Image By | Mlungisi Mlungwana
By | Lillian Zandile Tshabalala
The land is dry, the atmosphere harsh and unforgiving, the grass has no green left on it and the fresh air has escalated into dust. Limpopo streets! A young man sits on the driver’s seat in despair from loss! A pain he’s come to know all too well. Over the bridge; a truck approaches. He shuts his eyes closed! Smashes his foot on to the accelerator and heads towards the bridge. Black out! Moments later he slowly opens his eyes, not knowing how he made it through alive. This may sound like an “anti-climax” or “turning point” from a movie scene; but it is a page from the life of Clement Maosa. Saved by grace!
Way before we could find a seat so I could ask him my first question, Clement was already flooded by fans at our table; some seeking to have conversation and others even taking pictures of him without even a simple greeting let alone asking if they could kindly take pictures of him. He embraced them and handled the chaos with ease as though it was nothing new ; just another day in the life of Clement Maosa.
Lillian Tshabalala: Getting your fans to settle down was quite a workout, how do you deal with that kind of pressure on a daily basis?
Clement Maosa: We go into people’s living rooms every day; they watch us on their screens and I guess they end up having such personal encounters with our characters so much so that they end up thinking that they know us personally. I love and appreciate my fans but it can get a little too much when people get up in your face and don’t consider your private space. These are some of the things they don’t prepare you for before entering the entertainment industry.
LT: How old were you when you started acting?
CM: I was nine years old when I started acting in school plays but I didn’t really take it seriously then. It was in high school when I realized that performing was a calling for me because I was happiest when I was on stage.
LT: Did you decide to study Acting after High School?
CM: When I got to Grade 12 I asked my parents if I could go to a University where I could study the Arts but they blatantly refused. They told me to look around our neighborhood and asked if I have seen anyone who grew up around us on TV? There was nobody! Then they asked me why I thought I could be on TV if there were no examples of those kinds of people around us. Our kind of people looked after kettle and livestock and success meant that you aspired to become a Teacher, Nurse, Petrol attendant, security or policeman. Being an Engineer, Lawyer or Doctor was just dreaming too big and my parents wanted me to go for those careers. I hated mathematics so I knew medicine wasn’t an option for me.
LT: Sounds like you placed your happiness on hold to please your folks, how did that make you feel.
CT: I was brought up to respect my elders and whatever my parents said would always stand. They also gave me an ultimatum; if I wanted to study acting I would have to pay my own fees and if I studied Law they would pay, I chose the latter.
LT: Where did you decide to go study?
CT: I went to the University of Limpopo where I registered for a Bachelor of Laws. I’d go to class and it would be so quiet and formal that I would want to scream out, dance and jump up and down because the artist in me was burning with passion! I made friends with people from the “S Block” where a lot of Arts activities took place. I started going to the poetry sessions there then later became part of a drama group that was facilitated by one of the lecturers. That’s what got me going, I was a Law student by day and a performer by night.
LT: Something very devastating happened in the same year you began University, please tell me about it?
CT: Before the year ended I lost both my parents, they passed on three months apart. I was so frustrated! I had so many question. They were the ones who wanted me to do Law; I took it to please them, then they decided to leave me when they were my main source of income. “Why would you leave me at such a crucial time in my life?” I was shattered.
LT: How did you get through such a hard time?
CT: I had to be strong for my siblings. I needed to find acceptance and the church also played a huge role in helping me heal! My siblings and I got so much closer and talking about how we felt really helped get us through.
LT: Did you manage to finish school?
CT: Yes I finished my LLB degree and I am actually a qualified lawyer! I told myself that I’m not a failure and even though I was doing something I didn’t love, I had to find creative ways to love it so that I could complete it. My siblings had become my responsibility and I needed to be smart about the choices I was making. I knew that I wanted to be an actor but I also had an opportunity to study something that I could have as my plan B.
LT: How did the transition from Limpopo to Johannesburg happen?
