Sikelelwa Vuyelani

Women In Motion Spotlight

Sikelelwa Vuyeleni is a South African actress best known for her role Owami Kwena, in Mzansi Magic’s soccer drama series, Vula Vala. She comes from a small village of Mtsheko, near Komani (formerly Queenstown). She attended Eersterivier Secondary School in Cape Town and she broke into the industry in 2014 while she was in grade 10, making her debut as Zen on police drama Traffic. In 2018 she landed her first starring role in television when she was cast as Thando in Hope, the first scripted show to air on new DStv channel Moja Love. In 2021, Sikelelwa joined the cast of eTV’s daily show, House Of Zwide as Nambitha. She has also appeared in shows like Isikizi, Umalume, Ukuphila Kabili, and Ingozi yothando and is the founder of Siks Lense.

Sikelelwa joins me virtually with her mic off and I immediately hear the sound of sizzling oil in the background. We exchange greetings and she asks if she can turn her video mode off because she is making supper. I laugh and we share a brief conversation about how I’m scheduled to have loadshedding very soon after the interview and understand that cooking has to be scheduled to acclimatise to these strange times. She tells me that she is making a wrap before we jump into our interview.

How did your love for acting begin and when did you know you could make a solid career out of it?

My first gig was the defining moment. In 2013, I was in grade 10, taking dramatic arts in school and I was enjoying it. So I knew that there was a love in acting at the time and there was potential in terms of the talent itself. However it was defined as a career for me after I stepped on set for the first time, playing a street kid in an eTV drama. It was just seeing the people I’ve been looking up to in the same space as me that defined it so much more, especially as a livelihood I could have.

You mentioned that you did drama in high school and when I was doing my research on this, I learnt that you went to art focused high schools. I’m curious to know what role do you think schools play in shaping creative/performers career trajectory? Do you think you would have pursued acting to the extent that you did had you not gone to the schools you did?

Definitely not, (laughs) Definitely not. My primary school gave me a glimpse of my love of performance but it wasn’t to the extent where I knew I could dive into it fully. Schools really play a big role in helping you see your potential. Especially if scholars are allowed to play, discover and explore themselves. The schools that I went to allowed the creative part of me to reveal itself, find itself, play and be. To fully immerse myself in performance. If I had gone to any other high school, no one would have even mentioned drama or acting. I probably would’ve had other interests, so I do believe this was all meant to be. A blessing in disguise.

You’re touching on some very key points there. Your educational background and its access to things can really shape your tangible aspirations, goals and dreams.

How did you land your first tv role? (Traffic! 2014)

I got into an agency in grade 9 after seeing my friends in magazines and I had a curiosity about that. I waited a year before I got an audition for a role and luckily at that time my training in dramatic arts had deepened in terms of analysing a script and the basics of performance. So I got this audition, went to it and prepped for the role. I was in line and a director came out of the audition room and asked me to try for another role. She asked me if I could prep in about 10 minutes for this new role and I did not hesitate. I stepped outside with the script, went through it and in about 5 minutes, I told her that I’m ready. She was like huh? (We both laugh) I thought, girl who are you talking to, I got this! and I killed the audition. Afterwards we had a conversation and she asked me what I was studying at school, my interests and so on. (Pause) You know, there are audition rooms that feel like they were meant for you. And that audition room was meant for me. I could have auditioned and left straight after but I made sure that I had a conversation with the director and let her know that I really am interested and I’m also studying dramatic arts at school so I can handle a script too. So about a week later, I came back from school and my mom told me that they received an email from the agency about the audition and I’ve been shortlisted. I was so happy and shortly after that my mom told me that they got ANOTHER email from my agency and that next email was stating that I actually got the role. I couldn’t believe it. The journey has continued since then.

Wow, that’s amazing and so organic.

Yes, it’s just timing and God honestly. Those are God moments.

So you mentioned that role for Traffic! was one in which you played a street kid. I’m curious to know how you navigate playing difficult characters on screen? What is your own character development process?

I don’t think I have a specific process. People always ask me what my process is and the truth is that I don’t think I have one set in stone. And maybe that itself is a process, like not actually having one. I think that with every character you play, the first thing you have to do is get to the human level of that character. That helps you see them as a person and take yourself through their journey. There are story arcs and things to help you get to know them, especially in films- where the story has an end. That helps you create a backstory for the character. Also giving reasons for the decisions the character makes helps with humanising them. This helps you understand the values of your character and that human element helps you navigate playing them. Never judge your character, that’s a rule for every actor. The minute you pass judgement on them you’ve already crippled yourself and will not be able to execute them to the best of your ability because you have reservations about this person.

