THE NEXT! | WONDER NDLOVU

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

Wonder Ndlovu: The Rising Star

Wonder Ndlovu is an actor, writer, director and film and theatre performer who has achieved remarkable success in a short time. His journey into the performing arts began while studying Art and Culture in primary school, where he fell in love with the craft. This passion led him to enroll at the KwaMashu Community Advancement Project (KCAP), a non-profit community organization dedicated to the development of various types of art in a positive and lively atmosphere. Wonder’s great energy and profound respect for those around him have become some of the defining traits of him as an individual.

Wonder’s versatility and talent have shone through in several films and theatre productions. In 2019, he played a lead role in The Pool, followed by a lead role in the 2021 theatre show Peter Pan. He also showcased his musical talents as a supporting singer in Bapa (2021). His diverse skills were further evident in the online theatre show The Art of Facing Fear (2020) and the theatre show The Empire Builders (2020), both of which featured him in supporting roles.

Wonder’s portrayal of young Azania Maqoma in the series Justice Served demonstrated his unwavering talent and ability to captivate audiences. This role solidified his reputation as a rising star in the industry. Wonder’s dedication to his craft and his ability to convey deep emotion make every performance memorable. He represents the new wave of South African actors who are poised to take the global stage by storm. You will most likely find him enjoying his own space and time to think during set breaks.

We start off with a lot of gratitude shared on both sides. Wonder is happy to be here and we are happy to have him with us. His passion fills the space. With each answer, it is clear that this is a person who knows who he is and what he represents:

Wonder Ndlovu Image by Katlego Mokubyane for Actor Spaces

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

My one word would be purpose. And if it had to be a phrase, I could say Isiah 60:22, to paraphrase,“ I, the Lord, will quicken it in its [appointed] time”. I feel like at this time, God is doing a lot in my life. God has and continues to lift me up to spaces that I could have never imagined for myself. Sometimes, I look at my call log/contacts and I marvel at it. Everything literally proves to the favor of God. It can never be just me. There has to be something or someone calling the shots. It goes beyond my talents, experiences and education. This also feels like the God ordained time for everything that is happening now. There were times when I wasn’t getting jobs and I kept questioning whether I even have the talent.

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?

There is a quote by Denzel Washing where he says“Man gives you the award but God gives you the reward”.To me, this feels like an award and an accomplishment. It is kind of a testament that the work that I have done has touched someone out there.

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 think it is the hand of God over my life. Everything that happens in my life is because God personally weaved it together in that way. Again, I don’t want to say it’s because of my studies or my experience and so forth because it’s more than that. I think I stand out because I know that the purpose that God has for me is unique and no one else can do it in this particular way. I was chosen for this life. As big as this dream is, I trust the God that gave it to me and I surrender to that. I’d like him to expand on this so I ask: What’s your take on purpose? Does it only lie in one thing? I think my purpose is storytelling and that can spread out in other areas. My purpose lies in storytelling and that can be embodied in so many other mediums. I am an actor but I also sing, write and direct. My talents are broad and they all fall within the umbrella of my purpose which is storytelling.

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

I actually have a lot of “AHA” moments. It also started young for me but I didn’t understand what it was, I didn’t know that you could actually make a career out of it. I performed some plays and sketches in primary school. I knew I enjoyed participating in those activities but I didn’t know the what & how of it. Later on, I started learning about theatre, I started learning that there is something called performance. When I finally made the decision that it is this or nothing, I was in Grade 11. At the time, I was already aware of performance- I had performed before and I was familiar with the stage and everything. And it was shortly after a group of performers performed a play under Love Life to promote drug awareness and I remember thinking that I wanna do what they do. That’s when I joined the community theatre group and I got to play the lead character in a show. That was the best time of my life. Being in such close proximity with the audience who are laughing with me and interacting with me, that’s when I knew that this is exactly what I want to do.

