Cover story – Kgo­motso Christo­pher on fol­low­ing her African dream

Scan­dal! ac­tress KGO­MOTSO CHRISTO­PHER, 38, has found a new lease on life. She opens up about the real rea­son she left Isidingo, as well as about jug­gling a ca­reer, a cross-con­ti­nen­tal mar­riage and artis­tic kids.

True Love - - News - By PHILA TYEKANA Pho­to­graphs NICK BOUL­TON

Kgo­motso Christo­pher is wow­ing fans on the e.tv soapie

Scan­dal!. We trav­elled with the ac­tress to Vic­to­ria Falls for our cover shoot. Here’s how our vacay went down.

DAY 1: OUR ZIM­BABWE ES­CAPADE BE­GINS

8:25 We land at Harare In­ter­na­tional Air­port. The sun is al­ready high in the sky. It’s scorch­ing hot and this is clearly Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe’s land – his pic­tures dot the air­port as we make our way through cus­toms. The lo­cals have spot­ted Kgo­motso, de­spite the large sun­glasses cov­er­ing half her face. And so, the mood for the trip is set – we pause con­stantly as fans ad­mire the star and ask for a pho­to­graph. Some South African soapies are screened across Africa. Peo­ple recog­nise Kgo­motso mainly from the char­ac­ter she used to play on SABC3’s Isidingo: the de­vi­ous Katlego Sibeko. She por­trayed this char­ac­ter for five years be­fore leav­ing the soapie last year. Be­fore that she was best known as Nox Madondo, the frus­trated wife with a cheat­ing hus­band in 4Play: Sex Tips for

Girls. The Tembisa-born ac­tress has also starred in Mzansi Magic’s drama se­ries Rockville and in the sec­ond sea­son of SABC2’s Thola, as in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Ra­matla. Cur­rently, she plays the glam­orous con-artist Yvonne Thebe, who is the mother of Naledi, played by Di­neo Moeketsi, on Scan­dal!.

10:35 From Harare we board an­other plane, tak­ing us to Vic­to­ria Falls, our fi­nal des­ti­na­tion. On the hour-long flight Kgo­motso con­fides to us about why she left Isidingo. “I’d been there for five years. I had no prob­lem with be­ing there an­other five, that’s how happy I was. But I got to a point where I was in an en­vi­ron­ment that wasn’t good for my soul.

“There were a lot of changes go­ing on be­hind the scenes and I think that, as ac­tors and peo­ple work­ing there, it wasn’t man­aged enough to pro­tect us. I’m sure it was not in­ten­tional, but there was a sense that the pro­duc­tion was not mind­ful of how changes af­fect peo­ple’s pro­duc­tiv­ity and re­la­tion­ship with their work. I’m very big on pro­tect­ing my spirit in my work, friend­ships or re­la­tion­ships. I draw

“I’M BIG ON PRO­TECT­ING MY SPIRIT IN WORK, FRIEND­SHIPS OR RE­LA­TION­SHIPS. I DRAW A CIR­CLE AROUND THINGS THAT POI­SON MY SOUL.”

a cir­cle around things that poi­son my soul. Go­ing to work gave me a sink­ing feel­ing.”

I ask if the changes were the only thing that con­trib­uted to her leav­ing, just as the flight at­ten­dant of­fers us a drink. It’s an in­ter­est­ing mo­ment: we’re in the air, fly­ing above the clouds in the mid­dle of nowhere. We’re be­tween ex­cite­ment and ex­haus­tion. Al­though ex­cited about Vic­to­ria Falls, as it’s our first time there, we’ve been up since 3am. Rub­bing her eyes, Kgo­motso ex­pands on the rea­sons for her de­par­ture from the show that made her a house­hold name.

“I’d been in con­ver­sa­tion with pro­duc­tion over the past two years about ex­pand­ing my char­ac­ter’s sto­ry­line and ask­ing for it to be stretched so that I could also grow as an ac­tress, about ex­plor­ing other av­enues within the show where I could up­skill and per­haps go into di­rect­ing. But I couldn’t, as I was al­ways in full story as Katlego. I ac­cepted that and asked for the char­ac­ter to be pushed fur­ther, but that didn’t hap­pen. It took me two years to de­cide that I was leav­ing. I first told them a year be­fore I left that I’d go un­less some­thing dras­tic hap­pened that would make me feel like I was grow­ing.

