Article by: John-Otto Phike, Article contributor: Lindokuhle Mbonani, Photographer: Katlego Mokubyane, Photographer Assist: Sandile Mkhize, Junior Creative Direction: Modise Motaung, Creative Assist : Thembi Zikalala, Production Coordinator: Siyanda Buthelezi, Wardrobe: Kojo Africa, Makeup: Phumzile Mhlongo, Transcribed by Naledi Mfoloe
Sicelo Buthelezi is a young South African actor. In 2018, Buthelezi joined The Market Theatre Laboratory. During his course at The Market Theatre, he was cast in multiple productions such as Words Fail, HANI: THE LEGACY and Babylon: Beyond Borders, which was live-streamed across four stages.
Buthelezi first graced our screens in 2018 where he played a lead role in a film titled The Cleaner, which was part of the SABC 1 documentary show; Now or Never. Currently, Buthelezi is on a Mzansi Magic television drama series, Gomora, as Teddy.
In 2020, Buthelezi was awarded the Outstanding Newcomer Award at the 4th Royalty Soapie Awards.
Buthelezi is the type of actor that is always on standby and willing to help on set. He expressed his dislike for interviews but assured us that he is more than excited to participate. Here is what Sicelo Buthelezi had to say about being a part of Actor Spaces The Next!
John-Otto Phike: What does being part of the Actor Spaces The Next! series mean to you?
Sicelo Buthelezi: I’m really honoured. I’ve never looked at myself as one of the actors that would embody someone who already existed before, like someone as powerful as Tsietsi. It’s more than just an honour, it’s amazing.
John-Otto: As much as Teddy was your breakout role, that was not the beginning of your career. Please describe your journey for us?
Sicelo: Preparation! Whoa! I think it was the greatest journey even though I didn’t see it at the time. I miss those days where I was late for rehearsals and going to training institutions. I remember I used to go to Moses Moleleka Arts Centre eTembisa. I miss when I didn’t even know that I was preparing myself for all of this but that process was just beautiful to witness. Beautiful because I understood the struggle, and I understand why I had to go through what I had to go through. Obviously I never knew this is how it was actually going to be. I loved every moment of it.
John-Otto: What was the most important and the most impactful part of that journey?
Sicelo: Yho! I remember I was speaking to Clara Vaughan from the Market Theater Laboratory, who is now the head of The Market Theater Laboratory. At the Market Theatre Laboratory you get introduced to a lot. At your entry interview they ask you what you are hoping to achieve throughout the whole course. Then at the exit interview of the course they ask you if you have achieved whatever you wanted or hoped to achieve. At the end of the exit interview Clara asked, “what are you planning on doing next year?” She expected me to be say that I’m going to write a show and I literally said, “I want to be on-screen” and she said, “Hey man Sicelo as much as that’s your dream, it’s really hard to really get like screen roles” and I thought to myself, “something tells me that something big is going to happen and it doesn’t need me to be distracted, it just needs me to be present. 3 months later I got the role. That was the craziest moment of my life. It’s like I manifested it to happen and literally it happened exactly how I imagined it? That was the most impactful moment of my life.
John-Otto: In this campaign we are talking about impact and in your breakout show, Gomora, you played Teddy who was meant to be a support and within the first week he was trending. That speaks back to impact, how would you say you created Teddy to have an impactful presence even though he was meant to be in the shadows, in a way?
SICELO: There’s two answers or there’s two versions of this answer right?. One has to come from me as an actor and what I did with an opportunity like this. Do you take it and be like, “Oh I’m just playing a supporting role, okay sharp that’s it” or do you then look at it and say “listen this could be a life changing moment, this could be a life changing role”? So put your 150 percent in it, even 250. That’s how I saw the role for myself. I didn’t even care that it was a supporting role, I just wanted to do what I’ve always wanted to do. It just so happened ukuthi the stars were aligning at the time. I put my all and it was perfect timing. Secondly, this is a guy from eKasi and he is the type of character that speaks to young people eKasi. A lot of people look at Teddy, within the world of Gomora and don’t take him seriously but the audiences from the other side question what people don’t understand about him. This makes people want to listen to him because he’s not understood in the world of Gomora. That’s why a lot of people really resonated with Teddy. He is very relatable. That’s the impact Teddy has.
John-Otto: You have had the opportunity to perform with legends within the industry. What intergenerational lessons from the older actors have you applied in your career to become an impactful young actor?
Sicelo: I’m mentored by Warren Masemola. I first met him outside the Market Theatre Laboratory. I said to him, “Listen I saw this interview with Anele and you said you went to The Lab, and I immediately applied and I got in and I’m here now” and he said “Oh my gosh! You remind me exactly of myself at your age, I’m glad man.” Then the second time I saw him was at my graduation day, I didn’t know I had that much impact. I was closing the graduation performance, I was doing a one hander and I shut the house down! Those are the moments where you start realizing certain things about life in general, ukuthi it doesn’t matter how small the conversation may be, it can always be impactful, it can change someone’s life. Never take those for granted. I learnt a lot from Warren, I learnt to be ugly on screen and I learnt that the lens is there to literally capture the moment. Play the moment, Play the moment properly and be truthful to the moment. I believe when a generation creates a positive environment in the industry, things will be better for the next generation. We can learn a lot intergenerationally.
John-Otto: And what does impact look like for you? Especially amongst young people in the entertainment industry in Africa?
Sicelo: It’s small things like decision making. Making decisions about the type of roles an actor chooses and growing as an artist. If I had turned down uTeddy I wouldn’t have been where I am today or if I didn’t take you know certain roles that stretched my diversity as an actor, I wouldn’t have portrayed a character like uTeddy. That’s what people don’t really get. Making certain decisions in your life can really impact whatever is happening in your life.
John-Otto: How would you say your journey impacted your current career, you as a person and how you handle, the impact you’ve created in terms of fame and the caliber of your performance?
Sicelo: Staying true to the principles that I have created when I was still a ’nobody.’ I’ve always been a loner. I won’t be like ‘oh! Now that I have gained a certain level of fame then I will befriend whoever is ‘making it’ or whoever I wanted to be friends with.’ I always draw back to myself and I love being alone. I love being in a car to center myself. I believe in always drawing back to your principals. That’s what I’ve carried with me. Ever since I’ve made it in the industry, I’ve always asked myself about how to maintain certain behaviours or how to maintain the good work that people appreciate.
John-Otto: As the youth in this industry who are seen to be making it, how do we pull each other and others up?
Sicelo: You can’t! You can try and hopefully it works out but you need to understand what is happening in the industry before you pull someone else up. What if it’s hell? What if you are taking someone’s son or someone’s daughter to like the worst life that they could have ever lived? You need to understand the world of the industry and then explain it to them. This is where you play the role. You need to learn enough information. Learn so much to the point where you know so much about your facts about the industry just so when you tell that other person about the industry, they understand. This is where the well-being gets involved, this is informative puller must be you know, you must always know your facts about the industry.
John-Otto: Please finish the sentence for me, Sicelo is impactful because…
Sicelo: He is true to himself. If I want to fix Jay, Sicelo must be able to fix himself before he can fix Jay. A broken car cannot tow another broken car. The car that is pulling the other car must be in perfect shape in order for it to pull another car.