THE NEXT! | N’KONE MAMETJA

Creative Director: Ayanda Sithebe, Producer: Felicia Naiwa Sithebe, Concept and Trainee Creative Director: Tumelo Mogoane, Article by: Karabo Mokoena, Photographer: Katlego Mokubyane, Wardrobe: Rirhandzu Phanga, Makeup Artists: Glenda Mhlongo & Mamello Mokhele, Production Team: Tshepo Marema, Glen Nkuna, Bonolo Maswanganye, Tumelo Mochochoko, Zintle Dingilizwe & Koketso Modisapudi

N’kone Mametja: The Versatile Virtuoso

N’kone Mametja is quickly becoming a household name with her remarkable versatility and depth. Holding a BA degree in Drama and Theatre Arts from the University of the Free State, N’kone began her career towards the end of 2020. Starting as a background actor in the M-Net series Lioness and the e-tv musical drama Rhythm City, she soon showcased her talent in more prominent roles.

Her portrayal of Beneatha Younger in the theatre production A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Dr. Jerry Mofokeng wa Makhetha, was a significant milestone in her career. Performed in September 2021, this role earned her a nomination for a Naledi Theatre Award for Best Breakthrough Performance, highlighting her ability to bring depth and nuance to complex characters.

Passionate about the performing arts, N’kone believes that her craft offers a crucial perspective on society and insights into the human condition. She takes delight and pride in her work, which not only entertains but also inspires others. Her dedication to her craft and her ability to engage deeply with her roles embody the spirit of the youth whose bravery we celebrate today. N’kone’s talent and passion ensure she is a rising star to watch, poised to make a lasting impact on South African entertainment. You will most likely find her doing a perfect Peppa Pig impersonation as the South African rising star of voice over acting.

N’kone is already dressed in her costume for the shoot when we sit with her. She listens attentively to each question and takes a short moment to think deeply about what she wants to say, making sure that her words meet her right where her mind and heart are:

What’s one word you would use to describe this phase/part of your life?

Grace. For me, right now, the grace of God is unmatched. When I reflect on where this dream started, I know that I have always wanted to be an actor since I was a kid, and over the years I kept seeing myself in that space. Whenever I would watch people on TV, I’d just instantly know that that is where I want to be. Then I decided to study Drama and, at the time, I didn’t even know what I was getting myself into or whether it was gonna work out but I just knew in my heart that this is what I want to do. From then on, each year just got busier and busier. I got signed with an agency, then it was commercials, then it was my first Telenovela and everything just unfolded. So when I look back, I know that it must be the Grace of God over my life. God has just blessed me with so much.

So, you just received the news that you are going to be celebrated as part of “THE NEXT!” What was your initial reaction and what does it mean to you to be part of that cohort?

I was completely shocked but with the biggest smile on my face. I had a “pinch myself” moment because it all felt so surreal. I felt seen. During the briefing, when the team was explaining what “The Next!” is all about, they told us that it is about celebrating future icons in this industry. That made me realize that I am seen as a future icon. That was an insane realization for me.

This campaign speaks to young actors who will most likely create an impact as it pertains to the future of this industry. As an actor, what do you think makes you stand out in your craft?

To be honest I, myself, am still trying to figure that out. Right now, I just do what I can to the best of my ability. I do my best to show up.

N’kone Mametja Image by Katlego Mokubyane for Actor Spaces

What was your “AHA” moment when it came to pursuing a career within the creative space?

When I was eleven years old, I was on the set of Rivoningo and I remember being so excited about being on TV because, at the time, I didn’t really know what was going on. My sister’s friend was working on that show and he asked if I could come and join the cast. Just on that first day, when my dad dropped me off, I just knew that this is what I want to do. The more I think about it, the more I understand how crazy it was because not a lot of people know what they want to do at that age but I did. And that’s why I think God has been intentional.

What does acting do for you that you could never find in anything else?

Acting is healing, it is expression and a whole lot of other beautiful things. Being able to tap into the different worlds of the characters and seeing a bit of myself in each of them, allows me to learn more about myself as well and try to make sense of the world that we live in. It makes me feel very free.

How do you cultivate a safe space for yourself as a young creative?

