IF NEWSPAPER headlines are to be believed, there’s drama afoot on the set of Generations: The Legacy. Actors are unhappy, top management is terrible and there’s just bad blood between the stars and the head honchos, which is why actress Letoya Makhene is leaving the show.
But when we speak to the actress about her impending departure from the popular SABC1 show, she sets the record straight and the tabloid stories couldn’t be further from the truth. She’s been thinking about leaving for a while, she says. She’s put her everything into acting – and as a result had put her other passions on hold.
Now she wants to turn her attention to one of her other loves: music. And to do it well she needs to stop playing the character that’s defined her TV career. Letoya played Tshidi Phakade for four years. She’s treasured every moment of playing the strong-willed businesswoman who stepped out of her husband Gadaffi’s shadow, but it’s time to say goodbye to Tshidi – for now.
“I’m a musician first and foremost,” she tells DRUM. “All these years I put it in the background. Now it’s time for me to shine again as a musician.”
Letoya, whose father is legendary singer Blondie Makhene, released a song, Qinisela, last year but the single wasn’t as successful as she’d hoped.
“The reason my music didn’t do so well is I was too busy focusing on my acting. I never took time to promote it.” Yet she doesn’t have any regrets. Playing Tshidi made her a better person.
“Having the patience to wake up and be at work at 6am every morning brought me a sense of gratitude. The cast and crew respected me, and I respected them. It was hard for me to let them know I need to follow my heart,” Letoya says.
The mom of four had been contemplating her departure for about a year but wanted to quit at the right time.
“I didn’t want to disrupt everyone. I wanted to know I was making the right decision. Leaving Generations was a spiritual decision and I needed to speak to God about it,” Letoya says.
After praying she informed the show’s bosses about a month ago.
“I sat everyone down to tell them. They tried to convince me to stay but I believe my decisions were led by God.”
AFTER four years on the soapie, the cast and crew have become like family to Letoya. “I’ll miss my close friends, especially Manaka Ranaka,” she says. “Manaka and I have become so close through the years. She is my light, she has a kind and beautiful heart and I’ll miss seeing her and laughing with her every morning.”
She’ll also miss the cast and crew randomly breaking out into song while on set. “Those were very special moments that mean the world,” she says.
But it’s her character Letoya will miss most. “Tshidi has done it all,” she says.
“She’s killed people, she’s backstabbed, cheated on her husband and tried to overpower him in business.”
She loved taking on her alter ego’s personality. “Tshidi’s wardrobe allowed me to step inside her world and transform from being kind, spiritual, loving and caring Letoya into rude, bitchy and sometimes cruel Tshidi. I’m honoured to have played someone so unapologetic.”
Tshidi wasn’t meant to have such a developed storyline. “My role was meant to be temporary, but the producers and writers saw potential in me. They believed I could do more with Tshidi. I’ve been honoured to be part of a production that believes in me.”
Her biggest achievement in the role, Letoya says, was acting with a snake.
“I was so scared. But I channelled my fears into my acting.”
When her character adopted a baby, Letoya found working with the newborn a bit challenging. “Everyone was so shocked I could keep the child so calm,” says the actress, who gave birth to her first child with partner Tshepo Leeuw in November 2017.
The secret to keeping the baby calm on set, she reveals, was prayer.
“I had to do a lot of praying when acting with the baby. My spirit needed to be calm at all times and not once when we were shooting did that baby cry.”
SHE’S handled whatever the show has thrown at her with aplomb and it’s won her praise from Generations’ creator and executive producer Mfundi Vundla. “She’s one of the most talented actresses I have worked with,” he says.
“Letoya is professional and dedicated to her craft. We will miss her wit and sense of purpose.”
Leaving the show is bittersweet, but Letoya promises she’s leaving
with as much drama as you’d expect of Tshidi. “I can’t wait for viewers to see the exit storyline,” she says.
“We’re going to make sure Tshidi leaves with a bang.”
Letoya plans to spend more time in the recording studio. “Music is my first love. I started singing in my mom’s womb and now I want to focus on what I truly love.
“I want to release more singles this year and hopefully come out with an album in 2020. The aim is to do everything I can to make sure my music is a hit.”
Letoya also plans to spend more time with her family. “I don’t want to regret not spending too much time with my children,” she says. “Now I’ll have more energy for my family instead of knocking off at odd hours of the day and leaving again early in the mornings.
“I can’t wait to wake up every morning to serve my kids breakfast, take them to school and have sessions at the gym.” Music runs in her genes, but Letoya has come to love acting too. “I’ll miss my colleagues and the friends I have made on the show,” she says.