Great points. Moving onto Vula Vala by Black Brain Pictures. I read that you landed that role via IG live. That’s so unconventional! How did that come about and how different was that experience from other auditions you’ve done?

I mean, sheesh-It’s entirely different. It’s different from self tapes and that was something we were used to at the time. We have an idea of auditioning in our own space but this is different because there’s a director in the room and so many other people watching the live. It actually is a performance and feels like you’re already on set with an audience. There’s no intimacy in it at all so you need to prepare on a different level. You need to calm your nerves because you know that people are watching. The scrutiny is on another level. Especially if people have already seen you act on screen, the pressure is much more and a different feeling from what it would’ve been in another room. It honestly was a challenge to myself and I felt like I conquered it. I conquered the anxiety despite being nervous as hell. You just have to let the nerves drive you as people say (laughs). It was breathtaking. It also revealed how much as an industry we have to cover in terms of evolving auditions. I think it’s something extraordinary that Mandla N started. It gave light to so many people that would not have access in any other circumstance. But it also has another side of it, a bad side too especially in terms of regulating the industry. So there’s good and bad sides to it but mostly good I’d say.

What would you say is the bad side?

The bad is that it shows us that we still have a long way to go in terms of regulating the industry. In terms of standards too. There are people that have no idea what it’s like to be on set. It can be hard to teach them technical things on set. There should have been a space where they learnt that beforehand. It also means that we can be vulnerable to being exploited. You are new, hungry and don’t know much. That makes you more exploitable. You can be underpaid. Because there’s no agency involved to negotiate on your behalf and that makes a huge difference.

That’s an interesting point. Did that audition specifically land you that role?

Yes, a few weeks later they wanted another tape and shortlisted me thereafter.

What is your favourite character you’ve played thus far? and why?

Hmmmh. Wow. What a question. My criteria on liking a character is how they make me feel and how they move me in my ability as an actor. I’ve done quite a number of Mzansi magic movies and the long form characters are great in knowing that you can sustain a character for long. One that I can remember is a character I played in Hope (aired on Moja Love) called Thando. She was young, a pastor’s child and very rebellious but she gained redemption. She went through a whole arc and also realised that she needs God to ground her. I was young when I played her. In terms of films, I enjoyed characters I played who can be considered ugly girls, from a morality point of view. Like bad girls. One could be considered a hoe and the other backstabbed her friend. This was in Ingozi Yothando and Ukuphila Ka bili. Those two films were defining in my growth as an actor and they were similar characters.

What advice can you give young performers/actors as they navigate the transition from school to screen?

Hmm! What a question. Just be a blank canvas and always be willing to learn. Someone said to me, not so long ago, that you should go to set with a notepad in your head. See and observe and learn. This isn’t necessarily about acting alone but also learning the set, the crew and its departments. Especially if you don’t have formal education or experience on set, make it your duty to learn and respect every person on set. And on an actor level, be patient and keep playing, even when you don’t have a role. There’s so many platforms to play with on social media. The likes of Tiktok, Instagram and Youtube allow this. I used to have something called Shoot your Shot Mondays on my Instagram just to keep playing and challenging myself. It fed me and grew me even if it did not amount to any roles. So keep playing. Do an improv, post it and tag production companies.

Let’s talk about entrepreneurship and Sikslense. What inspired you to pursue Siks Lens and what do you hope to achieve through it?

What inspired me to start it was seeing the same stories told. There isn’t this inclusivity they [the media] claims to have. There also aren’t enough spaces for alternative media. Our lives are stories and I don’t think we see them enough on our screens. As young creators, we can create these platforms for ourselves, our peers and people that seek something different.I We hope that we are able to give people a 6th sense through the lens. Hence Sikslense. We want to have an impact on Africa through storytelling through these different forms.

Congratulations on starting!

She compliments Behind Her Lens Visuals and the work we are doing. It’s important to give glory to your testimony and how far you’ve come. Claim that you’re doing well. It’s important that we shift how we perceive our wins and own them.

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