PROFILE|SCHELAINE BENNETT

SCHELAINE BENNETT
Images by: Mlungisi Mlungwana | Creative  Director : Ayanda Sithebe
Interview by: Lilian Tshabalala
Article by: Mandi Vundla

Schelaine  was born and raised in Cape Town. The former dancer now turned choreographer and actor made her break-through in the world of television as the presenter of Hectic Nine-9 on SABC 2. She traded in her dancing shoes for on screen roles like Marlene Davids (Saints and Sinners) and Jill Breytenbach(Gold Diggers). Before Lillian Tshabalala zooms in on her life and artistic upbringing, she is heart set on getting the right pronunciation for her name. Tshabalala fixes her tongue then moves swiftly into conversation.

LT: Where were you raised?
SB: I was born and raised in Cape Town. My parents lived in Bo-Kaap when I was born and we relocated to Montana, which is predominantly a coloured area. I spent a chunk of my childhood there before
we moved to Pinelands –‘the burbs’. My parents have been living there since.
Growing up… Parents and family in general always want to play it safe, they are always concerned about how you are going to survive. I was introduced to dance and drama at an early age. My grandmother was a Ballerina and my older cousin did ballet but she didn’t take it seriously. No one ever took it as a career. I remember thinking, ‘i’m going to pursue this art thing and it’s going to work’. I was drawn to fashion, so my parents tried to push me towards that because they believed I could make money from it but I objected.

LT: When did you get involved in the arts?
SB: When I was in grade three I was already exposed to dance, drama and musical theatre. I took art classes at the Waterfront theatre school on a part-time basis. I attended on Saturdays and I also went in once a week. I was there for quite some time but I eventually left because the girls were mean towards me. Primarily because I was always being pushed ahead of them because somehow dance came naturally to me, and they weren’t being pushed as hard so they had to stay back in the class.

LT:As a child, how did you overcome the hostility?

SB:When Britney Spears rose to fame, she showed the world who she was… I learned the choreography from her music videos and I was determined to go back. In grade 8 I told my mother that I’m going back to the ‘Waterfront Theatre School’ and in grade 9 I did. In grade 10 I was asked to start attending full-time classes but my father objected. He said: “no you have to finish school first”. In my matric year the school had a meeting with my dad and I started attending full-time classes at tertiary level.

LT: Has your family been supportive of your career choice?
SB: Now that I’m older, I realize that it’s not that my family didn’t support me; I didn’t realize that they had a huge appreciation for the arts. For instance, my favourite thing to do with my dad is to watch ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, the last time I went to watch a musical with my grandmother –gosh!
She was singing along so loudly. Music is also a big thing in our family, I was always going to be in the arts. I tried working in a bank, I cried then I quit the following day.

Without my family I honestly wouldn’t be able to do this, they are such pillars of strength, support and optimism. It makes this craft a lot more bearable; I’m still young and I’m on my own this side because they are all based in Cape Town but because of their supportive nature, I remain grounded.
I’ve watched a lot of my peers lose their heads because we got to this level pretty quickly… It can also be taken away just as quickly. Because I come from a much grounded family there is no room for being a ‘super star’. If I go home in December, I clean the house just like everybody else, nothing makes me more special than the others.

Actor-Spaces-Schellain-Bennets-11

LT: Do you consider yourself a child star?

SB: No! I was in my 20’s when I started Hectic Nine-9, I was in my final year of college but i can understand why
people thought we were younger. We looked young and the program targeted teens.

LT: How did you transition from presenting into acting and was it a conscious decision?

SB: No. I did Hectic Nine-9 for just two years then I said to myself: “cool, now I know this beast, what’s next?” I moved to Jo’burg in 2009 because I wanted a change of scenery, I was only here for three months then I got this gig to go dance overseas. I went to Turkey for the year and I toured the coast. When I came back, I started to veer away from dancing because I realized that I also studied drama and musical theatre, so why not push that as well? The commercials I did in Cape Town had no substance, it almost felt like I was acting but I really wasn’t. There were also the odd movies where I got the tiny roles.
In 2013 when I officially moved here, I still danced on the side but my intention was to focus strongly on film.
The more I was called for auditions the more the acting career began to carve its own path. That’s how the transition happened, it was very organic. The only thing I planned was my move to Jo’burg.

