Reading about the film industry professionals profiled in this week’s feature story — and their amazing achievements in the hugely competitive American performing arts industry — got me thinking about the nature of fame. Lauren Bacall, one of the greatest silverscreen actresses of her generation, once said: “Stardom isn’t a profession; it’s an accident.”
That reminded me of Charlize Theron’s story. I recently read an interview between the SA-born actress and Oprah Winfrey in which Charlize talks about the luck of being in the right place at the right time. “One day in a bank, I got my chance. I was trying to cash my last cheque but the bank wouldn’t accept it. I was pleading with the teller to assist me, and a gentleman came over to help,” she says. “There’s nothing more powerful than a vulnerable woman,” she adds knowingly. “I knew my power. What I didn’t know is that I was auditioning for the guy who’d end up being my manager. He gave me his card [He was John Crosby, who represented John Hurt and Rene Russo] and said, ‘If you’re interested, I’ll represent you’.” Charlize adds that if she hadn’t met Crosby, she doesn’t know what she would have done next. “If I hadn’t been in the bank that day, I don’t think I’d be where I am. There are so many talented actors who don’t ever get the chance.”
In contrast, it’s pretty unlucky that just as their careers were starting to take off, the women in our main story were scuppered by a pandemic. But more than anything, it’s the bureaucratic logistics that have pressed pause on their fortunes — not Covid-19. Give policymakers and bureaucrats an excuse to use their beloved red tape and they’re sure to take it.
But it’s just another hurdle on the path to fame.
The feature story started us thinking not only about how tough the road to fame can be, but also about South Africans who have started making a name for themselves in Hollywood. Cape Townborn Lesley-Ann Brandt got the world’s attention in the series Lucifer; Thuso Mbedu, raised by her grandmother in KZN, is about to make it big in the upcoming film The Underground Railroad, based on the novel by Colson Whitehead and directed by Academy Award-winner Barry Jenkins. Neil Sandilands and Phumzile Sithole — interviewed in this issue — are getting great roles.
What all the hard-working performers in this issue will attest to is that fame isn’t an end in itself. As David Bowie said: “Fame itself doesn’t really afford you anything more than a good seat in a restaurant.”
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