DESPITE her love for performing, Samela Tyelbooi, 31, took the pragmatic route after matriculating and studied IT at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth.
She arrived in Joburg in 2006, intending to put her education to good use. But, as clichéd as it sounds, fate had other plans for her.
“I know it seems strange, but IT was the derailment in my career – not acting. I invested time and effort to get that qualification. At the time, when I had to make the choice, I decided to do something marketable – I wasn’t sure drama would be that.
“When I came to Joburg to work in the IT field, I remember picking up the newspaper and there was an ad for a small role. That was a sign and I didn’t have to be asked twice,” laughs Tyelbooi.
And so she started with a bit part on SABC1’s Generations.
“It was a tricky balance at the time as I was still doing my 9 to 5 job.
“Going into the second season of SABC1’s Society (on which she played the role of Lois), I realised that I needed to commit to acting. And it was becoming impossible to take off time from work to shoot (my scenes),” she shares.
Her parents were supportive of her decision, which was a great help.
Tyelbooi had just completed a short film when she got wind of the Rhythm City audition for Nomshado (Shado) Shilongo, a struggling singer/songwriter who finds her fortunes changing when Miles Vilakazi tries to sign her to Redemption Records.
“I really, really wanted it (the role) so badly,” the actress admits.
With this being her first major soap role in an award-winning production, it was exciting and daunting for Tyelbooi: “Before I started my first day of shooting, I had to go in for my wardrobe fitting. That’s when I met the pro- duction team, who made me feel at home. Day one left me a bit anxious. But everyone from the director to Peter SePuma to the rest of the cast made it a really warm and welcoming environment.”
While also determined not to make them regret hiring her, Tyelbooi quickly settled into her new routine while bonding with the Rhythm City family.
Shedding light on her character, she says: “Shado’s very strong-willed. She decides nobody is going to tell her what to do. Very anti-authority! Once she makes up her mind, there is no swaying her to stray from her convictions.”
Unsure how viewers will receive her “misunderstood” character, Tyelbooi is hoping that Shado will challenge them to be more open-minded. Also, her wardrobe is bound to attract some attention.
“I’m having a lot of fun. It is not stuff I would wear. I’m just not that bold,” she admits.
“It’s very colourful, very retro. And sometimes it looks like this girl didn’t take a look at herself in the mirror before she walked out the door. But there is a style in the chaos of her dressing. She won’t necessarily wear matching socks – but she can pull it off. Think a touch of Madonna in the 1980s.”
That she gets to sing and act is a bonus for Tyelbooi.
“It is definitely a new thing for me – it did make me nervous as I find singing to be a personal thing. I’m also excited. This is new territory for me,” she says.
What viewers will find most fascinating is Shado’s relationship with Miles.
“The dynamics between the two isn’t clear. Are they lovers? Is it more a father-daughter type bond?
“Right now, I guess they simply found each other at a time when they needed the other.”
A lot goes back to Shado’s troubled past – and that will only be unveiled as the storyline progresses.
In the meantime, Tyelbooi is determined to hone her craft as well as broaden her scope behind the scenes. After all, versatility and dynamism are key to enjoying a fruitful career in this cut-throat industry.
• Tyelbooi saunters onto our screens on Wednesday on Rhythm City at 6.30pm.