Up Close & Personal with Charmaine Mtinta
She jokingly whispers profanities as the Sunday World team walks into the room at Urban Brew Studios in which she's been waiting to meet us. She flings up her arms to welcome us, saying: "Hello darlings."
Her genial demeanour masks her anxiety about being interviewed.
Nothing has prepared us for Charmaine Mtinta's deep-rooted suspicion of the media.
"What do you want, you guys?"
I optimistically explain how her fans are owed her story...
Tracking her down for this interview had been a mission. For three weeks Mtinta wouldn't commit to meeting us and constantly came up with excuses.
She says she despises media attention. She won't explain why.
To make matters worse, Inkaba publicist Bongi Potelwa is sitting next to her to censor the interview.
"You have to respect my right to privacy," she starts hesitantly. "I won't talk about what I do at home, how I grew up or where and with whom I stay."
Her TV career started on Generations, where she was a call actress. But people got to know about her on Yizo Yizo as Nomsa, the teenager who dated Javas.
"I was 26 when I played that character. I happen to be gifted with youthful looks."
She won the Avanti Award for best actress in a drama series for that role.
She now plays the bubbly forward aunt Lizzie on Inkaba - and gives the tele-novella a lot of colour.
Growing up in Gugulethu, Mtinta learnt Setswana at school but spoke isiXhosa mostly.
And she is cast in isiXhosa-speaking roles.
"I'm Tswana. We're originally from Kimberly."
I ask: "Do you speak isiXhosa to your kid/s?"
"I won't talk about my personal life?"
"How old are you?"
I get the same third degree.
I've lost my train of thought. I ask: "Did you have a child when you acted on Yizo Yizo?
"I won't talk about my personal life. But I didn't have a child then."
After talking about the mundane lunch before us, I almost fall off my chair when she tells me about her parents.
She says they were flexible and allowed her to participate in a lot of recreational activities.
"I started as a dancer, actually. I juggled that with a performing Marimba group. We also wrote and performed stage plays."
It was during that time, in the 80s, that she was discovered by Matsemela Manaka, who had brought a show to Gugulethu.
"Manaka came the previous year and I went to introduce myself. He liked me and I followed him to Joburg. Don't ask about what my parents said about that."
So I ask nothing.
"I also studied music. I wanted to understand notation. It was fascinating to me that a symbol could command a certain note."
Then a blank stare.
She fell so in love with music that she's sure she could have made it big. But she made a conscious choice to not follow a singing career out of fear of the "music trade shenanigans".
"I heard about the Generations auditions and I went straight there. I saw Vinolia Mashego, Sello Maake... I even saw Rebecca!" she says, remembering how awestruck she was.
"But, yes, I got to audition finally and that was the beginning for me."
Now she can't remember just how many productions and commercials she's done. Yet she uses public transport and shops in downtown Jozi.
She won't talk about how many kids she has or even her marital status. But her eyes light up when I ask her what she does besides acting.
"I'm a very good bead weaver. I can even transform shoes and I make brilliant additions to boring outfits.
"I learnt that because everyone knows the unpredictable life of an artist."
So unpredictable that she also auditioned for Jill Scott's role in Number One Ladies' Detective Agency.
"The producer told me I was too thin for the role. Imagine that! Then he told me he'd give me another role where I'd be called only 11 times.
"Then he asked me: 'Do you know who you'll be acting alongside?'"
And, typical of her not to play second fiddle to anyone, she replied cockily: "Does Jill Scott know who she'll be acting alongside?"
A search into her background away from the interview later yields nothing much except her birthday.
She's a Cancerian. That's all.
THIS & THAT
- Born in July 1972.
- Has a dog called Pepsi.
- Has a child but she won't reveal the sex or the name.
- Is also on the movie Million Colours.
Lives in Soweto.