I was ridicled for being sick – Sophie Lichaba speaks on Lockdown and healing after hurt

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Sophie Lichaba shares where she finds inspiration for her Lockdown role, and how she deals with trolls

SHE knows what it’s like it be called all sorts of ugly names. Since she slimmed down, Sophie Lichaba has become the butt of socialmedia jokes, regularly getting laid into because of her looks. Still, when Mandla N messaged her to say he’d written a role about a physically and emotionally scarred mentally ill woman with her in mind, she was more than a little intrigued.

She wanted to push her boundaries and own the person she’s become.

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After a break from acting, Sophie is now heating up screens in Lockdown as Palesa, a disturbed head nurse at a mental institution.

She’s always been a glamour girl but unlike many of the characters she’s played before, there’s not much glitz in the popular prison drama and Palesa feels ugly because of her facial scars.

It’s hard to believe Sophie (47) took on the role because at one point, the former Generations star wouldn’t be caught dead on TV without makeup.

“I was too afraid of what people would think or say,” she tells DRUM.

But she knew she couldn’t pass on the role of a lifetime. “It’s not easy to be called dead more than once. I took the offer to challenge myself,” Sophie laughs.

She’s referring to cyberbullies who spread fake news on social media that she’s dying.

But Sophie isn’t fatally ill, though she has diabetes, she points out, and she isn’t broke either. She took the Lockdown role after business slowed with her wedding-planning company.

“That’s how business works. I just needed a change and I definitely feel restored,” she says.

It didn’t take the veteran actress long to remind fans why she became a household name. Social media has been flooded with praise for Sophie’s acting, which has been described as real and raw.

And she’s basking in all the love. “I feel like I’ve regained my respect,” Sophie says.

“I am no longer the social-media joke. My work speaks for itself.”

‘I had to find my strength again. Now I couldn’t be bothered because I know my worth’

SHE was alone in her bedroom, because she didn’t want any interruptions or other opinions, and sobbed when she saw herself in the Mzansi Magic show. Sophie says she felt naked, as if everyone could see her pain.“I was home alone without having to worry about who is watching with me and what people think. I was in my own thoughts and I was amazed at the woman I saw,” she says.

“I couldn’t believe that was me acting with so much emotion. I felt healed.”

She’s so convincing because Palesa’s pain reminds her of her own, she says.

“Palesa reminds me of myself. How I had to pick up the pieces of my life. Falling ill, being humiliated and shamed by people for my weight loss and illness.”

She could also relate to her character’s loneliness. “She doesn’t have friends, she’s in a relationship with a man who once loved her but now he cheats because she lost her beauty in a car accident that scarred her for life.

“She lives mostly inside herself and is an incredibly deep person with many layers,” Sophie says.

“She’s a broken woman with no support. My mother was my support system and when she died, I had no one to confide in. She’s the one thing that is missing in my life. We were very close. I took my sadness and used it in the role.”

Sophie’s mom, Joyce Mphasane, also had diabetes and died in 2010 from complications related to her condition.

“Her death stripped something inside of me that made me relate to Palesa because I know that feeling of being alone in your pain.”

Sophie didn’t just draw from her experiences, she also spent time at a mental institution to observe patients.

“Palesa is a nurse but she also has the gestures of the patients. Once you are at a place long enough, you become like the patients. I had to learn that and use it.”

Even though she left Generations years ago, people still refer to her as Queen.

“I had to step it up. This is somewhat my rebirth. This role is way beyond Queen Moroka, Palesa scares me,” she quips.

“I loved Queen’s cute ignorance and how she would brush any pain away with a shopping spree. Palesa, on the other hand, is deep – a ticking time bomb and that time bomb is helping me heal from my personal scars.”

THERE were times when she was terrified to leave her home, afraid of what people would say, but these days she walks tall and proud. “People have criticised my marriage and made up lies about my financial status. But my husband and I couldn’t be happier,” Sophie tells us.

“My children are healthy and happy, but it also took them time to realise people can be cruel. Before I would be sad, cry and wonder, ‘Why me?’ But I’m done feeling sorry for myself.

“Yes, I am thin, I know. I’ve always been a tiny girl. When I got married and became pregnant with my first child, I gained a lot of weight,” she says.

“People know Sophie with all the weight, but naturally I’m a small girl. For me, this weight is nothing new. I’m never going back to that old, plump Sophie.”

She does, however, have a sweet tooth, she admits. “I’ve always loved ice cream, chocolates and energy drinks. Right now, I’m in good health. I take care of myself. I just need to gain a little bit more weight.

“But with diabetes it’s tricky. I eat six meals a day and sometimes I wake up and my tongue does things and food tastes different or I don’t have an appetite anymore and I eat two meals a day.

“People need to accept this is who I am. I am diabetic. I’ve been through a lot for me to be the same person. So, I’m really trying to find the good in the bad and I’m restoring myself ”

The role of Palesa couldn’t have come at a better time.

“I had to find my strength again. Now I couldn’t be bothered because I know my worth,” Sophie says.

“People ridiculed me for being sick, something I had no choice over. I know there’s someone watching me, going through the same thing, using me to strengthen them.” Public opinion used to affect her a great deal, but that’s no longer the case. “I’m over the haters. I’m so strong right now I’m even able to reply to their tweets and say voets*k,” Sophie giggles. “People should expect more from me. I feel renewed.”

-Drum


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