Ratidzo Mambo, 2017 Heath Ledger Scholarship Finalist
Born in Zimbabwe and raised by a single mother, Ratidzo Mambo knew she wanted to be an actor at the age of eight. She was cast in the lead of her first feature film, the multi-award-winning Yellow Card, at the age of fifteen and soon after, was relocated to Australia when her family was forced to leave Zimbabwe due to the political unrest. From her new home base in Melbourne, Ratidzo enrolled at the 16th Street Actors Studio and landed her first Australian television recurring role on Wicked Science 2 on Channel Ten and well as other notable credits including the theater production of Cruel and Tender with the Melbourne Theater Company and Neighbours. Now based in Los Angeles, Ratidzo has appeared in the GLEE 100th Episode and recently won Best Actress at the 2016 Hollywood Short and Sweet Play Festival for her performance in The Tyger and the Lady. She is currently working on her own comedy web series #Moms – which she co-created, co-wrote and stars in multiple roles – as part of the NBC Diversity incentive.
AiF: Where do you call home right now?
RM: I’ve been living in Los Angeles on and off for the last five years, the last three years solidly. I’m originally from Melbourne but was born in Zimbabwe and moved to Australia when I was seventeen on a Rotary Club exchange.
AiF: When did the acting bug first bite you and you knew it was your calling?
RM: My dad never lived with us growing up so when I was about seven or eight I used to make up these stories about him being this amazing person. We used to watch TV shows like Full House and Family Matters and I guess I wanted a family like that so much that I just created a make-believe one. And the narrative made me feel so happy that ever since then I’ve just loved acting.
AiF: What inspires you in life?
RM: There are so many aspects of humanity and human beings that inspire me. Growing up in Africa, I’ve seen so much genuine love and happiness coming from people who have so very little and whenever I’m feeling down I always think back to my childhood and remember that finding joy in the little things is what’s really important in life. I’m so lucky and appreciate all that I have in life, especially the love and sacrifices my mother has made for my little brother and I.
AiF: Who are your favorite actors and/or filmmakers and why do they resonate with you?
RM: I really admire the British actresses Sophie Okonedo and Naomie Harris but if I had to choose just one it would be Viola Davis, even more than Meryl Streep [laughs]! But they are all women who play roles that aren’t stereotypical and not the color of their skin – it’s about the work for these ladies. It’s about their skills and passion and that makes them such class acts and actors I’ve always tried to emulate.
AiF: What work are you most proud of creating so far in your career?
RM: I started shooting my first feature film Yellow Card when I was 15 and wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for that role. It was such a tumultuous time for me too – being a fifteen year old was hard enough but my dad had just passed away, my mum was adapting to being a single mum and I’d just learnt I’d be moving to Australia. It was a time in my life where I felt like I had to grow up overnight and the film was such a blessing for me, it was a true healing process and I’m so proud about how huge a success it was at the box office and with all the awards it won too.
AiF: How are you hoping your career will unfold in the years to come?
RM: I work so hard and I really want to remain authentic and genuine in my career choices and tell the stories that are burning in heart. It’s important to me that I am seen and heard by not in vanity way of “wanting to famous”, but because I’ve felt so invisible in Australia and just couldn’t find the work or roles for people who look like me. That struggle has spurred me on so much to fly the flag for all my friends who aren’t visible either, and I truly hope my career can shine a light on, and change the narrative of, how multi-cultural Australia is despite what’s traditionally presented on screen.
AiF: When did you first hear about the Heath Ledger Scholarship and make the decision to enter?
RM: I’ve known about the Scholarship for some time now but never thought to apply before because I didn’t think I was worthy of it. I know now this is such a silly way of thinking because how does anyone get the opportunities to succeed if they’re not putting their hands up? Anyway, I applied this year at the very last minute and what do you know, I was shortlisted as a finalist! It’s truly been so amazing and very exciting.
AiF: What does California represent for you in terms of your dreams, aspirations and goals in
RM: Hollywood and California are just magical in my eyes and honestly that’s why the struggle has been so worth it. I’ve made it from Harari to L.A. and being here I feel like anything can happen and it can happen as soon as tomorrow. There’s real opportunity and magic in the L.A. air!
AiF: What are your favorite parts of California and what makes them so appealing?
RM: I love San Francisco – the food and wine scene, the technology, Chinatown…even the airport is cool! But it’s the diversity of the city itself that I really adore. I love how it’s one of the first cities in the world to truly accept and allow the LGBT community to be themselves, and that everyone is free to be a weirdo in San Fran, albeit very smart weirdos.
AiF: What would it mean to you if you won the Heath Ledger Scholarship for 2017?
RM: It’s impossible to express how much this would mean to me. My mother sacrificed so much for my brother and I so we could pursue our dreams – she lives in Chicago now and moved her life here for us, working as a babysitter and taking cleaning jobs so she could pay for our college fees. And never once did she question my choice to be an actor. It would be incredible, for me and my family.
Heath Ledger Scholarship 2017 presenting partners are Qantas, Visit California, Screenwise and Ausfilm.
AiF would also like to thank Penfolds and Kate Raynor & Associates, official Immigration law partner.