“They asked me to give them an­other year. I agreed. But still I didn’t see any changes. Af­ter that I didn’t even wait for con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions. I gave them eight months’ no­tice so that come 2016, I’d start a brand-new year with­out Isidingo. I didn’t know where I was go­ing, but I was ex­cited.

“The Katlego that had been in­tro­duced to the show five years ago had grad­u­ally lost her power and oomph. I’m an ac­tress who has the abil­ity to go wher­ever with a char­ac­ter if you give me that space. And that space be­came smaller and smaller in a place in which I would have loved to grow. I Ioved the char­ac­ter un­til the end. I gave it my all.”

11:45 Yay! We’ve fi­nally ar­rived. The en­tire TRUE LOVE team is elated. Tow­ing our lug­gage filled with clothes, shoes and make-up, we board the shut­tle tak­ing us to the beau­ti­ful Vic­to­ria Falls Ho­tel. Just like in Harare, fans at Vic­to­ria Falls Air­port stop and ask for pic­tures with Kgo­motso. Soon we get to have lunch, freshen up and hit the lo­cal mar­ket.

18:00 We wit­ness the pic­turesque sun­set. What a day! Vic­to­ria Falls has a beau­ti­ful am­bi­ence, a mix­ture of mod­ern and vin­tage build­ings fused with African ar­ti­sans. It buzzes with tourists. Our cover star fits in per­fectly.

Hav­ing stud­ied at the Na­tional School of the Arts in Braam­fontein, Kgo­motso then went to the Univer­sity of Cape Town, from 1998 to 2000, to ob­tain a BA de­gree. She met her Amer­i­can hus­band, Calvin Christo­pher, dur­ing her first week on cam­pus. They’ve been mar­ried for 14 years. Upon grad­u­at­ing, Kgo­motso was awarded the Jules Kramer Award for Fine Arts. With this schol­ar­ship, she fur­thered her stud­ies at Columbia Univer­sity in New York. She honed her act­ing skills un­der the likes of Tony Award win­ner An­drei Ser­ban and renowned voice teacher Kristin Linklater. She earned her MFA in Per­form­ing Arts in 2004. She then lived and worked in the USA for four years, be­fore re­lo­cat­ing to Lon­don for an­other four years. In the UK she worked in the TV dis­tri­bu­tion in­dus­try in Sales and Ac­qui­si­tions. “That was amaz­ing. I got to travel a lot. I’d at­tend the an­nual TV Mar­kets and other events held in Cannes in France, work­ing for chan­nels in­clud­ing BBC Africa, Fox and more. I worked on press jun­kets, in­clud­ing for Lon­don movie pre­mieres for Mr &

Mrs Smith, Star Wars, King­dom of Heaven and oth­ers. In my work I ex­plored TV mar­kets around Europe, which is an­other side of broad­cast­ing that I hope to one day go back to. When I get jaded with my­self and my ca­reer, I re­mind my­self of how far I’ve come: from Tembisa to the world!”

Af­ter eight years, the Christo­phers de­cided to come to Mzansi. “My hus­band knows I wasn’t fully happy liv­ing out­side of South Africa and that I wasn’t re­ally go­ing to reach my po­ten­tial liv­ing in Europe and not in the States. It was a joint de­ci­sion to move back to Joburg, but more be­cause Calvin wanted me to reach for my dream as an ac­tress.”

22:00 It’s been a long day and once sup­per is done, dis­cus­sions about the cover shoot take over. Ev­ery­one is ex­cited and anx­ious. We all want it to work, and lots of plan­ning has taken place, from the wardrobe and make-up to lo­ca­tion scout­ing and more.

DAY 2: THE COVER SHOOT

9:00 Break­fast is an ex­pe­ri­ence like some­thing out of Na­tional Ge­o­graphic: we spot a croc­o­dile in a nearby wa­ter­hole that scared off some warthogs roam­ing around the lodge ear­lier on. A flock of vul­tures cir­cles the sky and a gi­raffe comes by for a drink.

While Kgo­motso’s make-up and hair are be­ing sorted, she and I go back to speak­ing about Isidingo. Didn’t leav­ing her com­fort zone frighten her? “It was scary putting it out there. But by the time it was the last day on set, I had gone from fear to hope. It’s the power that comes with un­cer­tainty – you sud­denly have to be alive, fully con­scious and awake. When you take risks you have your eyes and ears open. I had no idea about where I was go­ing, but I was so happy. Not happy to leave, but be­cause mak­ing that de­ci­sion made me happy about my new be­gin­nings.”

