Images by: Mlungisi Mlungwana | Creative Director : Ayanda Sithebe
Interview by: Lilian Tshabalala
Article by: Mandi Vundla
Theodore Jantjies is a South African actor known for his role in 7de Laan as Xander Meintjies. He had a conversation with Lilian Tshabalala about his career; from his humble beginnings to spending over 13 years on 7de Laan. When he is not on screen or on the stage, he spends his time encouraging the youth through motivational talks. He was raised in a single parent home under his mother’s guidance, his grand-mother’s wisdom and his aunt’s care in a small town called Heidelburg, two hours away from Cape Town. “Those were the strongest women ever” he says. They knew there was something deeper burning inside him and they worked hard to give him a better life. He notes that growing up in a small town is one of the factors that kept him motivated.
“But at some point I thought I’ve got all the reasons in the world not to succeed, but here I am now. Even out of a small town something big can happen.” But what keeps him inspired to continue doing the work that he does, Lillian asks?
LT: What drives you?
TJ: Inspiring and motivating young people in South Africa especially because back then there weren’t as many opportunities for young people as there are today for them to rise up and be great and motivate other people. This is the reason why I do motivational talks. I travel a lot and I make time to speak to youth groups about the fact that I grew up in a single parent household and I had all these reasons not to be successful but here I am now. It’s way bigger than being on T.V and being successful though, it’s about what my responsibility is as a human-being. For instance you can pack plastic bags at Shoprite or work at Woolworths but what is your responsibility towards other fellow human-beings? Everybody wants to be famous, they upload a video on You Tube and they feel like they’ve made it. They want to take pictures with me and socialize with me but that’s not why I do what I do. I know that I’ve been given this amazing platform to reach out to young people and that’s what I do.
LT: What’s your educational background, did you study drama?
TJ: I studied drama at the Northern College for a year in Cape Town, then towards the end of my first year my mother called me to say that she doesn’t have the finances to send me to Pretoria for my second year. By the hand of God I started getting these auditions before that year ended and all of a sudden I was in my first semi-professional play: ‘Die Keiser’ written by Bartho Smith and another one that ran at the Baxter Theatre called ‘Kanna Ek Kom Huis Toe’.
LT: When did you realize that you are an actor?
TJ: When I was doing a school play in primary school, I realized that people loved watching and reacting to me for some reason. Initially I wanted to be a teacher, but when you know you’ve got something man you just know! In primary school I was doing all these talent shows and I was also part of a rap group. I realized that I loved being on stage. While in primary school I was also acting in a high school drama group, that’s when I thought well if people want me to act in a high school drama group then surely there must be something here.
LT: It’s interesting that you say ‘people loved watching me’ please elaborate.
TJ: I was feeding off that energy, I just wanted to perform because people were watching me now. I thought ‘the focus is on me!’ It goes back to not having that father figure in your life. You have a mother and three women looking after you but you still long for a father’s love. All of a sudden I felt important that people were watching me. Without me knowing it people started saying that I’m talented and that I should pursue acting, but obviously I didn’t believe it at first. After performing in plays people would come to me to say well-done. This is when I realized that maybe I should pursue this thing.
LT: How did you get into 7 de Laan?
TJ: While I was still studying, one of the directors and a best friend of mine: Henry Mylne came to Cape
Town with other directors in search for actors. They set up a lot of auditions around the area. I went in for an audition and I thought I was bad. While driving back to the college Henry stopped the car and said I want to tell you something. “You can’t keep a good man down!”, at first I didn’t understand what he was trying to say then I realized that maybe he saw something in me, some sort of talent that would be enough to be on a soapie as big as 7 de Laan. 7 de Laan hadn’t confirmed anything with me yet Henry called me the following year to come and do a play. Henry is also known for doing theatre work. The play I was cast in was called “Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena” and it was huge for me because 90% of the actors were from 7de Laan and these people were well established and I was just a theatre actor from Cape Town. While we were rehearsing the play, Mylne set up an audition for me again at 7 de Laan for 7 O’ clock. It was the scariest thing in the world. I called my mom and told her that I’m on set auditioning with actors around me. After the audition I thought I did badly again but I got a call from 7de Laan a month later. I almost got into a car accident because I had to put my phone on speaker. They asked me to come in for a three month trial period then they called me in a month later to offer me a contract for a year. I was ecstatic! I did my first scene 13 years ago with Zane Meas. I’m privileged to still be there and receive all these amazing story-lines
LT: How was your interaction with Zane, was he supportive on your first day?