CM: While doing my final year; it hit me that I would start practicing as a lawyer when I finished school and it was devastating to even imagine! I spent a lot of time at the computer lab at school and did a lot or research on agencies and production houses. I read a lot and literally gave myself a crash course on the industry through surfing the net, before that time I didn’t even know what an “audition” was. The first audition I went to was for class act; I asked my friends for money, got into a taxi and went to the State Theatre to audition. I saw a lot of familiar faces in the line but I refused to be intimidated. I went through to the fourth round and didn’t make it any further. I went back home with disappointment but I was grateful that I wasn’t dismissed in the first round; that gave me hope in my future as an actor. After that there were auditions for Selimathunzi in Auckland park, I travelled from Limpopo again to come to the audition and made it up four levels again. I went back home with excitement that I had made friends with people who would let me know about auditions should they hear anything.
LT: How did you land up on Skeem Saam?
CM: I got a brief that said that there was a new Drama Series looking for Pedi speaking actors. I instantly thought to myself that this was for me and there would be no reason why I should not be a part of this. This time I was much more comfortable with walking the Jo’burg streets because I was more familiar with the city. I auditioned, they said “thank you” and I went home! A week later on a Friday night, I got a call to come back in for call backs on the very next day at 10am. I was a student and didn’t have the kind of money I needed to travel to Johannesburg lying around. I was one of four people on their list and I just told them to go ahead without me because I couldn’t afford to come through. They called me the next day and urged me to come because the producer really wanted to see me, so I ended up asking my sister who then borrowed the money from friends so that I could make my way to the final audition. And the rest is history!
LT: Did you start work immediately?
CM: After my audition I was asked to stay in Johannesburg for a week of workshops with all the other new actors. They booked me into a Guest House. At the workshops we read scripts and learned about how to work with camera angles.
LT: How did you break the news to your family?
CM: When I got back home, I only told my sister and asked her to keep it to herself for a while. The rest of my family was waiting for me to complete my Law studies that year and go work afterwards. I knew they wouldn’t want to hear anything different, but when the time came I had to tell them because shooting Skeem Saam meant that I would have to be away from home for three months. Everything fell into a greater plan because I had also just finished writing my final exams around that time.
LT: What was the response of family and friends when they saw you on TV for the first time?
CM: My phone kept ringing none stop! I hardly slept that night. I was back home in Limpopo when the show started airing, people also started noticing me on the streets. I kept going back and forth from Limp’s to Jozi but I finally realized that if I wanted to make it in this industry I would have to be based in Jo’burg; so I relocated.
LT: Did moving to Johannesburg help fuel your career?
CM: I did a few jobs but nothing concrete enough to sustain me. I went through a dry season where I really needed money to keep me on my feet. I pulled out my LLB Degree and applied for and got a job at a law firm where I worked for three months as a legal adviser, but I quit because I was so bored. It was such good money but it was not for me. I did industrial theatre work, voice overs and performed at events to survive until Skeem Saam was commissioned for a second season which was a year contract, after that it was commissioned to be a daily drama and that’s what kept me going ever since.
LT: Would you ever go back to practicing as a lawyer?
CM: No. But I must say that experience has really helped enlighten me on how to look through contracts. It pains me to see how talented Artists are being exploited in the industry because they lack contract knowledge. I don’t have dreams to go back and practice as a lawyer but I’d like to go do my Master’s degree and major in Entertainment Law; with the hope of opening a consulting agency that would help Artists review their contracts.
LT: You’ve been on Skeem Saam for five years now, do you feel like you’ve grown as an actor since your first day on set.
CM: I have grown a lot! I grow every day. When I walked in on my first day on set I was in awe of all the legends I saw around me and working with them has really shaped me into the kind of actor I’ve become. Every day on set is a new opportunity for me to learn and enhance my skills.
LT: What book are you currently reading?
CM: I just finished reading “An actor prepares” by Stanislavsky. I’m on a constant journey to sharpen my skill and better myself.
LT: What advice would you give to actors who just got their break in the industry?
CM: You have to constantly find time to stop, take a moment and reflect because you can easily get swallowed by all that’s happening around you; the hype, being on TV for the first time and suddenly having all these people on your social media platform telling you how amazing you are. It’s very easy to lose yourself in all the “fame”. We see so many talented people hang around for a few years then disappear because this industry can chew you up and spit you out easily. You need to constantly remind yourself why you want this!