Nobuhle Mimi Mahlasela rewrites casting script: Big girls are for TV

Nobuhle Mimi Mahlasela's
Image: Mduduzi Ndzingi

Nobuhle Mimi Mahlasela's unapologetic strength and confidence has seen her make it as one of the most recognised TV faces in the country despite being told she was not fit for a career on the small screen.

Mahlasela, 35, of 7de Laan, prefers calling herself "that girl from Alex" and has defied all critics who told her she was "too big" to be on TV.

She plays Aggie on the SABC2 Afrikaans soapie, and recalls how a casting agency told her that she was too fat to be on TV but instead of letting those words break her, she went out to prove them wrong.

And these words were uttered to her when she was just a 21-year-old student trying to pave her way into the world of professional acting.

"In my third year I went out and looked for a casting agency and there was one that said to me 'it's going to take you a few years to get on TV because you're not the typical TV girl'.

"I thought to myself that's just odd. As I was walking to the taxi rank, I dared to prove them wrong," she said.

She made it her mission to change the mentality of those like the agency that looked at her with stereotypical eyes.

"Breaking down boundaries is what it was about. My talent had to speak for itself. And I was not going to look a certain way because some agents prefer it so."

As far as she can remember, acting has always been on the cards for her.

"In primary school, at Bramley Primary School, I attended Saturday school classes too and I was the lead in a play.

"All I remember was [me] wearing a yellow dress and the audience. It was that day when I realised that this is what I'm destined for."

Coming from a family of teachers, Mahlasela said attending a school where her grandmother was its principal was a bonus.

She said Waverley Girls High, near Highlands North, helped paved her way to success. It was here where she took speech and drama to further help her with her acting dream.

She later obtained a diploma in dramatic arts from the then Technikon Pretoria, now known as Tshwane University of Technology.

"It was during our June exams at Technikon [Pretoria] when a casting agency came to view some of the students and their talents. I was approached by one of the directors on 7de Laan to play a small part in the soapie for three months. Eleven years later and here we are," she laughed.

She describes acting as something that breathes life into her soul.

"I don't even see what I do as a job, it's something I love that gives me joy.

"It's waking up and doing what I love every day and being surprised by a pay cheque at the end of the month, it's like an added bonus," she said.

Mahlasela has been on the popular show for the past 11 years and said Aggie is a lovable character, always being supportive and looking out for her friends.

"She's also cheeky, which I love. She has a heart of gold just like me," she said.

And playing the character is second nature to her.

"Afrikaans is my third language, mind you, and it's important for me to do script reading and analyse.

"It's not just about learning lines but delivering a performance," she said.

When she speaks about her family, her face lights up.

She has an older brother and a whole bunch of cousins who she sees as siblings.

"We all grew up in one house in Alexandra township. Coming from a big family all I knew was love, laughter and loyalty.

"There were a series of things in my childhood which shaped me to be the person I am today."

But before then, she spent time at her father's family home in Soweto and she has no good memories about that period.

"All I know from my dad's side of the family was abuse. It was all around me.

"Coming to this side [Alex] and transitioning into a supportive and loving family was a huge plus for me."

She said she no longer has a relationship with her father.

Although she's the adorable Aggie the celeb to fans, she remains that "thick chick" to family members who she said keep her grounded.

After acing it in the acting game, she wants to try her hand at radio.

She also trained as a director in the past year.

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