Durban-born actress and celebrity Pearl Thusi chats to us about her career and love of travel – especially in Africa.
The ambient buzz of a busy airport is the background to our catch-up with the one of South Africa’s most loved celebrities. It’s a fitting background for a woman who has been on the move right from her days winning beauty pageants as a young school girl. Today she has forged a successful career as television presenter, international actress and businesswoman … and all of this as a single parent. Among this hectic schedule, Pearl has graciously made the time to chat to us before boarding yet another flight.
For those few on this airplane who do not know this African gem, when she’s not convincing South African celebrities to reveal more behind-the-scenes insights of their fabulous lives, Pearl Thusi is stealing scenes alongside Priyanka Chopra and Blair Underwood in the award-winning international television series Quantico, along with starring in local and international films.
After her pageant days, Pearl began her career as a model but was determined to pursue a career in acting – a career move that has certainly been successful. After appearing in the acclaimed No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, securing parts in local shows, Isidingo, Zone 14, Soul City, Rhythm City and Jacobs Cross, as well co-hosting variety shows like Real Goboza and Lip Sync Battle Africa,she has become a household name.
Long a fan-favorite, Pearl’s talent has also been recognised by her peers. She was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting role at the SAFTAs for her role as Samkelisiwe in Zone 14 and, at the inaugural Rapid Lion Film Festival in 2016, she was a Best Actress nominee for her performance in Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu, a role that arguable propelled her to the international stage. Her starring role in the recent South African movie, the romantic drama Catching feelings, has also drawn praise.
At the moment, Pearl splits her time between local acting and MC-ing commitments, filming in America and her philanthropic project, Black Halo. Spearheaded by Pearl, it’s a social enterprise with core pillars of women, children and education that seeks to extend a helping hand to SA’s vulnerable women and young girls. “We will join forces with various partners to ensure that women who are victims of gender-based violence – or who are displaced as a result of it – know that they are supported, cared for and guided as they rebuild their confidence, define their paths for their futures and encourage a shift from hopelessness to hopefulness.”
The well-travelled South African confesses that she owes a lot of those passport stamps to where her work has taken her. Pearl has filmed in what she describes as “the most diverse, creative, exciting and incredible locations,” and feels blessed to have been afforded all the opportunities and access she’s enjoyed.
“I do sometimes find travelling extremely intimidating though,” she laughs. “Getting everything organised can be a nightmare and I tend to book my travel tickets last minute because then I know have no other choice but to go!”
While she loves travelling internationally, exploring Africa is her priority: “One thing all the international travel has done, is given me a greater appreciation of my home continent.”
Like many South Africans, Pearl admits to having had a relatively superficial knowledge of the continent and subsequently took an active decision to make sure she explored it. “I was being extremely ignorant and to a certain extent, arrogant. When you travel, you become so much more receptive of other people and their way of life.
“I became an aspiring African in New York where there was such a diverse celebration of African cultures so far from the actual continent. When I got back home I decided that I had to visit the different countries and get to know them. NYC is a great place, don’t get me wrong, but it quickly loses its novelty. I remember going there once and I was just so excited when I got home because it was so great to see grass!”
“You realise just how much you take for granted when you travel.”
Subsequent visits to Zambia, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo have built up a strong connection with the African continent. “I love the taste, the smells, and the people of Africa. – the diversity inspires me in so many levels. Africa is melting part of culture and its people – especially the ones I’ve been exposed to – have so much value to give to the world. The absolute beauty of the countries, the rivers, landscapes is immeasurable”
Of her international travels, being in China for the Olympic Games in 2008 was one of the standouts. “The blanketing Beijing smog is well known but over the Games was the ideal time to visit. The factories had closed a few weeks before, so the visibility – even from the Great Wall of China – was the best they’d had in years.”
SO WHAT’S UP NEXT?
“I always like to say ‘game is sold not told’,” says the self-made star when asked what we can expect from her in the coming months. Her actions do indeed speak louder than words and aside from her Quantico appearances, and hosting another season of MTV Base’s Behind The Story, one movie her fans can look forward to is her starring alongside Zach McGowan and Peter Mensah in The Scorpion King: Book of Souls, set to land in local cinemas this month.
“I’ve taken steps to build my legacy … I’m learning to take bigger risk but also not to sweat the small stuff, and this all comes with growth,” Thusi shares as the final boarding call comes over the OR Tamba public address system. “Things aren’t always going to go the way you’d like. It’s important that you learn to relax and just trust the process,” she says; sage advice for dealing with the working world, but equally relevant when travelling.
Pearls of (travel) wisdom
New York City or LA?
I’ll take LA. It’s got a little bit of everything. It’s a combination of the beauty of Cape Town, with its ocean and mountains, the laid back vibe of Durban and the undeniable hustle of Joburg. People from LA are also focussed on organic and healthy living. It’s full of people who want to look good and live well.
Best places to eat in LA
Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills mainly because the view is phenomenal, but the food is good too. Soho House in West Hollywood also has a great view and they made great cocktails. Sweet Chick has great organic, healthy food.
Best place to eat in NYC?
Red Rooster in Harlem
Fly business class!
I know its expensive but if its in your budget this is the best way to travel, particularly for international flights when jet lag is a real issue. I cannot stress that enough..
by Inga Sibiya