How did Calvin feel about her de­ci­sion? “He was my big­gest sup­porter, be­cause he felt I’d worked hard on the show, and that I’m too se­ri­ous an artist to sit back and let things hap­pen to me. I’m too pas­sion­ate about my artistry for it not to af­fect my spirit. He saw a change in me once we knew I was leav­ing. It was tricky fi­nan­cially as I was leav­ing a sta­ble job, but we made it work.”

11:00 It’s the first out­fit change. Kgo­motso is wear­ing a sparkling green dress as she makes her way to the pool. She jokes about how bad she is at au­di­tions. “I’m hor­rific at them! I get so ner­vous. But this time around, I was pos­i­tive that I would get what­ever I was au­di­tion­ing for, and it worked. I got

Thola, Rockville and other shows that I had to let go of be­cause of time con­straints, all in a short space of time. It was new to me. I’d been on Isidingo for five years.”

12:00 The first shot is a wrap. Guests and staff at the ho­tel

are in awe of our star and in­sist on tak­ing pic­tures with her as we make our way back to our room for an out­fit change. “In May 2016 I got a call from my agent, telling me that

Scan­dal! had a new role they’d like me to au­di­tion for. When they told me I would play Yvonne, Di­neo Moeketsi’s mother, I wasn’t con­vinced as Yvonne is 10 years older than me. For­tu­nately, the head writer was the same per­son who’d writ­ten Isidingo’s Katlego and she con­vinced me to come for an au­di­tion. They pro­posed age­ing me with make-up, which is why it’s so heavy. Of course, my wardrobe also had to change. It worked – we’ve all suc­cess­fully pulled off the char­ac­ter.”

So they have: Kgo­motso shines as the siz­zling char­ac­ter. The sad re­al­ity is that it’s easy to be type­cast as a soapie queen. Says the ac­tress: “The soapie-queen la­bel is tricky, be­cause I’ve only ever done two soapies, but in South Africa that can de­fine you as a soapie queen. The trick is to find ways to be seen in di­verse me­dia. You can do the soapies but find ways to work in se­ries, in film or on stage. That’s my hope.”

Be­sides the char­ac­ters of Katlego and Yvonne, the ac­tress has had guest roles to play in a string of shows such as Madam

& Eve, SOS, Back­stage and Mofer­ef­ere Lenya­long, as well as movies such as Stray Bul­let and Boes­man & Lena.

13:00 “I started in the­atre. It seems like a joke now when I say I’m a stage ac­tress. There aren’t enough op­por­tu­ni­ties to get into the­atre now. Dur­ing my break I thought I would go back to the stage. Time hasn’t al­lowed for it, and be­cause I’ve been on tele­vi­sion for so long, I don’t think peo­ple are aware of my pro­file as a the­atre ac­tress. So you tell var­i­ous di­rec­tors that you do the­atre and they are like, ‘Oh, okay,’ with a chuckle.”

Speak­ing more of her love for the­atre as she changes into an­other out­fit for the third shot, Kgo­motso re­veals she’s on the panel of judges for the Naledi The­atre Awards. Her chil­dren, daugh­ter Laruna (10) and son Le­sika (8), love act­ing, and Laruna was nom­i­nated for a Naledi Award. “It’s amaz­ing to watch them grow. Both are in the­atre. Laruna is part of the Na­tional Chil­dren’s The­atre. We are nur­tur­ing their dreams. Laruna is like her dad, in that she’s very aca­demic and rule­sori­en­tated. But she’s also shy like me, yet has the po­ten­tial to be an ac­tress, as she comes alive when on stage. Le­sika has lots of en­ergy and is an all-rounder, both artis­tic and aca­demic. Both chil­dren are in­tel­lec­tual, car­ing and lov­ing.”

