhood. In our exclusive video interview (watch above), the actress gets into the specifics of her extensive preparation process for this role and what this project meant to her.

As Mbedu was preparing to slip into Cora’s shoes, the story she was telling stopped being an African-American one and instead became one about an African in America. “What I thought I knew really paled in comparison to what the truth actually was,” the actress avows, revealing that audio testimonials sent to her by writer-creator-director Berry Jenkins ultimately aided her in crafting her performance. “I, for the first time, heard formerly enslaved people speak,” she continues, highlighting the stark contrast between the fluent English spoken by slaves in movies and TV shows and the broken English she heard on the testimonials. What made it come “that much closer to home” for the actress is that said broken English resembled that spoken in different parts of her home country of South Africa.

Ultimately, it became her task to truthfully represent the English she heard on these testimonials, but in a way that subtitles would not be necessary, the actress describes. She also explains that Cora “uses her voice as a weapon” in that she — who was abandoned by mother at the age of 10, abandoned by her community and lived a life in isolation from everyone else in her community — deliberately chooses the people to whom she has to speak.

In regard to the show’s conclusion, Mbedu underscores that “there is no set conclusion, no set resolution, because the truth is, in 2021, people are still suffering the consequences of what happened in the 1800s.” While there is a sense of hope, Cora cannot allow herself to relax since relaxation has always been ensued by calamity, so the actress. Ultimately, however, Mbedu wanted people in different parts of the world to “fully understand the lived experience of the enslaved body in America.”

Finally, the actress teases her upcoming role opposite Academy Award winner Viola Davis in “The Woman King,” which will be directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and will be shooting in South Africa. Inspired by true events that took place in The Kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most powerful states of Africa, the historical epic follows Nanisca (Davis), the general of the all-female military unit, and Nawi, an ambitious recruit, who together fought enemies who violated their honor, enslaved their people and threatened to destroy everything they’ve lived for.

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UPLOADED May 26, 2021 5:31 pm