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

For me, it definitely has to be the experience that I have whenever I leave a character. It’s about impact and knowing that this character is going to affect and touch many lives. It is healing. There is a play that I wrote, it was quite close to my heart because it was a story about my dad around the theme of suicide. I never understood the reason why he could have taken his own life- he seemed happy so I had a lot of unanswered questions. So the play was my way of seeking those answers but also to explore that pain and allow other people to also express their pain. It made me understand it from a place of sympathy. Living that character made me understand him more and sympathize with his pain and I don’t think any other profession can give me that.

Wonder Ndlovu Image by Katlego Mokubyane for Actor Spaces

Looking at your career so far, what are you most proud of?

I’m obviously proud of the work that I have done so far but I think the biggest thing has to be in 2019. I was doing my final year at the Market Theatre, I got a call to audition for Rhythm city, I needed an agency because I made it to top two, I wanted to join Canvas Cam. But I had to graduate first before I could get into the agency. I didn’t get that role, however The casting director of the show helped me find an agent. This agency asks me to write down a five-year plan and submit it. I wrote it down and I’m realising the importance of putting things down on paper because looking back at the five-year plan, everything I put down on that plan has come to fruition. That’s something that I am really proud of.

What kind of preparation or research did you do to authentically portray Azania Maqoma on Justice Served?

I think the biggest inspiration was hunger. That is what made me want to push my limits. When I got this role, I had just finished school and my contract had just ended at a theatre company. So, I was in the process of looking for work. I am from KZN and I want a job. I was without a job for 10 months. I was in and out of auditions. I had also just had a son and all I knew was that I wanted to be a present father for him. That’s when I decided that I would move closer to my partner’s place so I can be close to them. At that point, I am still not working and I remember that on the 9th month I started writing a traditional CV – you know the one for your 9-5 because I was ready to look for a job at Shoprite or PnP just something. I knew that it didn’t mean that I was quitting my dream but I just had to be realistic for my son and my partner but then the role of Maqoma came. When the role of Maqoma came, I was prepared for it. I had already been doing monologues at home and rehearsing plays that will never be played. So, the role came and I was ready. That hunger to tell stories pushed me to dive deep for the character.

How do you personally differentiate between theatre, film and television? Is there one that you prefer over the other? Do you feel like they are all the same?

I always say it’s all storytelling. The techniques might be different but it is all storytelling which is why I never allow myself to choose one over the other. There are times when all I wanna do is theatre and there are times when I want to do TV or Film but they are all equally important.

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 mean technology is a beautiful thing if used right. Personally, I love TikTok. I feel like I have an audience there – a digital audience. It is also the space where I perform if the work is not coming in as frequently as I would like. I’m also a writer so it’s easy for me to write something down, act it out and share on social media. For me, it’s also a medium to share stories. It also feels like a stage because there’s the comment section where you get various reactions. In 2020, we did a play via zoom that was watched by many people across the globe so that also speaks to the impact that digital spaces have when they are used right.

What is a recent lesson or piece of wisdom that has had a significant impact on you as an actor?

There’s a show that I recently did which is coming out this year, and probably my best performance thus far. I have to say I fasted and prayed for that one, and on my last day fasting, my partner read me an email that confirmed that I got the role. After giving thanks, I surrendered myself to Lord, and I didn’t wanna do it with my own understanding or talent but be led by God. He who gave me this gift understands it better than anyone so I knew I needed his guidance and protection through my character’s trauma, to dive in and come back sane. I was in awe at how deep I could go. I knew I had leant a profound way to play.

What has been your experience of being on set as a young actor?

I really do enjoy working with veterans and people who have been in the industry longer than I have because that always gives me the opportunity to learn. I love growing, there’s always room to grow. And I think working with more experienced people has afforded me that opportunity in so many different ways.

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?

It always reminds me of the youth that fought for freedom which is a different kind of freedom that we want today. It is a common goal but different circumstances with different definitions of freedom. It also comes back to responsibility – about taking on a stance of impact for future generations to come.

Wonder Ndlovu Image by Katlego Mokubyane for Actor Spaces

 

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