Ahead of the release of her new film, Pearl Thusi takes Helen Herimbi along for a ride

A long number fills up the top of my cellphone screen. The words “New York (NY)” appear below the number and above the words “Would like to FaceTime…”

When I answer, a fresh-faced Pearl Thusi appears and she says: “Babe, look at my eyes,” as she zooms the phone into her face. The actress and TV presenter who now lives between the US and South Africa explains that she’s had a long day.

She flew into Joburg from the US to attend the Catching Feelings film premiere, then flew to Durban. As we speak, she’s actually driving to the airport to catch a flight back to Jozi where she will shoot a morning-to-night campaign the next day.

Thusi is a busy woman but when I do manage to chat with her, she’s funny and insightful. She is proud of Catching Feelings – where she is the leading lady starring opposite writer and director Kagiso Lediga – which opens in South African cinemas tomorrow.

She places her phone in what seems to be a cup holder in the car so I am looking up at her while she drives, and I ask her how the premiere was.

“It was great, the film is great and there is a lot of me in it because I am very similar to my character in certain ways,” she says. “But there are certain things (my character does) that I am not stressed about – like break-ups. “I’m a single mom, I don’t have time to cry about trash. My mom is dead, my gran is dead… I’ve cried for people dying, but me choosing to separate with someone is not a life or death matter, so it’s not worth my tears.”

“I try to make my tears very expensive,” she laughs. “I don’t like being that way. But I’ve been forcing myself to be strong for my daughter, for myself and just to survive. But yeah, it was a very warm reception, to answer your question.”

“I was jet-lagged because I just landed that morning from a four-hour delayed flight from London connecting from New York, so I was pretty tired. But it went well and I’m proud of the film and proud of Kagiso and (producer) Tamsin (Andersson) and (production company) Diprente.”

Catching Feelings sees Thusi play journalist Sam, who is also Max’s (Lediga’s) wife. She is a feisty young woman who is over the trappings of the city of gold. She loves her job, supports her friends unconditionally and has to coddle her insecure, broke, academic of a husband – so it’s no wonder that she’s reluctant to start a family.

When celebrated author Heiner Miller (played by Andrew Buckland) temporarily moves in with Sam and Max, a series of events plays out that force the couple to evaluate whether they still want to be together.

Catching Feelings is a dark comedy but it’s also romantic and sexy, and shows Johannesburg in its beauty. There’s also quite a lot of excessive drinking by pretty much everyone in the film.

I ask Thusi if this was meant to mirror how upwardly mobile black people in the city really act and she says: “The drinking really didn’t stand out to me until a friend mentioned it! A part of me is like: ‘It’s a very compressed amount of time we had to highlight things that form a big part of the story.’”

“We were like: ‘what would a middle-class person living in Johannesburg be doing in this particular situation?’ They would have a drink in their hand. But it’s not just the middle class. Think about ingud’.”

Another thought interrupts Thusi and she blurts it out as she looks out the car window.

“My mother and I almost died on this street that I’m on now,” she says, slightly perturbed. “Some person was driving very recklessly. I am always so forgetful but that is one thing I cannot forget, I don’t know why. It’s called Milkyway Road or something like that. I remember it was dark and the person was driving really fast behind us. We turned quick enough but we almost died.”

Thusi has gone on to live the life some would wish for. Having already acted on shows like Isidingo, in 2016 she landed a role in the hit US series, Quantico. She tells me she was about to wrap Catching Feelings when she auditioned for the role of Dayana in Quantico.

“I sent my last audition tape to Quantico on the last day of shooting Catching Feelings,” she recalls. “I had to ask one of the neighbours of the set where one of the break-up scenes happens – because I heard they had optical fibre – so the tape would send quicker. So, if anything, this job was preparing me for Quantico.”

Sam and Max’s relationship is so rooted in reality, the pair is easily believable as a couple who fights about him ordering for her. Who hasn’t questioned what their man was doing when their friend almost died from having a threesome? Just Sam and me? Okay.

“Yeah, Sam took it to 100,” Thusi giggles. “I am usually just 75% of that. That scene wasn’t even written like that but I took it further… I just remembered a moment where I could have been like that. Where everything a guy does is a problem… There’s a lot of reality in that and it was a fun scene to shoot.”

Thusi had ideas she contributed to the film and has even pitched two to Lediga that they will possibly be working on. “I’m very excited for what the future holds,” she smiles. “I went to see a tarot card lady and she told me I am going to end up working on both sides of the camera and I might end up doing that type of work with my future husband.”

We’ll be watching.