Winnie Mzembe is an ambitious young actor who is intent on breaking new ground and having a meaningful impact on the entertainment industry.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to the Australian-based actor about being a role model, her family background, taking on challenging roles and much more.
Q: We recently spoke to Lauren McGuckin about the success of ‘Sophie’s Turn’. How do you reflect on the opportunity to work on such an exciting project and the success it has had?
A: Lauren was an absolute joy to work with. She is so professional and hard-working, and the both of us have a truly special friendship.
lt was a wonderful and thrilling experience to work on that set. The film was very well-received. Brodie Cornish and Lauren were loads of fun to work alongside. I had never done anything like this film before, so it was really exciting to sink my teeth into it. I walked away from that set really happy with how everything went. My character Michelle was a lot of fun to play. She had this confidence that was so bold and out there!
As for the success of the film, I am very much blown away. It had a special little screening at New Farm Cinemas and the entire room was packed! The film itself gained over half a million views online in such a short amount of time and I am truly thankful to everyone who has taken the time to see the film. The entire cast and crew were fantastic! I was lucky to have such an amazing director and producer.
Q: You’ve also worked on huge blockbuster films such as ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, and other Marvel projects. What is it like being a part of these projects and what have you taken away from the experiences?
A: I have been really fortunate to work on such sets. I got to view things from a whole new perspective. I got to see how a multi-million dollar production was run, and how things really come together. I worked closely with assistant directors and learned a great deal.
What I’ve taken away from these experiences over the years is a whole new understanding and appreciation of film. I really engaged myself whole heartedly and have been inspired to continue to create amazing content. However, I do love my indie low-budget films very much also.
Q: Do you have any fun memories or stories from working on these films?
A: I have many amazing memories that will last with me for a long time. From hilarious takes, to goofing off with cast on our breaks and so much more. Getting the fitting done for some of the costumes was always a funny time. You never knew what to expect and there would always be something that you saw that you had never seen before.
The people I really grew to admire and just adore, were the make-up and costume department. They would be up earlier than we would and be needed on set hours before others to set up how we would look.
Q: You have upcoming roles in Peter K’s short film ‘Tick Tock’ and his feature film ‘Jiva’. What can you share about your role in these two films?
A: When I got the call to say that I would be playing SERT officer Laura in Jiva, I was thrilled. She is such a wonderful part to play and I’m excited to share how I bring her to life.
Tick Tock is a drama film that pulls on the heart strings at time. I play Helen, a woman who seeks revenge after experiencing a very painful loss. She was a character I enjoyed playing because she was real, raw and very honest. Playing her meant I had to really push myself and I was very much up for it! There are scenes that are quite intense in that film, however I absolutely love a challenge!
Q: Do you have any other upcoming acting projects you can tell us about?
A: I am very excited to announce that I will be in two television series shooting soon. I can’t exactly say too much, but definitely keep an eye on my Instagram for upcoming posts! Exciting times ahead indeed!
My films The Best You – by the incredible Khan Eckford – and Welcome To Life – by the brilliant Eden Guade – will be hitting the film circuit soon, as well as other small projects I’ve just completed in the past few weeks.
I have also been cast in a film called Reverie by the very intelligent Emilie Pomel. I play a step mother and I am particularity excited because there is biracial relationship which we don’t see too much of on our screens. It’s important for me because it’s real. These are real life stories.
Q: Acting runs in your family with brothers Pacharo and Gideon also working in the profession. I was fascinated to hear about your family background. Can you tell us more about it and what eventually led you all to acting?
A: My brothers are the hardest working men I know. I am very fortunate to call them my own. They have quite the impressive resumes and have worked tirelessly over the years.
My family lived in very dangerous situations back in Malawi. My very heroic father, David, applied for asylum status and paved the way for my family to move to Australia. My parents and two brothers came as refugees from Malawi. They came to Australia in the early 1990s and are now happy citizens! I was then born shortly after in Queensland, Australia.
Acting most certainly does run amongst us three. Never in their wildest dreams did our parents think we would ever end up in the arts. However, thy are both very supportive! My mother would always drive me to acting classes and would sacrifice a lot to see me succeed, and for that I am forever thankful.
Q: It is great to hear you also use your voice to empower young people and work to combat issues such as youth homelessness. What motivates you to be a good role model and to help others?
A: For me, empowering the youth means giving them the power to feel included. Allowing them to understand that their opinions are valid and their voices will be heard. I want young individuals to really reach their full potential. This shouldn’t have to be an issue at all, however studies how teenagers rebel because they aren’t being heard. To me, youth empowerment is so important. I want to encourage our youth to put their best foot forward and think about the decisions they wish to make.
Acting ties in well with this for me, because growing up I always wanted to be a storyteller. I want to teach and inspire through the art of acting. What motivates me is reminding myself that these kids and teenagers are our future. The world will soon be in their hands, and I want to do my part in giving them the step they need.
Q: Earlier this year, you were picked to be a participant in Australia’s first Diversity Showcase which was held in Sydney. Can you share some your experiences at the event and more generally as an African-Australian working on the entertainment industry?
A: It was a tremendous experience! We would have classes and seminars during the week to help us focus and gear up. It was an honour to be selected from hundreds upon hundreds of applicants across the country by industry professionals. The room was filled with key decision-makers in the industry.
I harbour the responsibility to convey human experience and it excites me to know I have this opportunity. Being in the show meant I was playing a part in shaping our future for the film and TV industry in Australia. I want young girls and boys of colour to look at me and say: ‘I can do it too, that can be me in a few years time.’ I want to be the change I want to see.
I never thought that acting or film-making would be possible for me. As a young girl I didn’t feel like I had a place because I didn’t see anyone that looked like me on my screens. A simple google of “Aussie Actor” highlights my point. My television wasn’t portraying true Australia. A country so diverse and so multicultural. We still have a long way to go but it brings joy to my heart knowing I am a contributing factor to seeing change on our screens in Australia.
Q: You mentioned challenging roles earlier, what is your favourite role you’ve played so far in your career? And what kind of roles interest you as a performer?
A: I have played some pretty interesting characters, although I’d have to say my favourite was when I played a charming character called Canyin in Welcome to Life. She is this heart-warming and very intriguing character. She come back to life and now has the opportunity to redesign her lifestyle as she wishes and come back to earth as someone she feels more confident in being.
Canyin plays around with all kinds of traits like resilience, intelligence, beauty, and so on. She is quite funny at times, but you feel for her and why she no longer wishes to go back as the person she used to be.
The kind of roles that interest me are the ones that are daring, that speak volumes. I don’t limit myself in roles and love to throw myself at it – I love a challenge.
Q: What are your hopes for the coming years?
A: To be a consistent working actor. I wish to continue to tell compelling stories and create films that leave people with a new understanding on certain events. I want to allow people to have a new way of seeing things and to be moved in ways they may not have been moved before.
Title image is courtesy of The Equity Foundation