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.
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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