I’ve also learned that some dreams are just not cheap; you have to pay a price to have them come true.

Actor Bubu Mazibuko’s more than two-decade journey in film and acting epitomises growth, diversity and admirable reinvention. Starting in theatre groups in Soweto in the mid-80s, Mazibuko’s filmography has grown to include hard-hitting film productions such as Catch a Fire, Jerusalema and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Mazibuko will be on our screens soon in the film Zulu Wedding, directed by filmmaker Lineo Sekeleoane. She married Langa Masina in early 2016 and they divide their time between South Africa and Los Angeles.

How has marriage helped you evolve?

I’ve learnt that some of the clichés around marriage are actually true. I think that as a person and as a woman, it has taught me to compromise. The word “compromise” is no longer some frivolous statement; it actually becomes real. I’ve also learnt that I am more patient than I thought I was. You learn a lot more about yourself once you have to really share a life with someone, and it can be as miserable or as fun as you want to make it. I’m married to my best friend and I’m enjoying it with this specific person. I’d rather be travelling and fighting-while-we’re-travelling with this specific person. Wherever and whatever it is, I’m good doing it with him.

Your career in film spans the course of two decades plus. What life lessons have you acquired along the way?

Life lessons are always around us. Sometimes we see them, sometimes we don’t. Essentially, I’ve learnt to just be in control of me because I can’t control anyone else, and the only way I can ensure my own happiness is through me. I strive to be at peace and in control of myself and my emotions. Another cliché that has turned out to be true is the adage not to judge a book by its cover. I have now come to a point in my journey where I’m not going to be influenced by people’s opinions where other people are concerned. I am going to make my own decisions and conclusions about people based on my own experiences with them. I’ve learned that making your mind up about someone on the basis of hearsay, before you actually know who they are, is just foolish. 

Also, there was a time when I was younger when I was attracted to power, and my perception of power at the time was quite superficial. I had a habit of assuming that people were not as powerful as they actually were because they did not give off a certain initial impression. We tend to assume that the most powerful people are aggressive, loud, out there and in your face, and maybe even dressed a certain way. I’ve had to unlearn that perception and keep my mind very open. Snap judgements are just not clever at all.

Now, I see power as about being in control and knowing who you are; sometimes even being mysterious and quietly observing people and things around you. In my industry, people don’t necessarily dress a certain way – they can go to a board meeting sometimes wearing sweatpants or go to a script reading wearing a gown. So, I’ve learned that the person in the room wearing sweatpants may actually be the one in charge.

When you are young, you are very quick to say you’ll never do certain things, but getting older, I am realising that some of the things I said I’d never do I’m doing now, because I understand the importance of doing them for something else to happen. When I got to the US, film and TV series director, Jann Turner, who’s worked on Scandal (The Fixer) and Grey’s Anatomy, among other things, invited me to the set of Jane the Virgin as an extra, because they don’t just let people in on their sets. But, previously, I would never have done just a line or two, because I have done so much significant work already.

I shot a film, titled Caliber, made by film director Tanner Cusumano for Chapman University Film School in Orange County, and absorbed a lot of lessons. Chapman is one of the most respected film schools in the world and a regular recruiting ground for top directors. The film set was extraordinary and incredibly well-resourced, but what stood out for me the most was the level of professionalism, knowledge, what and how they communicated and the respect for their craft. It’s really exciting to be around that, because it reminds you that you have so much to still learn. So, whenever I’m there, it always feels like a new beginning. It is exciting and scary, because I’m not 16 anymore.

You divide your time between South Africa and Los Angeles – how has that been going?

It’s quite difficult to have a life going here and in the US. You really have to focus and learn how to balance things. With this kind of life, you learn how to plan your year ahead, and it’s not a cheap life because of all the travelling involved, but we remain focused on the bigger picture. I was never much of a planner in terms of the exact, minute details, but that has come into play a lot more with the kind of life I lead.

I’ve also learned that some dreams are just not cheap; you have to pay a price to have them come true. I’ve gone and picked the hardest routes in life and it comes at a price. And expensive is not just money – it can cost you your sanity and it can cause you tears every night, but those expensive dreams are the ones that you should not quit.

People need to be aware that when you want your big dreams to come true, you’re not going to go through one thing, and it’s tough and you cry for a year and you think, “Okay, I’ve paid my dues.” You might have to pay your dues for 10 years before it happens, or you might have to try 20 more times before it really happens. It’s ultimately about what it means for you to have the thing that you want, because then you’ll understand what it means to just keep going.

In what other ways have you been able to stretch yourself and grow in LA as an actress?

I go to an acting school called the Beverley Hills Playhouse; attending coaching classes once or twice a week, and film school or workshops are par for the course there. They have an incredible learning culture and everyone is constantly working on their craft. Everyone, including established actors, has a voice and acting coach. There’s no “I’ve arrived”. The school is not cheap, but it is worth the sacrifice because when film directors and casting directors are looking for the best, that is where they go. We are given plays to perform all the time. It’s really intense and everyone is really, really good.

For me, to be able to go there and play with other actors and practise and hone my craft is just the best.