Thuso Mbedu and Charlize Theron Discuss ‘The Underground Railroad’

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Well, let’s just start from the beginning. You’re from Pietermaritzburg, right?

Yes, I was born there and raised by my grandmother. When it came to studying and tertiary, there was no [film] industry at the time—the KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission was only started in 2010, which was my first year of university. But I knew that Johannesburg would be the stepping stone to the rest of the world, so I applied to Wits University.

That’s so incredible. And your grandmother is still in KwaZulu-Natal?

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No. She passed away in 2014, literally three days before my first TV debut.

Oh my God. I didn’t grow up with grandparents, unfortunately, and I really mean unfortunately, because I see the relationship that my daughters now have with my mom. I’ve made it my mission to always, always talk about the importance of my mother in raising my two girls. I think it’s a relationship that no other person can fill, and I think if you’re lucky enough to have that in your life, you’re a very, very rich person. I’m so sorry that she left so soon. So do you have any family in KwaZulu-Natal?

In my nuclear family, it’s just my sister and I that’s left. She has a daughter, and then we have cousins, but it’s a few. We didn’t have a relationship with our father’s side of the family, but an entire generation passed away while we were still young—even our grandparents from that side have passed away—and then from the maternal side, my grandmother had seven children and only two are surviving now. So we try to keep in contact as much as we can, but as the years go by, it’s getting smaller and smaller.

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I can relate to that—I only have me and my mom, but I feel like I have a large family of people that I’ve chosen to be my family. Some of them have been in my life for 30 years. I’m sure you’ve kind of gradually figured out who those people are in your life, right?

It’s only been in the last five to seven years that I’ve actually allowed myself to open up and receive people as family. For the longest time, my [thinking] was, if I allow myself to open up to people and I get attached to them, that means I will be in pain when they’re taken from me. Because of all the losses I’ve suffered, I’m just like, people die, you know? But now I know that I don’t have to live that way. And I think that that did inform the character Cora in The Underground Railroad, where she’s just like, Nope! Keep everyone at a distance. But where she is when we meet her and where I am now are at different places. I’m grateful for the people who are in my life now.

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