Images by: Mlungisi Mlungwana | Creative Director Ayanda Sithebe | Make-up by Phumzile Mhlongo |Dressed and styled by Ernest Mahomane
Editor: Mandisa Vundla
Profile by: Mathunzi MacDonald |
If the concept of narcissistic behavior is foreign to you, the exposure to the character of Benjamin Le Roux on the popular SABC soapie Isidingo would have been an unpleasant shock to the system. Bloemfontein born actor Arno Marais effortless delivery in depicting this complex character may have led you to believe that may be just as hard, cold and calculating. I suffered a more pleasant bout of shock when I began to converse with Arno in preparation for his interview with Actor Spaces. He asks what he must to confirm that this interview will be about acting and not the sensationalism that seemingly drives some publications when they approach artists under the guise of telling their stories. He is then assured that the publication’s interest lay purely in the craft and the man behind the craft. This conversation better prepares me to welcome a non threatening, polite and seemingly shy Arno to our offices. He indulges me in small talk which I use to desperately calm my nerves as we walk from the parking area into the office. Almost as quickly as the door swings open, multiple faces light up at the sight of this admired artist. The art students at the Gauteng Opera where our offices are based, nudge each other and gasp while I do my damnedest to keep a straight face so as to not alarm my guest. Arno walks quietly with no intention to be noticed or faffed over. I want so to see through this mellow demeanour and help both myself and audiences understand how the shift can be made to carry such demanding characters. The questions are set and I begin to ask them as we nibble on refreshments and complain about th unnecessary heat wave, that has flooded the month of January.
Mathunzi Macdonald: Three life lessons you can never forget
Arno Marais: There was a girl that I was really in love with when I was studying and unfortunately by making the wrong choices I messed that up. And I got a life lesson out of that experience. As we grow up we grow mentally, physically but importantly we grow spiritually as well. The other lesson came when my dad left when I was still quite little. The lesson you get there is that there is not just one person in the world that is for you. There are more people in the world that will be for you and that will love you. It doesn’t matter who you are, you will find people who will love you. The third lesson is a hard lesson that I have learnt; you can’t trust anybody. You may think you know people, but you really don’t.
M: Who is the one person who has been by your side since childhood, who still is today and who has influenced your acting
A: My mom. Definitely. She has always believed in me since I was 13 years old and I told her that I want to be an actor. She just supported me 150% (a hundred and fifty percent), all the way, no doubts, no nothing. I am grateful for that. She is the one. She has always been there.
M: How at 13 did you decide that you want to act?
A: It’s the funniest story. I called my mom and I did or performed all these different emotions. And from that I was like “Ah, I can do this, I can be an actor”. It’s quite funny because you are just a kid. When my mom saw me do these emotions she told me that if you really want to do this, go for it. I will support you.
M: What does family mean to you?
A: Everything. As family you have to look after each other. Family is something you must have. You just have to feel safe. Whether you have money or you donâ€™t or things are good or bad, you must feel safe in that family space. Everything must be fulfilled with the family because that is your base. Spiritually, emotionally, everything must be fulfilled. That is exactly what I believe in.
M: What was your first major role and what do you remember most about it?
A: My first major role was Isidingo. I am still there and I am still loving every second of it. I was on Isidingo for 5 years then off for two and then I made a comeback. It seems like such a long time.
M: Do you feel your acting studies bettered your skills or could you have done with them?
A: It bettered my skills, absolutely. I mean you grow and you grow in confidence. You do stage work and you learn so many things which is fantastic. I didn’t want to move around industries from this to that. It was my choice to study so that I could get all that knowledge. I am glad that I did it. I am grateful that I could have done it. If anyone would like to become an actor, I would say go and study. It will help you. I went overseas because I did not have money to go and study, so I was there to get some money to study. I also got some help from my family but I paid for a lot of it myself. I bought my first car myself, in fact I bought any car I have owned. I did not really tour overseas because I was saving the money for my studies, so I didn’t really see anything. Maybe someday. I am really happy here and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else but who knows? That was quite the experience. You grow up very quickly out there in the big bad world. That helped me as well and I feel that it was good that I only went to study at age 21. I think you are a bit more responsible at that age.
M: Do you prefer theatre or television?
