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.