"Hearing no is not easy, but now I take the nos as not yets. I will neve think that failure defines me and never allow failure to define me."
Meet Rosemary Zimu, actress, songwriter, musician, model, entrepeneur, star of the Netflix South African drama Savage Beauty and YAZA IKON - just don't call her a role model!
Although she has been appearing on our screens since what she calls her "big break" in 2015, when she landed a national TV commercial, Rosemary is loathe to call herself a role model, instead saying: “Little old me as a role model, really? It’s a bit scary to think of that but because I know myself, know who I am and whose I am and what I want it’s inspiring for me to have people look up to me and love what I’m doing - so of course I want to inspire and aspire but it is scary to be considered a role model.
What followed that big break were roles in South Africa's biggest TV dramas, including The Queen, Scandal and Generations: The Legacy as well as a successful music career, before landing her first lead role as Zinhle in Netflix drama Savage Beauty.
Telling the tale of Zinhle Manzini, a troubled woman seeking revenge on a family who inflicted experimental horrors upon her years before, Rosemary explains that Savage Beauty tested her acting abilities in ways she didn't know possible, but was one of the best experiences of her life, saying: "Working with Netflix was so exciting and it was definitely a dream come true, every single moment of it was amazing.
"It would be easy to say that it was so tough but any time I felt that something was too hard, I had the cast and crew on set waiting to help, and I’d just run to somebody. The directors, my goodness, they were really my chairs in this thing, they really held me up. There were a lot of times that I’d be too scared or too anxious to try something but the people who were there with me made it so easy, I never would have thought that leading something so big wouldn’t result in sleepless nights but it didn't, it was really really good.
"Everyone made it so easy for me to lead, that most of the time I kept thinking to myself am I carrying them or is it the other way round? But we carried each other - there was no difference between the lead or anybody else. We worked so well together and I’m really excited for everybody to see that."
However, before anybody watches and starts to think that Rosemary is anything like the vengeful Zinhle, she's keen to point out that she's the exact opposite, calling herself a "scaredy cat who's afraid of confrontation". However, the one area where Rosemary is exactly like her character is that she too puts family before everything else.
One of seven children, Rosemary got her first taste of the stage from her grandmother and uncle who were both involved in the arts and so she spent her formative years practising her crafts.
"Acting started in preschool and Sunday school and I just always wanted to be on stage and become a character that I never imagined becoming and exploring this acting thing, I think having somebody like my Gran support and push me into it ignited a fire inside of me to stay within the flow of acting," she explains.
But like all actresses, Rosemary suffered a lot of setbacks before she got her big break, and while she developed a thicker skin and started to take rejections and nos as not yets, it remains her family and friends who got her through the tough times, especially in the early days when her family were unsure of her choice of career.
"Not a lot of Black parents understand the industry, they don’t see what we see until we get it inside it and show them."
"My friends knew the struggle that sometimes my family didn’t. They saw it and they witnessed it," she says, "especially the struggle to try and just get into the industry. Not a lot of Black parents understand the industry, they don’t see what we see until we get it inside it and show them, we have to prove it to them. That was the biggest thing for me, having support until I got to the point where I was inside and could show my family the inside so they could understand in a way that they didn’t understand it before.”
Never Quite Right
And those struggles were real. Early in her career Rosemary turned her passion for sports into a side hustle, coaching basketball while working so she could pay for acting classes, all the while struggling with the rejection of never being quite right - instead she was always described as "too dark" or "too light" for the roles she auditioned for.
The process took its toll but in time, the star developed a thicker skin and now sees the benefits in all aspects of acting, saying: "That’s the thing about acting and why I say you learn every single time, a character can make you learn about a part of yourself that you didn’t know existed or that you’ve hidden away.
"Hearing no is not easy, it’s really not easy, especially when you think you’ve got a part. I think it was more difficult back then but now I take the nos as not yets. Prayer, basketball and therapy in that order help me stay grounded.
"I don’t think I’d be anywhere without prayer, without my belief and my spirituality and the man above. Basketball helps me mentally, I’ve been playing for so many years that when I hold the ball and am on the court I feel like nobody but myself, nobody but Rosemary which is very important with acting because you go in to so many roles and become so many people you can’t ever forget who you are.
"Therapy has helped me much... my therapist has really helped me keep my mental health healthy and knowing who I am within the whole thing."
"Therapy has helped me much, so much and as somebody who got into the industry and didn’t know where I was going or who I was going to be, or who I was going to become my therapist has really helped me keep my mental health healthy and knowing who I am within the whole thing."
And its therapy and learning to accept who she is as a strong Black woman that has impacted so much more than just Rosemary's acting career, in fact, she credits it with an upcoming return to music, after a long break away from the recording studio.
"I did take a very long pause, but I am looking to get back into it. I miss being in the studio," she says. "I really miss sharing that side of me but at the same time I think now that I’ve grown, coming back now is better than if I’d come back last year. I have grown and I do know now what I want to speak about in my music, what I want to share, how I want to share it and who I want to be within the music industry."
Surrounded By Queens
Her strong voice may be a role model to some, but for Rosemary, there are no greater IKONs than the women in her own life and those carving a path through showbusiness. Naming Thuso Mbedu and Viola Davis as two of her personal role models, she also cites Basetsana Kumalo as a career inspiration who thought her to have a strong worth ethic and to "never think that staying stagnant is a good thing because it’s not, it’s all about growing and learning."
However, one thing of the things that upsets Rosemary the most about the entertainment industry is when the media pits women against each other, instead of rising everybody up.
"When people compare women in the industry it makes no sense to me," she says. "It just defeats the purpose of having so many women in the industry, we're all different, we all have different things to share and we all have different methods of what we do, and that is a difficulty that just needs to stop. It’s not controlled by us, but everyone needs to stop comparing and stop trying to build beef where it doesn’t exist."
Staying closer to home, Rosemary explains why her mothers - yes plural - are her ultimate heroes.
"There are so many queens in my life that play a very big part in who I am and who I’m becoming. My mothers - my biological and my stepmother- have been through the most as women in this world, in this provence, and they have always been so strong. They have shown their weaknesses but turned it into something that makes them stronger, and that’s something I take from each of them.
"We all have different journeys and yours is just as beautiful as the one you aspire to be in or the one that inspires you."
And for those looking to Rosemary for advice on how to become their most authentic self? She keeps it simple and says "don't forget who you are".
"We are all stars! We all have different journeys and yours is just as beautiful as the one you aspire to be in or the one that inspires you. Don’t forget who you are, research, learn and stay wanting more from what you want. Manifest, pray and stay beautiful. Stay beautiful as much as you absorb everything around you, give your energy out too so that everything around you knows you. And never give up.”
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