17:00 It’s the fi­nal shot, and the con­ver­sa­tion moves to her mar­riage. We’ve seen Kgo­motso and Calvin on the red car­pet and on so­cial me­dia. What’s the se­cret to their last­ing mar­riage? “There’s no se­cret – just to be en­tirely hu­man in a re­la­tion­ship, to un­der­stand that you have good and bad days, and to walk the jour­ney to­gether de­spite ev­ery­thing. There’s no per­fect mar­riage, just as there are no per­fect hu­mans. There are so many life chal­lenges and like ev­ery­one else, we face them too. I’m blessed that re­gard­less of the chal­lenges we’ve had, we sup­port each other on so many lev­els – we put each other’s growth first.” As a lawyer for the in­ter­na­tional Stan­dard Char­tered Bank, Calvin has al­ways wanted to work, live and travel in the African con­ti­nent. In the past three years that’s just what he’s been able to do, and Kgo­motso sup­ports this, even though he has to be away from the fam­ily. He once lived in Tan­za­nia for seven months.

“What that has af­forded for our fam­ily, is open­ing the world to us. Travel has be­come part of our lives,” she says.

Calvin is now based in Dubai, and Kgo­motso has to jug­gle her sched­ule to sup­port her hus­band. “Dur­ing school holidays we go to Dubai, but luck­ily, work in Africa also falls un­der his de­part­ment, so he’s able to visit us of­ten. My hus­band is an amaz­ing dad and when he’s around, he makes sure he’s com­pletely in­volved. There was a time he trav­elled from Dubai ev­ery week­end just to see us. We fo­cus on how we can make it work, rather than on the chal­lenge of it all.”

The fam­ily vis­its Kgo­motso’s in-laws, who live in Los An­ge­les, ev­ery year. Laruna and Le­sika have US cit­i­zen­ship, and their par­ents are rais­ing them to love both their Amer­i­can and South African her­itage.

19:00 It’s din­ner time. We’re at Boma Restau­rant, a pop­u­lar tra­di­tional-food eatery for tourists and lo­cals that spe­cialises in game and wild meat. It also of­fers an in­ter­ac­tive tra­di­tional African drum­ming ex­pe­ri­ence. There are dancers and mu­sic all around, and I won­der what Kgo­motso thinks of the South African en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. “There’s an ex­pan­sion in the scope of sto­ry­tellers and con­tent cre­ators. It’s hap­pened quickly too. We’ve moved away from just hav­ing four main shows to watch on TV. I’m very happy about that.

“I’m not happy about the delu­sion that our in­dus­try is a go-to place for peo­ple who quickly want to brand them­selves or make quick money. I’m not a hob­by­ist, I’m a pro­fes­sional and an aca­demic. But look at the Kar­dashi­ans. The peo­ple-as­brands delu­sion is hap­pen­ing every­where, not just in South Africa. But Amer­ica knows the dif­fer­ence be­tween Vi­ola Davis and Kim Kar­dashian. I can’t deny I may have been over­looked be­cause I don’t have a huge Twit­ter fol­low­ing. I’m for­tu­nate to have worked on pro­duc­tions that value skilled pro­fes­sion­als and de­velop new tal­ent over so-called ‘brands’.”

DAY 3: GOOD­BYE, VIC­TO­RIA FALLS

10:00 Our fi­nal shot is at ma­jes­tic Vic­to­ria Falls, one of the Seven Won­ders of the World. As we wan­der among the tourists, Kgo­motso read­ies her­self for the shot. More lo­cals iden­tify her and want to take pic­tures. She seems happy liv­ing out her dream as a recog­nised ac­tress. Of­ten lo­cal stars speak of tak­ing over Amer­ica. Some fail and some, like Char­l­ize Theron, tri­umph. “I’ve never thought Amer­ica was the ul­ti­mate for me. I’ve never iden­ti­fied with it. I lived there, I have fam­ily there. I know the USA so well that I have no delu­sions about it be­ing the mecca of the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. My artistry has al­ways been grounded in Africa. I’m in­ter­ested in African sto­ries and oral cul­ture. My cre­ative work has al­ways fo­cused on folk sto­ries and African the­atri­cal pieces and nar­ra­tives. When I was in the US, I chose to go to the East Coast, which is more about Broad­way and the­atre. I’m not a Hol­ly­wood type. I may look so phys­i­cally, but my artis­tic in­tu­ition and per­son­al­ity are not. I want to work in more African coun­tries. Find­ing a way to cre­ate within the con­ti­nent first would be a dream come true.”

14:00 We’re back in Joburg. Kgo­motso will be back at the air­port the next day with her fam­ily, as they jet off to Dubai to be with her hus­band. Scan­dal! is on a pro­duc­tion break, but soon enough she’ll be back slay­ing as Yvonne.

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