British-Ghanaian speaks on her star role in Clint Eastwood’s movie

Adjoa Andoh

The audition for Nelson Mandela’s chief of staff in Clint Eastwood’s new film Invictus was down to three actors – two South Africans and a British Ghanaian – Adjoa Andoh. When she got the call – “Mr Eastwood wants you” – she danced for joy round her living room in south London. Andoh could not be more deserving of this breakthrough into Hollywood. She is one of our most talented yet unsung black actors. She was Condoleezza Rice in David Hare’s Stuff Happens at the National Theatre. She’s had lead roles at the Almeida and the Royal Court. She’s even been in Doctor Who…

In Invictus she is wonderful opposite Morgan Freeman’s Nelson Mandela. The film’s opening is timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Mandela’s release. Based on John Carlin’s book Playing the Enemy, it is about South Africa’s victory in the 1995 rugby World Cup – a sporting triumph that became a symbol for a united South Africa. It’s a feelgood movie – and it felt good to make it.

Andoh appreciated Clint Eastwood’s encouraging, non-interventionist directorial style: “He expects you to come on set knowing what to do.” She adds: “It was the happiest set I have ever worked on.”

Morgan Freeman, a friend of Mandela’s, had been “searching for a way of portraying him ever since his release”. Andoh’s part is based on Barbara Masekela – who founded the woman’s wing of the ANC – and her relationship with Freeman’s Mandela is respectfully flirtatious. He is “twinkly” she says. The same word defines her.

Adjoa means Monday (Ghanaians often name children after their birth day). And as Monday’s child she is beautiful. She grew up in the Cotswolds (and went to the same primary school as Mamma Mia writer Catherine Johnson). She used to act for her parents, hoping perhaps to be talent spotted, she says with a laugh, “by a local farmer”. Now 47, she has the warmth and drive of an animated teenager. She also has a highly developed social conscience. South Africa bowled her over.

She describes going to Robben Island to see Mandela’s cell: “He is a tall man and it is a very small space,” she says simply. What affected her even more was the sight of the lime quarry where he laboured and the cave dubbed the “ANC university” where activists plotted their country’s future.

She found South Africa determined to help itself – and it made her want to help too. She has become a self-appointed ambassador for Fairtrade, inspired by a visit to Thandi, a Fairtrade vineyard (85 per cent black owned). She vows she will only now buy Fairtrade South African wine.

South Africa is continuing to shape her theatrical career. In August she stars at the National in a South African love story (no title yet) by Neil Bartlett. It will involve puppets (made by Handspring – of War Horse fame). And Andoh will be the only “flesh actor” (Bartlett’s phrase) in it. “You won’t notice me,” she says. Don’t believe it.

Source: The Sunday Observer

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