Meet Nomzamo Mbatha, Who Gives New Meaning To “Royal Groomer” In “Coming 2 America”

Nomzamo MbathaPhoto Credit: Rowan Daly
On March 5th, America is going to become familiarly acquainted with Nomzamo Mbatha, who is making her international acting debut in Amazon Studios’ Coming 2 America, the highly anticipated sequel to Eddie Murphy’s 1988 comedy Coming To America. Set in the lush and royal country of Zamunda, newly-crowned King Akeem (Murphy) and his trusted confidante Semmi (Arsenio Hall) embark on an all-new hilarious adventure that has them traversing the globe from their great African nation to the borough of Queens, New York – where it all began. Original cast favorites from Coming to America return including King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), Queen Lisa (Shari Headley), Cleo McDowell (John Amos), Maurice (Louie Anderson) and the motley barbershop crew. Mbatha joins a star-studded ensemble of newcomers who include Wesley Snipes, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, Jermaine Fowler, Bella Murphy, Rotimi, KiKi Layne and Teyana Taylor. For her part, Mbatha truly brings new meaning to the phrase “Royal groomer.” You’ll have to just wait to see what we mean when the film debuts on Amazon this Friday!

But though she is new to America (and a new resident at that), in her home country of South Africa, Nomzamo needs no introduction: she is one of her country’s biggest stars. Not only is she a top model, but the Durban-born  Mbatha is also a brand ambassador for numerous global brands such as Neutrogena Africa, PUMA South Africa, Audi SA, L’Oréal Paris Hair and Veuve Clicquot Africa. This spring, her PUMA SA collaborative collection, Shandu, named after her maternal grandmother, will hit stores – a first for the PUMA brand on the African continent.

Nomzamo is also a High Level Influencer for the United Nations Refugee Agency. Her role was to advocate for the plight of the African refugee – which saw her travel across the African continent visiting refugee camps and engaging local governments. Her good works soon came to the attention of the Refugee Agency’s High Commissioner, and on 28 January 2019 was appointed as UN Global Goodwill Ambassador, with special focus on refugees. She traveled world, on UN missions, lobbying for nations to provide shelter and asylum to African refugees and raising funds on behalf of refugees. On 1 October 2020, Nomzamo was invited by the UN President to address one of the high level meetings at the 75th UN General Assembly, at the UN Headquarters, in a new role as UN Eminent High-Level Champion of Gender Equality. As an honor for her work, Ludwig’s Roses named her as one of 3 South Africans to have their own rose – alongside Nobel Laureates Dr. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Nomzamo MbathaPhoto Credit: Rowan Daly
Let’s talk about how you got your role in Coming 2 America.

I was in Abu Dhabi and I do a lot of work with the United Nations Refuge Agency, and I was in Abu Dhabi shooting some stuff, and I was supposed to fly out the morning after and fly back to South Africa to host the South Africa Music Awards. But that afternoon my agent at the time calls and me and says I need you for the audition. You can send a tape, but I think being in the room is going to be a winner. I was like, ‘No way, I’m not going to be spending money to go to L.A. I’ve spent money on other auditions, this is not going to happen. He said, ‘You want to be in the room for this one.’ I said, ‘What’s the project?’ He said, ‘Coming 2 America.’ I was like, ‘Well….” I flew from Abu Dhabi to Dubai and booked a whole new flight to America. I woke up at 4 a.m. and drove from Abu Dhabi to Dubai and got on a flight at eight a.m. and was literally on my way coming to America to audition for the role. The audition process was so fantastic. I had my audition, and as soon as it was over, I ran back to my house, grabbed my suitcases, got on a flight and I was back on my way to South Africa to go into rehearsal mode.

How does it feel to have your first American movie, be the sequel of one of the most iconic mainstream movies of our time?

Exciting. It’s a film that means so much to so many people. It’s one of the first black fairytales that we all got to see growing up. I think for me, I’m just excited that people get to see this beautiful antidote. We had such a rough 2020 going through this pandemic, and I think this film is going to be the great unifier. It has so many great cameos, the music is so amazing, Ruth Carter came through with the costumes, hair, makeup, the performances are so entertaining and so good, and I think I’m in this state of limbo. It’s time for us to come together and celebrate. It’s my little coming to America story as well!

