Skip To Content

    Star Of "The Underground Railroad," Thuso Mbedu, Has Landed — Here Are 20 Facts To Know

    "This is what I was created to do."

    Amazon released The Underground Railroad less than a week ago, and critics and audiences alike are heralding star Thuso Mbedu as a powerhouse talent.

    Kyle Kaplan / ©Amazon / courtesy Everett Collection

    She's been well-known overseas for a few years now... We just needed to do some catching up!

    1. She was born and raised in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

    Vista in Pietermaritzburg
    Colin Bester / Getty Images/500px

    Located in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, it's nestled along the coast of the Indian Ocean.

    2. Her grandmother raised her.

    Her mother passed away when she was a young child, and she didn't have a relationship with her father. Her grandma was slow to come around to Thuso's pursuit of acting—not speaking to her for a month after she announced her intention—but eventually came around.

    3. She's been nominated for two International Emmys.

    Four friends in school uniforms walking arm-in-arm together
    Multichoice Studios / Via

    This was in 2017 and 2018, for Best Performance by a Female Actress for the South African TV series Is'Thunzi. She played Winnie, the leader of a group of four besties that call themselves "ninjas."

    4. She's a really big deal in South Africa (and now here!)

    Noa Grayevsky / Getty Images for RSL Management

    In her homeland, May 14th (the air date of The Underground Railroad), was declared Thuso Mbedu Day, and the illustrious Joburg Theatre had an exclusive three-episode watch party.

    Cora and two girls standing together
    Atsushi Nishijima / ©Amazon / courtesy Everett Collection

    5. She originally wanted to be a dermatologist.

    Growing up she experienced seasonal allergies that caused her skin to swell, and she wanted to help keep others from suffering.

    6. In a high school drama class she experienced the storytelling of acting as a healing art.

    Cora holding hands with a gentleman
    Atsushi Nishijima / ©Amazon / courtesy Everett Collection

    She says that acting "brings about healing and can be used as a tool for social change. That’s when I was like, 'This is what I believe I was created to do.'"

    7. She celebrates special career accomplishments with buying a new pair of sneakers.

    8. She's the first South African actor to play the lead in an American series.

    Making history over here!

    Thuso Mbedu in a patterned dress at awards show
    Noa Grayevsky / Getty Images for RSL Management

    9. Her audition for The Underground Railroad got so wild one of her contacts flipped inside out.

    She definitely wasn't holding back.

    10. To prepare for the role of Cora, she had to take deep-sea diving lessons.

    Amazon / Via

    Along with learning penmanship of the 1800s, perfecting the Southern dialect, how to ride horseback, and do stunts.

    11. She got so deep into research about slavery she had to force herself to take breaks.

    She went into a wormhole about the US's dark, 400-year history with slavery, immersing herself in audio and written accounts of the time. Says Mbedu, “Because of the dark and heavy nature, I constantly had to tell myself to step away and take a break."

    12. The character of Cora started to blur into her waking life.

    Amazon / Via

    She experienced depression and feeling very low after filming wrapped, and “[would] be like, ‘That’s not me’—it would take me a moment to realize that it’s the residue from the character’s mental and emotional state." Therapy sessions were integral to her feeling centered again.

    13. She had to put her character on pause for several months due to COVID.

    Part of the series had been shot, but some of the most emotional scenes had not. She says, "It was tricky navigating those months because I couldn’t completely say goodbye to the character. I had to keep her at the back of my mind, but I could not afford to be interacting with her on any deep level because of the weight of the character."

    14. During lockdown, she homeschooled her nieces.

    Lucky gals! She also spent the downtime writing screenplays(!) and doing taped auditions.

    15. She got a special message from Oprah!

    16. She already has her next big gig, acting alongside queen Viola Davis.

    Viola Davis in white gown
    Abc / ABC via Getty Images

    It's a film called The Woman King, about the the General of an all-female military unit in Africa, and is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. It shoots in her homeland of South Africa.

    17. She would love to work with Taraji P. Henson.

    I think everyone can agree that would be a power duo to remember. (Movie gods, can you get this going?)

    18. She lives in Los Angeles now.

    If you're moved by Thuso Mbedu and her powerful performance in The Underground Railroad, let us know in the comments!