By Tribune Staff

NASHVILLE, TN — Thuso Mbedu is making history this week. The 29-year-old South African actress stars Cora Randall in Barry Jenkins’ series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Underground Railroad.” It debuts Friday  on Amazon. Mbedu plays an orphaned slave who escapes a Georgia plantation. She also becomes the first South African to lead an American TV series.

Mbedu has been a star in her homeland. She’s been nominated twice for an International Emmy for the local drama series “Is’thunzi.” But “The Underground Railroad” was her first international audition. However Jenkins told Mbedu shortly after the audition that she had gotten the part. “At the end of our first meeting, he looked at me and said, ‘I’m not saying you got it’ — because we hadn’t yet done the test shoot —‘but you are the character,’ ” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “Barry had sent me audio testimonials of former enslaved people, and hearing them speak, in a broken English of people who’d lived into their 90s, made their story that much closer to me,” she added.

Mbedu says she went to therapy after shooting wrapped: “She’s (Cora) too heavy to carry in the real world.”

Now living in Los Angeles, Mbedu’s next role will be starring inGina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King” opposite Viola Davis. She  wrote to Jenkins after seeing all 10 episodes to thank him. “Going on Cora’s journey — she’s provided me healing for wounds I didn’t even know were there,” Mbedu concluded. “That’s what I hope, I pray, that whoever watches it will experience the same healing. People who need to feel like their voices are being heard.”