Khomotso Manyaka was born in 1996 in Elandsdoorn, South Africa, which is where she caught the eye of talent scouts while performing with a church choir. Encouraged to audition for the film "Life, Above All," she ended up landing the picture's lead role of Chanda.
Khomotso proved to be a natural in front of the camera, and went on to earn the Best Actress Award at the Durban International Film Festival for her stunning debut performance. "Life, Above All" also made a big splash at Cannes, where it won the Francois Chalais Prize for life affirmation and journalism.
The compelling, character-driven drama revolves around a 12 year-old girl who summons up the courage to fight the fear and shame poisoning relationships among members of her tight-knit community in the wake of an AIDS outbreak. Directed by South African filmmaker Oliver Schmitz, the movie is based on the award-winning novel "Chanda's Secrets," by Allan Stratton.
Here, Khomotso talks about the picture which recently premiered at the Human Rights Watch Festival and will be arriving in theaters on July 15.
Kam Williams: Hi Khomotso, thanks for the time.
Khomotso Manyaka: Thank you, Kam.
KW: What interested you in Life, Above All?
KM: That the movie has a strong and powerful message to all people, and the bonding and love between the mother and daughter.
KW: Tell me a little about the movie.
KM: It's about a young girl called Chanda who wants to bring people together, through the struggle against HIV/AIDS.
KW: How would you describe your character, Chanda?
KM: She's a strong, intelligent, well behaved girl.
KW: What message do you hope people will take away from the film?
KM: It is that they must not keep secrets and that they must learn to be open with their families.
KW: Legist/Editor Patricia Turnier asks: What was the most challenging aspect of playing Chanda?
KM: It wasn't challenging, but I learned a lot from it.
KW: Patricia has a follow-up: What does it mean to you to receive so much recognition and praise for your work at such a young age?
KM: It is fun and I enjoy that they really admire me.
KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: Congratulations on your much deserved Best Actress award at the Durban International Film Festival. When such a prestigious award goes to a 13 year-old, how does it change what would be your teen years, socially and professionally?
KM: Well, I don't think I would change, but I know that I would be seen as an example is South Africa.
KW: Harriet also asks: How much of the story in Life, Above All was outside of your real-life experiences growing up and how much was already familiar to you and part of your awareness?
KM: The familiar part is that I also have three siblings, but it's only boys. I am also a first born at home.
KW: Finally, Harriet says: Knowing that child stars very often get caught up in being a celebrity too early, what 'stabilizers' exist for you to keep you from having that too intense time in the spotlight?
KM: I think I need to be more careful in what I do in the public, so as to prevent people from talking or writing negative things about me.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman says: Congratulations on the Best Actress award. Had you ever acted professionally before you won the casting call for Life Above All?
KM: No, I have never acted before this. This was the first time acting, and the first time I was ever in a movie.
KW: Bernadette has a few follow-ups. First: I see that you will be continuing your acting studies. Is there any one actress whose career you would like to emulate?
KM: I would like to be like Harriet Manamela. She acted the part of the neighbor in the movie, or like Lerato Mvelase, who played my mother.
KW: Next, she asks: Before working on this film, were you already aware of the fallout of AIDS in terms of the social ostracism of the victims and their family members?
KM: I knew about AIDS for a long time because my mom is an HIV/AIDS counselor. We talk about it a lot.
KW: Lastly, Bernadette would like to know if you would you consider being an actor/activist to promote education about AIDS, based on the problems outlined in the film and the book?
KM: Yes! Because it would help people who don't know about HIV/AIDS.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
KM: No, not really.
KW: Are you ever afraid?
KM: Well, everyone gets afraid sometime or other, but when it comes to having opportunities like being famous, I get afraid because I won't be able to live my life and I won't live freely.
KW: Are you happy?
KW: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
KM: All the time.
KW: What was the last book you read?
KM: Twilight, Eclipse.
KW: What are you listening to on your iPod?
KM: I don't have an iPod, but I usually listen to R&B on my phone.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
KM: Well… I looooove South Africa's traditional food.
KW: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
KM: I don't know.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
KM: I see a child of God, successful, talented, beautiful, well behaved, trust worthy.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
KM: I would wish that everyone could believe in God as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
KM: To work hard for what you want and trust that God is the way and the key to success.
KW: Who's at the top of your hero list?
KM: My mom.
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
KM: As an honest, loving, funny and well behaved girl, and as a good role model.
KW: Thanks again for the interview, Khomotso, and best of luck with the movie.
KM: Thank you for the opportunity, Kam.
See a trailer for Life, Above All, here