LT:Do you think that any presenter can be an actor?
SB: No! I have a lot of respect for the different aspects of our industry. When you’re presenting you have to be yourself but when you’re acting, there’s no room for you to be yourself at all. I think that’s a skill a lot of us learnt at school or when attending workshops. You can be a personality but it doesn’t mean you can bring other personalities to life.

LT:What was your first acting job when you moved to Jo’burg?

SB: It was a short film, I don’t remember the name but Theo played my husband. We knew each other because we were both SABC 2 babies. I featured in the 3rd season of Mzansi love and while I was doing that I got a call for Saints and Sinners.

LT: You’ve played a cop on both Saints and Sinners and Gold diggers, if you were given another police role right now would you take it?

SB: I literally finished shooting an international film in August and I was playing a detective. I’m being ‘type-cast’ and it’s ok because all the detectives I’ve played have been so different. I’ve never felt like I’m playing the same role over again, sometimes there’s so much other drama happening because I also get to play the human-being behind the character of the cop. I was laughing the other day because I’m always the girl who gets far too little foundation, mascara and powder applied on her face while other women get a lot of make-up. It’s been very interesting how that’s the role written for coloured girls but I’ll take it. As long as there’s substance to the person then I don’t mind.

Furthermore, when I was a detective on Saints and Sinners, my character had no personality, fashion sense and no hair. She was very plain, which is why a lot of people couldn’t recognize me. On ‘Gold Diggers’ they tried to sass me up. My dresses and jeans were low-cut. I was like, I’m also not a piece of meat you know!

LT: Have you ever done theatre professionally outside of dancing?
SB:Theatre is the foundation of what I studied and I obviously did it while I was studying but I don’t think that theatre was given a fair chance because when I went into T.V, I fell in love with live T.V.
When I moved up to Jo’burg, I did a children’s show at the National Children’s Theatre. I’ve done lots of corporate theatre but film really took over. I often look at the briefs that I get and it’s mostly Musicals. I would kill to do a straight play but it would have to be the right play given my experience.

LT: What’s your dream role for a film?
If I can play a ‘super-hero’ a proper super-hero like Wonder Women, then I don’t have to work anymore.
If they could just make me fly or something then I’m good

LT:Please elaborate on your social media post regarding ‘being a brown skin girl’ and the relationship you have with your body.

Growing up as a coloured girl, apartheid messed with our minds, always emphasizing that the lighter you are, the straighter your hair then the prettier you are. I grew up as a tomboy because I didn’t have any of those traits. When I was studying performance, we were always dressed in leotards and stockings and I had a big a**, which most white girls don’t have. I was also one of the few brown skinned girls in the class. Navigating that space wasn’t tricky but i wasn’t the most confident in the room.
The confidence that I have now has been building up for the past three to four years.

LT:How did you manage to build it up?

SB:Thank God for Beyonce. Having people in the industry whether it is here or abroad like Beyonce and JLo, made it ok for me to have a big a**. It was always a topic every where I went. I’ll never forget how at the age of 13, I was eating a packet of chips and my great aunty said “You mustn’t eat those chips!”
I went through a proper phase where I didn’t eat junk food because I wanted to be pretty. I wasn’t what I thought was the conventional pretty. When I moved up to Jo’burg a woman said to me “you’re really beautiful, capitalize on it now because it’s not gonna last forever.”
Being a dark skinned coloured girl is so tricky, I just got into a show now where my father is light and I didn’t think they were going to cast me. Sometimes people don’t realize I am from here. Traveling also affirmed me because when I visited other countries I was startled by seeing people who actually look like me. I started learning about my family history. I love it and I wouldn’t trade this for anything.

LT: How have you managed to juggle between work and your personal life?
SB: At the moment I don’t have a personal life, I don’t have a social life, I’m just working and I thank God for that because there are times when you don’t get work. I’ve adopted a habit of painting my nails just to get out of character because I’ve been moving from one role to the next and I carry my characters’ baggage with me. I have to sometimes remind myself that they are not real.

LT: What don’t we know about you?
SB: I’m a complete nut case! –haha
I generally only eat fish and vegetables.
My hair is real… It’s all mine!

 

PORTRAITS |SCHELAINE BENNETT

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