A: I haven’t done stage work in a so long. I think the rawness of theatre is something that you miss. I would love to do a play again as soon as is possible. However, I do enjoy television. I have become familiar with it so, I enjoy it. Going back to the stage will be a jump for me. I currently have classes with a director who does a lot of the prescribed work for schools. It is always good to go back to learning. The director mentioned that getting back to theatre is like getting back on a bicycle, you just need to get back to it. So I want to take that step. I believe God is going to bless me with a theatre role again. I have played roles such as Macbeth. Winnie The Poo and I’ve portrayed a gay man. The gay character was an awesome character to play and so different from who I am. I truly loved the challenge. The public received it very well as well. These characters are so different. So I would take on any role as long as it is exciting.
M: Your most popular television character could be called a narcissist; Do you believe each of us has a darker side?
A: I wouldn’t say in each of us but definitely in many of us. That tiny part where, when you get rubbed the wrong way or something happens and you are in a tricky situation you snap. Some people are amazed by it. You’ll say “I didn’t know that I had that in me”.
M: In that case, do you enjoy playing the character?
A: Absolutely! You never get bored because he is always up to something. The character has been more peaceful in the past year but he has done some pretty crazy things. It’s exciting to play such a role. I did some research for the character on how to be a CEO and how that world works. There have been so many different story lines around him. I remember also doing research around the time the character’s family was still part of the show. Research around family ties and such. I do sometimes think the writers are pushing it but that is part of my job, to take the script and make it work. That is how you build trust with the writers so that they trust that what ever we give to this guy he will do and he will not have issues with it. That is important to me.
M: Could you detail how you have grown as an actor from the early days of isidingo to date?
A: I’ve grown immensly as an actor. You start out and you are really still learning. It was 8 months after I completed my studies that I got Isidingo. I have grown a lot and learnt a lot of stuff. You truly only learn when you start working in the industry, I believe. You can have your base, but the real work starts when you start working in the industry. Phumla Hopa is my mother over at the production, she is also my boss. She has always been there for me and she raised me in many ways in this industry. I can thank her for that and I love her very much. I’ve become a man. I started out as a boy and over the years I grew into a man. I love every second of my work.
M: How do you deal with audience perception, especially when you are considered to be the roles you play?
A: In the first year it was quite tough. Especially with the Braam story, Braam is my character’s dad. People really believe it, they believe it is real. However, I have gotten so used to it now. I understand that it is not real. I can handle the comment even though there are far fewer comments than there used to be. People like Ben a lot more now which is fantastic. As you grow in the industry, you get used to such things because people will say what they will.
M: Which actor would you take on a road trip and why?
A: If he was still alive I would take Heath Ledger. But locally I have always had so much respect for Vusi Kunene and Marius Weyers. Those are my two idols in South Africa so I would take either one of them. Without a doubt! I got to work with Vusi Kunene. It was quite intimidating but, you learn a lot. He is a master of his trade.
M: Anyone else whom you have worked with that you feel you have learnt from?
A: Michelle Botes who played Cheryl. There is something in her eyes when she is acting that is just so real. I learn a lot from Motlatsi as well who play Sechaba. We got onto the show around the same time and I learn a lot from him because he has his own style. If you connect with him and you can roll with him, you can make magic. Listen, you must always be ready to learn. If you come in there and you think you know everything, you can go home. That is at least my opinion. You will always have something to learn.
M: What do you want to be remembered for in terms of your acting?
A: Being an intense actor. The work that I offer must have an intensity about it. People should be able to say “Ja, This guy is intense man”. I have a little bit of that already so I think that I am on the right track. When referring to intense actors, at the top of my head I can think of Robert Whitehead. If you see how he behaves in real life, you will never say that this guy is Barker Haines. I’ve admired actors like Jim Carey. I think there is no one on planet earth like him that can pull off those roles. If you look at what he does, it’s crazy. The physicality, everything is intense. And he has done serious role, he isn’t just limited to comedy. I have always seen myself as a character actor. I love playing diverse roles and really getting into it. I don’t want to be the same guy saying different lines. Where is the reward in that?
M: What then is character acting?
A: Character acting for me; let’s say that you haven’t got a deep voice and you play a character and you give him a deep voice. If you walk a certain way, you change your walk. You change your gestures, you change everything. You create a complete character. Character acting is also good for stage because it is bigger and in my opinion, better. Change to someone else; physically, your voice, the way you look at others.
M: Most favourite quote?
A: Take care of the little pictures and the big picture will take care of itself. That is something I learnt on campus from a friend of mine who unfortunately is no longer with us. He said that once and it has stuck with me ever since.
M: Any hidden talents or alternative work?
A: I’d like to go into the voice over market because I’m quite good with my voice and voicing different characters. I’d also really like to learn how to play the piano; you can just lose yourself in it. “We all search for the reason as to why we are here. I am on my way to finding that out”. Arno Marais