Act­ing Up

War­ren Masemola

Indwe - - Contents - Text: Lesley Stones Images ©Suzy Bern­stein & Be Phat Mo­tel Films

At 35, Masemola is one of South Africa’s best young ac­tors, with a voice and rugged face des­tined for Hol­ly­wood. He can sing, dance and act in five dif­fer­ent lan­guages, and you’ll have heard him on count­less voice-overs too. “Give that man a Bell’s,” he purrs, and the wait­ress and I both melt a lit­tle.

THE VIL­LAIN OR THE HERO?

But let’s cut to the chase: Is he a nice guy? He scared me wit­less as a volatile armed rob­ber in the thrilling movie iNum­ber Num­ber by Dono­van Marsh, and as a gun­slinger in the stylish Western Five Fin­gers for Mar­seilles by Sean Drummond. And on stage, he’s mor­phed through a se­ries of char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing a war­lord hold­ing an aid worker hostage in Mike van Graan’s play When Swal­lows Cry.

Ac­tu­ally, he would far rather be spread­ing the love than spread­ing fear, he says. “I’ve got an au­di­tion now and I had the op­tion of two dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters, and I chose to au­di­tion for the char­ac­ter who’s not a bad guy. I don’t be­lieve I’m only made to play the bad guy, and it’s too much of a com­fort zone to know that peo­ple love you for one di­men­sion when I know I can stretch my­self fur­ther than they imag­ine.”

He’d far rather play more in­spir­ing char­ac­ters that en­cour­age peo­ple to think dif­fer­ently. His favourite char­ac­ter so far has been MaFred in SABC1 drama, Tjovitjo, which earned him a Best Ac­tor award in the South African Film and Tele­vi­sion Awards – his third SAFTA so far.

“MaFred is a pantsula dance group leader who tries to nour­ish the group’s pas­sion and give them hope that through dance they can get off the streets and out

of that com­mu­nity, and be­come the bet­ter peo­ple they hope to be­come. It por­trays a real-life ex­pe­ri­ence for poverty-stricken black peo­ple, and I love it be­cause the char­ac­ter stands for the voice­less and face­less com­mu­ni­ties where peo­ple don’t have any­thing else to get by on other than their tal­ent.”

ART IM­I­TAT­ING LIFE?

I ask if the role re­flects his own life, or whether he was for­tu­nate enough to come from a de­cent back­ground. “What’s de­cent?” he asks. “I had food ev­ery night and a bed to sleep on, but in my com­mu­nity I’d see other im­pov­er­ished peo­ple and how dif­fi­cult it is for them to get to where I am now. For the ma­jor­ity of black chil­dren in town­ships it’s seven times harder to achieve their dreams,” he says.

“MaFred is my favourite char­ac­ter be­cause he ad­vo­cates love, and if we love enough, we can reach out to each other and touch lives in a pos­i­tive way. I want to bring change in the world, and with my tal­ent be­ing act­ing peo­ple will get to know what I stand for – and it’s all love.”

Masemola grew up in Soshanguve, north of Pre­to­ria, and as a kid he was a great street dancer. “Town­ships have a lot of dances and if you know them, you be­come fa­mous as quite the dancer,” he says. “Then my cousin at drama school told me I had the tal­ent to be an en­ter­tainer and took me to au­di­tion for [dance com­pany] Mov­ing into Dance Mopha­tong.”

He trained in con­tem­po­rary dance for a year, then stud­ied drama at the Mar­ket Theatre Lab­o­ra­tory in Jo­han­nes­burg. Since then he’s per­formed in chil­dren’s

He’s per­formed in chil­dren’s theatre, spent three years tour­ing Europe with chore­og­ra­pher Robyn Or­lin, and ap­peared in TV shows like Ses’Top La, Saints and Sin­ners, Scan­dal!, In­ter­sex­ions, Ay­eye and Ring of Lies.

theatre, spent three years tour­ing Europe with chore­og­ra­pher Robyn Or­lin, and ap­peared in TV shows like Ses’Top La, Saints and Sin­ners, Scan­dal!, In­ter­sex­ions, Ay­eye and Ring of Lies.

THE LURE OF THE STAGE

He en­joys theatre the most be­cause it chal­lenges him to tap into the emo­tions of a char­ac­ter and hold it through­out the show with­out fluff­ing or any­body call­ing “cut”. “I’m al­ways ex­cited to per­form, es­pe­cially in theatre be­cause I let go of my­self 100 %. It’s re­ally ex­cit­ing to por­tray a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter and em­body it with­out bring­ing my­self into that char­ac­ter.”

But theatre doesn’t pay the bills, so he sur­vives by di­ver­si­fy­ing. “There isn’t much money in theatre and theatre work doesn’t come around of­ten, but voice-over work comes be­cause ev­ery day peo­ple need to ad­ver­tise some­thing. So I have a jackof-all-trades ap­proach. When I’m not shoot­ing for tele­vi­sion, I’ll be shoot­ing a film, and in-be­tween I do voice-overs, and that’s how I live.”

For the past five years Masemola has moved al­most con­stantly from one job to the next, mak­ing him a rar­ity of suc­cess in the in­dus­try.

His place in the global spot­light is look­ing bright too. “I see my­self in

in­ter­na­tional work and specif­i­cally Hol­ly­wood in the fu­ture. I’m gear­ing my­self to­wards that time, so when the op­por­tu­nity comes I’ll be pre­pared,” he says.

“I was lucky to go to the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in 2017 where we had the world pre­miere for two films I’m in, Five Fin­gers and The Num­ber, which hasn’t been re­leased yet. The love I got in Toronto and how peo­ple were speak­ing to me about how they’d en­joyed the films they’d seen me in makes me be­lieve it’s possible.”

Open­ing Spread and Third Page Top: A moody War­ren Masemola in the film Five Fin­gers for Mar­seilles.Third Page Bot­tom: War­ren Masemola in When Swal­lows Cry, a play by Mike van Graan.

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