TJ: Absolutely, the entire team was amazing, they kept saying don’t worry about it, don’t stress, relax and I had to swim because I didn’t know anything about multi- camera and I had no training in it. I had to swim and learn and kick and learn. I realized that this is the reason why I couldn’t finish my 2nd and 3rd year studies. I was needed in the industry earlier, It’s part of my purpose.
LT: How has your character evolved since?
TJ: When I started out, my character was extremely bitter at his father because he left his family in Cape Town; see that father thing again? In my first scene I had a go at Zane for leaving us in Cape Town. I drew from my experience with my own father and everything read pure, I think they saw the honesty in that scene. But some point my character reached a level of disrespect for his father then I realized that people are going to start hating him so I had to bring other qualities into the character to show his heart and to make people realize that he is also human. I love telling young actors that when you’re in a show, whatever character you get given even if it’s a villain, you must show the heart. I got the opportunity to play a great role with substance and the character is still going to grow.
LT: A lot of actors believe that soapies are career suicide, what’s your take on that having been in a soapie for so long?
I always make a point whenever I speak to young actors, to say listen, don’t settle here. You can still work here but don’t settle here. You should always strive to do better than what you did last year. I always inspire young actors to ‘Go back to theatre!’ I grew up doing theatre. If I can’t do theatre then I can’t do television. I’m very hard on myself and my work ethic. I’m very meticulous when it comes to what I am doing when I’m on 7de Laan and what I am doing when I’m on stage. I am in charge of what I do. I don’t want to be known as a soapie actor, my people will know that I also do theatre. I’m a theatre actor 1st because of that I happen to be on a television. That’s why it frustrates me when people don’t work hard enough, when they come to work unprepared and they don’t understand what’s happening within the scene. When people arrive without learning their lines like it’s not important. You get paid to know your lines but It’s your responsibility to play what’s in-between the lines. That’s why when you look at scenes, some actors only play the line and not what’s happening in-between that line. And that’s the magic, that’s where the interesting parts happen. When you see the subtext of the actor and you can see what’s happening in their eyes and you can feel what they’re feeling. That’s why I always inspire people to work harder, don’t work for that salary it’s gonna kill you. Every day when I get into my car I always tell myself that tomorrow I’m going to be better and more interesting because people are watching my work. I was telling our dialogue coaches the other day, they keep on telling these youngsters coming up how amazing they are and that they are great. I told them to stop this because they’re killing them and now they think that they’re great and that they’ve made it. Rather say ‘well done for that scene, work harder, you can do better.’
LT: What else would you like to get involved in outside of being in theatre and on a soapie?
TJ: I’m interning as a director at 7de Laan and next year I’ll start directing some scenes. That’s something I’m looking forward to; working with actors because I understand the medium. I often find myself catching actors out when they don’t understand what they’re doing within the scene. I want to be that director. I’m not saying I’ll be hard on them, I’ll just remind them that the work and the preparation can never stop.
LT: What do you wish people knew about you that they still don’t know?
TJ: A lot of people don’t know that I’m left handed and that I’m actually a very shy person. I can be an introvert and I’m a very private person, that’s important when you’re in this industry. You must know what you aim to do. When I get calls from the media saying you owe it to your viewers to do this, that’s bullsh*t. I don’t owe anyone anything. I’m not doing acting because I want to be on magazine covers, I’m not here to be famous!