Chiedza Mhende does it like a dude
Just like the title of the 2010 female empowerment anthem by British songbird Jessie J suggests, Generations: The Legacy actress Chiedza Mhende can "do it like a dude".
The Zimbabwean-born starlet has been shaking up the small screen with her unflinching, poignant and nuanced portrayal of male character Wandile Radebe on the SABC1 soapie.
The gender-bending role has not only garnered her critical acclaim and propelled her to stardom, but has earned her a spot in the history books and turned her into an advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex (LGBTI) community.
"It's such a deliciously groundbreaking character that has heightened my level of appreciation for performance. I find it very honourable and moving that members of the LGBTI community come to me and tell me that this story is being told so truthfully," Mhende shares.
"When people come to me and tell me that I feel proud to have done my job the correct way and raise awareness.
"Obviously, there are some people who react to me with shock and a giggle when they meet me."
For both her physical and emotional preparation to authentically play a man on-screen, Mhende has been employing the intense Hollywood technique commonly referred to as method acting.
With such an approach looking the part is not enough, but actors aim to feel the emotions of the role they play.
"Yes, I'm a method actor. I take my work very serious, I go very deep. Physically, what I do when I play the boy character is that I walk into my dressing room and my chest is strapped.
"There have been times when the boy character has tried on a dress, so my chest is double- strapped on those occasions."
Mhende says she uses cologne for her character as a tool for memory. "So I gave him Diesel cologne. I also do a voice warm-up as I naturally have a deep voice."
In the last few days, Generations viewers have seen the metamorphosis of Mhende as a male transitioning to a female.
"Very important in the coming weeks [is that] my character's pronoun will move from him to her. Through the help of her doctor or therapist she will figure out what to do next," Mhende teases.
"We take clothes for granted. What I started to feel when wearing Wandi's clothes – the girl clothes – the soft fabric of dresses and feminine underwear made me automatically click into myself. But I had to remember that I'm still this character."
Born in Harare, Mhende moved to South Africa in 2006 and for the last 10 years has been living in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg last year.
She has been a working actress for the last 11 years, mostly doing theatre work. Before she got her big TV break as Wandile, she auditioned unsuccessfully for Generations for three times.
As far as her own sexual orientation is concerned, Mhende identifies as heterosexual.
"The biggest misconception about me is definitely that I'm a man. I'll state that I'm proudly a heterosexual woman," Mhende cites.
"I'm a straight woman who has now played a transsexual character, and was able to fool you as possibly a heterosexual man. Don't ever let your sexuality stop you from being whatever you want to be, whether is in storytelling or real-life."
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