For a long time she didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up. Quiet, soft-spoken and a little antisocial, she never imagined she’d one day grace TV screens across South Africa. Not only that, she’s playing someone who’s the polar opposite of her – a loud and nosy tavern owner on 1Magic’s new telenovela The River.
Playing opposite her are some of the biggest names in South African entertainment: Hlomla Dandala, Presley Chweneyagae and Sindi Dlathu. Not bad for someone who once regarded herself as a bit of a shrinking violet. Tango Ncetezo joined the popular show in January and has been a firm viewer favourite from the word go. She loves playing Paulina, she says, and getting to grips with someone so different to her.
“Paulina is smart and sensible. Paulina is loud. I enjoy playing the part because it allows me to get out of my comfort zone. For example, I love reading books and being at home while Paulina is very social.”
Tango (33) is so shy a career in showbiz didn’t feature on her radar when she was growing up. Actors had to be extroverted and enjoy spending time surrounded by people, she figured, and she was nothing like that. “I still like to sit in silence,” she says. Tango wasn’t even interested in school plays, unlike many of her peers. “I only did one school play, which was a musical,” Tango says. She was never really great at school, she admits, and didn’t shine academically.
“By matric everyone knew what they wanted to do with their lives except me. I felt I was not taking my life seriously – I even thought I would fail matric.” Tango did pass though and decided to take a gap year while she thought about what to do next. “I basically sat around for most of the year,” she says. Then one of her friends from school told her about a film directing and live performance course at performing arts school Afda and she thought, why not? She didn’t have any other plans. Her parents weren’t keen though.
“My dad told me I was crazy for wanting to study film and it took me three months to persuade them. “They eventually only agreed as long as I tried to make a career of it.” And to their surprise and pride, she’s become a household name. Tango was raised by her grandparents, Josephine and Jacob Masegome, and her aunts and uncles after her parents, Pinky and Mbulelo, left to study psychology in the USA when she was two years old.
They lived in different homes in Atteridgeville, Benoni and Spruitview and it was great, she says, as she was always surrounded by people. “We sometimes slept on the floor but I remember having the best childhood filled with laughter and my grandmother’s delicious food and her warm love. “My cousins and I had so much fun.” She was protected and sheltered by her family, Tango says, and they gave her space to be the quiet child she was. “We hardly played outside the gate and my cousins were the only friends I had.”
When her parents returned she went to live with them and her younger brother, Kgositsile (now 30). After graduating from Afda she stayed at home for almost a year without getting work. “I would go to auditions and become very frustrated because it is a competitive space and my confidence was very low. She didn’t believe in herself, she admits.
“I finally realised I had to talk at auditions and open myself up and deliver my lines more confidently.” Her luck started turning around nine years ago but she didn’t believe it would last. “I questioned what the director saw in me,” she says.
The first job she got was in Jozi-H, a hospital drama on SABC3, and she played the role of a woman who thought she was pregnant but turned out to have a growth in her stomach. After a while she started to relax more and enjoy herself. “Then I started to think maybe I wasn’t in the wrong career after all.” And after that there was no stopping her.
Respect is the driving force behind her success. She’s learnt to not only respect the people she works with but her craft too, she says. Tango has acted in various South African productions,including Mtunzini.com, Zabalaza, Bone of My Bones, Rockville, Soul City, Taxi Ride, iNkabi and A Place Called Home.
“A Place Called Home is really where I started feeling like a real actress,” she says.
“I was acting alongside big names and had a role I could really get stuck into.” She played a street kid and would go on camera without a stitch of make-up on.
“I also had a proper wardrobe. I didn’t even realise I was the lead actress because I had such low self-esteem and was so naïve. But I learnt to love myself and respect others.” Tango has remained grounded because of the values she was taught at home, she says, and the support she received while unsure about her future.
She’s far from the painfully shy, pimple faced young woman who once didn’t have enough ability to trust her talent, she says. Now she’s learnt confidence can make or break a career. “I have learnt to accept myself for who I am. I’ve fallen in love with acting and I don’t have to lose myself to fit in.” She’s earned her dues in the industry, she believes. “My career started when social media wasn’t big and I had to earn the respect people have given me.”
Tango is private about her personal life and will only say she’s currently in a happy relationship. As for the future, she’d love to sink her teeth into a gangster character – but for now she’s happy to enjoy her time as a tough shebeen queen with a heart of gold.
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