She is an intelligent and ambitious young woman. She rolls up her eyes, carefully contemplating her response to avoid tying herself up in knots.
That is actress Thulisile Phongolo, a far cry from the troubled Namhla Diale, the teenage schoolgirl on the SABC 1 soapie Generations: The Legacy, screened every weekday night.
In real life, she exudes quick-wittedness, is honest but uncompromising as far as her principles go.
She was forthright when we met at the SABC’s Generations Henley Studios in Auckland Park, Jozi, that she does not take kindly to being photographed in her character appearance, Namhla.
“Namhla belongs to television,” she insists. “I speak to you as Thulisile. The publicist will have to send you my other photographs.”
But who is Thulisile Phongolo?
“I grew up in Jabulani, Soweto, and we also stayed in Fox Lake, so I am a typical Sowetan girl,” says Phongolo.
“As a young girl growing up I was not shy. I always wanted to take the limelight. When the elders ordered us kids to dance, I would be the first to hit the dance floor,” she recalls.
“It was not by mistake that I ended up as an actor – from high school I did drama as a subject and later enrolled with an agency to kick start my acting career while studying further.”
In 2012, the 21-year-old burst into the local television space, playing a presenter on SABC 1 drama series Tshisa 3 and went on to present the youth programme Craz-e, doing Frenzy, Shiz Niz and Craz-e World Live on e.tv the following year.
“Ironically, I played a presenter in Tshisa and went on to get a job as a presenter on e.tv,” she says.
Phongolo is a marketing strategic communication University Johannesburg (UJ) student. She was cast as Namhla on Generations last year and for the past five months she has become one of the most popular faces on television.
On her ambitions, Phongolo is quick to point out the corporate world is her destiny. “I will not be totally lost to the television. I will not be in front of the camera my whole life as I am a business-minded media executive person.
“I don’t want to be just another actor. I have big dreams. I aim to run my own business in the not too distant future. I am looking at doing things beyond acting.
“Who knows, perhaps when I finish my degree this year, I’ll go back to studying further, I work while studying, it has worked out fine.
“I’m enjoying my acting and the space I am at, at the moment, I am focussed on growing my character and my craft.”
Speaking about her character Namhla and the attention it has brought her, she says: “Ironically there’s not been any bad vibes coming my way from viewers.
“Perhaps society is so matured and grown up that they no longer take what they see on television personally, or as real like before.
“They joke about wanting to kill Namhla, but there’s no violence intended, they can differentiate between Namhla and Thulisile, that is how far our society has matured.
“Namhla is bigger than I thought. I’m learning how to react to the character in public.”
Phongolo believes it is the people around her, not herself, who are better suited to do an introspection about her.
“Sometimes you might think you know yourself. It is good to also learn from others about yourself.
“I’m opinionated, I hate adjusting to fit into expectations. I believe in myself. I am jolly and outspoken.”
But she says she has learnt to avoid speaking about her family when interviewed.
“It’s not my parents or any members of my family who decided to be in the limelight, it’s me. So, it must be all about me and my family must be kept far from the spotlight as much as possible.”