Johannesburg - If Warren Masemola wasn’t already on the Mzansi actors’ A-list, he would be now. He has been nominated in no fewer than three categories at this year’s SA Film and Television Awards (Saftas): Best Supporting Actor in a TV Comedy (Ses’Top La), Best Supporting Actor in a Feature Film (Vaya) and Best Actor in a TV Drama (Tjovitjo).
He deserves all three and says he considers the roles “an absolute privilege” to play.
The 34-year-old was born in Soshanguve and raised in Ga-Rankuwa. He lived with his grandparents, both of whom were blind. He admired them for how little they pitied themselves, a quality he took on board in his own life. He became fascinated by their use of gestures to communicate emotions. Both would serve him well in his career.
Masemola has appeared in over 20 shows, among them Intersexions, Scandal!, Heist and Ayeye.
In Joburg, he studied theatre at Afrofusion and contemporary dance at Moving Into Dance Mophatong. “We weren’t well off at home and so my sister encouraged me to do dancing as an escape,” he explains. He attributes his versatility in roles to his multidisciplinary training.
“My first stage show was in 2006, at the Dr John Kani Theatre and I was very excited when I got back a decade later, in 2016, to rehearse for When Swallows Cry. My passion for performance was revitalised, thanks to the playwright Mike van Graan for such a great script and director Lesedi Job for making us drink from the fountain of nuances.”
His TV breakthrough came in 2008, when he bagged the role of Lentswe on e.tv’s Scandal!.
His peers hail him for his intensity and sincere approach to his art. For this chameleon of character, it is essential to stay focused. “Actors can easily be distracted by the business that happens on set, then quickly forget the character’s journey.”
His star may be shining, but he remains concerned about the development of the industry: “The country has potential. I believe something like an independent film fund will greatly assist productions like Tjovitjo.” The hit show was originally intended to be a movie, but a lack of money meant it had to start on the small screen. He wishes the arts minister was more up to speed.
“That way he will not have to embarrass the entire ministry by congratulating the ‘entire’ cast of a documentary like Miners Shot Down when accolades are received.”
Masemola’s first Safta win was for Ses’Top La, when he burst onto our screens in 2012 as the flaming Thokozani, AKA Thoko Chanel. The character was written specially for Masemola. Mandla N (of Gang of Instrumentals fame) is the mind behind film production company Black Brain Pictures, which bought us the comedy. He has nothing but praise for Masemola. “[Thoko Chanel] came naturally because of our history going way back to when we were laaities.
“I pushed Warren to go to certain places to learn about the culture and the way homosexual people do things.”
Masemola says he is a reformed homophobe who was once kicked out of school at The Market theatre laboratory because of his intolerance.
“For some reason I used to think being gay was something we don’t associate with where we’re from.”
After some introspection and conversations with both gays and homophobes, he re-evaluated his outlook.
“He prepares so well,” says Mandla. “I mean, even while he’s having breakfast he’s in character. He understands the process of transitioning from himself to the role.”
In Tjovitjo, which has a second season starting on Sunday night, Masemola is MaFred, the anchor in a dark narrative about the seedier side of dance. It’s the most complex character Masemola says he’s ever had to play.
Tjovitjo director Vincent Moloi says, “His energy draws you closer and closer to him in the most natural way. That is very rare to come by in this industry.”
(Photos: Supplied/City Press)