What was it like working with Eddie Murphy?

We were all having such a blast on set. It was just the most amazing experience. Tracy Morgan would have his boom box playing music throughout. So he’d be like [in Tracy’s voice], ‘Do you remember back in the day in the clubs? This is how we used to dance!’ With Eddie you just kind of soak in because he has so much history and so many interactions of Hollywood. He has so many prince stories. And then you have Arsenio [Hall] who, as soon as the director calls action, would whisper a joke in one’s ear, and before you know it, you’d be like bursting into laughter and the director would be like, ‘Cut! What’s going on?’

And Wesley Snipes?

He was very calm and centered. He’s got like a veil around him, like he’s royalty.


Nomzamo MbathaPhoto Credit: Rowan Daly

What was the overall vibe on set?

Just joy. For me, it was almost like a Masterclass, because I was just consuming and constantly observing from how people can go from Prince Akeem and Semi to going to play Randy Watson. It was just a Masterclass of the craft but really just enjoying my American experience. [Director Craig Brewer] made fun of me once. He said, ‘You’re just sitting there observing, laughing the whole time.’ All these crazy Americans around you. It was such a beautiful experience that I will have for the rest of my life. And every cast member was getting threats: Don’t mess it up!

And you’ve officially moved to LA, correct?

I have, in January, and it’s one of the best decisions I could have ever made.

What has been the best part about actually coming to America for you?

The best part are the chicken sandwiches from Chick-fil-A. Fancy evenings at Ysabel, hikes up Runyon Canyon. I think for me I’m such a weird nomad like that that I constantly seek change. I love a reset button every two years. Where are we going to, what are we going to do? it was a culture shock in the beginning. First of all, we drive on the other side of the street. So even crossing the street, [I had to train myself] to look the other way. it’s been an experience but it’s definitely going to be my home for a while.

You’ve virtually bee on lockdown since you arrived. How has that been for you?

It was very tough. In the beginning I was homesick. Everybody in the beginning of the pandemic flocked to their families or was locked up but still had a sense of community but I was still adjusting to my life here. My family was all the way across the world and we don’t know how long this is going to go on. And being on lockdown, not being able to see the people I did know here, was tough. It took two, three months and then I was fine. I was like, “Ok, I have to be a big girl. Everyone is going through it. you’re not special.’

Nomzamo MbathaPhoto Credit: Rowan Daly

What’s next for you after this big film?

I have a few projects that are lined up that I’m very excited about particularly one is an indie film that […] we’re gearing up to start shooting in the next few months. It was formed from a short film that was a runner-up at the Sundance Film Festival. I think it’s going to make a great sci-fi thriller. I’m happy to be back on set, creating and making stories again.

Tell us about your work with the United Nations.

For me it’s all about highlighting the plight of access to education for women and girls and changing the narrative of African refugees. In the past, African refugees have all been portrayed as destitute, the little baby with the fly on the face. For me it’s very important when I go to the African refugee camps, that I show what the people I encounter who have been forcibly displayed. It is people that have hope, that overcome. I host a lot of gala dinners where we fundraise, where we raise a lot of money to build schools and empower women at the refugee camps. Right now it is the age of the female. It’s always been the age of the female, but now it’s been brought to the forefront. But it is important to focus on the women who are in the darkest corners of the world as well as in [the spotlight] and to ultimately change their lives.

Is there anything else you want to share?

I have some very exciting news. For the first time ever, Puma is going to be collaborating with an African ambassador, myself. We’re getting ready to launch the Shandu collection, which I named after my maternal grandmother’s tribe, and it means ‘So very dear to me.’ in the next two weeks we’re going to make an announcement.

What to you is the greatest luxury in life and why?

Do you want the sentimental version or the materialistic version? The sentimental version: the biggest luxury in life is shelter and peace of mind. The materialistic side: a private plane, of course!