I cultivate a safe space by allowing room to come back to myself. You get so busy when you are in the Arts, so I haven’t had a lot of moments where I have fully rested but when I do, I make sure that I spend time with God and myself. My family is also a huge part of creating a safe space for myself. I chip in momentarily to ask her if rest comes easy to her? No, it does not come easy for me. I tend to worry a lot. Sometimes, I really want a project and when it doesn’t happen then I feel discouraged. And with that comes this need to always be doing something in an effort to feel like I am moving forward. You just want to keep going without stopping and that is not healthy. So, it really is important to just pull back sometimes and bring ourselves back so we can get more clarity and get away from the distractions. How are you when it comes to celebrating yourself?, I ask.

I do celebrate myself. Whenever I can, I’ll order myself some sushi then have a glass of wine or go celebrate with my friends and family. It’s important that I celebrate even the small victories.

Have you always been confident in your creative voice? Or is it something that you had to grow into/are still growing into?

It is definitely something that I am still growing into. I wasn’t always confident but people would always praise me saying things like, “N’kone, I like what you did here, I like what you did there” and also seeing the frequency of jobs, that’s what kind of led me to thinking that there must be something that I have. I am still in the process of finding my confidence more in this space and allowing God to just work.

What’s the biggest takeaway you want people to get from your catalog of work from now and in the future?

I think the fact that it is possible for anyone. I would like people to see themselves in me and know that they can do it too.

N’kone Mametja image by Katlego Mokubyane for Actor Spaces

How conscious are you of the digital era and the role it plays within the creative realm? And how have you used that to your advantage?

I am conscious enough. Whenever I have something to share, for example with my voice overs, if I do get the chance I will share the work that I do or what I have been practicing. I think social media is, to a certain extent, a good place to get yourself out there.

Do you remember your first day on set? What was going through your mind?

It was excitement, it was nerves. But I was young so I mostly remember being very excited that I was gonna be on TV. When the director called action, I did my thing and at the end of it, I was just so excited about being on TV. I piggy-back on her point, when you first saw yourself on TV, what was that like? My dad recorded one of the episodes. When I watched the episode, a part of me just knew that this is gonna happen more often.

When & How did you discover your love for voice over acting?

That was quite recent, I discovered it last year. In Varsity, we touched on Radio but not voice acting and I remember thinking this is something I could do but I didn’t really pay attention to it that much. Then last I decided to explore it because my agency presents actors and voice actors. I also wanted a plan B to fall back on if I was not acting. So, I asked my agent and they asked me to submit something which I did and they were quite impressed. And one day, I just started experimenting and playing with animated voices and when I shared it on instagram people were so shocked and happy. So yeah, it started last year and my love for it continues to grow.

You were nominated for a Naledi Award for Best Breakthrough Performance in 2021. In what way did that recognition impact the way you viewed yourself as a performer?

So, I received a message from my former lecturer at 11pm. I was literally not expecting it at all. I remember telling my mum and my dad immediately after receiving the message from my lecturer and they were so happy for me. While in production for the play, there were some nights where I felt like I didn’t do well but getting that nomination was a reassurance that “You’ve Got This!” that “You Are Talented” and it just changed the way I viewed myself as an artist. I ask: Do you think you are at a point where you know that you are great? I am getting there but I know that I am talented.

Can you share a particularly memorable moment when you knew you were right where you are supposed to be as an actor?

It was first the Theatre Production, “Raisin’ In The Sun”. That year, I was struggling to find an agent, things were quiet then I auditioned for the Theatre Production which was sent to me by my lecturer. Within a few days of auditioning, I got a response and the Production Manager asked about availability and just like that I was cast. When I met the cast, I was completely amazed. I didn’t think I would be working with people that I grew up watching and admiring. After wrapping the production, everything just felt right and I said to myself, “This is why I studied acting”. And recently, I was shooting the second season of a Netflix production in Cape Town. When I booked the job, it felt surreal because my self-tape was not the best, the recording of it was so chaotic.

What is a recent/current lesson that you had to learn on your personal journey as an actor?

I am learning that it is important to be yourself, to stay true to yourself and believe in yourself. There are times when I watch my scenes and I knit-pick every little thing and express how I could have done better here or there. But I am learning not to be hard on myself.

What is your take on youth day? What does it symbolize? And in what way do you think the history of this day has been preserved by the youth of today?

The first word that comes to mind for me is Empowerment. What the youth of 1976 did is obviously unforgettable, also really inspiring and painful. They really paved the way for what the world has become today and instilled a fighting spirit in us to actually be able to stand up for the things we believe in. In that sense, they have really empowered us.

N’kone Mametja image by Katlego Mokubyane for Actor Spaces

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