Editor: Felicia Naiwa Sithebe, Writer: Phindile Mngadi, Photographer: Katlego Mokubyane, Creative Direction: Modise Motaung and Lihle Ngubo, Makeup: Phumzile Mhlongo, Hair: TumeloMj’s Afroboutique Production Team: John-Otto Phike, Karabo Mokoena, Rainy Nthangeni and Tshepo Marema
If you lived in a cinematic world, like a film reel, how would you describe yourself and what inspires you?
I’m a forever-evolving young man. I’m still trying to figure out life just as a man and an artist, but I would say the one thing that’s exciting me right now is that I’m in the phase of learning. Every day feels like a new day, and I feel like I’m learning something new, which I hope can continue for the rest of my life. I’m just a young twenty-four-year-old man at this point in life who likes to mess around with cameras and bring different characters to life. I like to play make-believe and through that, I tend to learn a lot about life. I’m a boy that loves his mom and grandmother. They must know, or else I will get in trouble. As you said, I am trying to make my life as much of a movie as possible.
What best describes you?
I would say a lot of contrast. Some things are black, and some things are white but in the middle, we find a nice blend between the two things; contrast in colour, and picture in life and story. I think it is a very good way to describe myself. I’m a person of contrast.
How do you remain consistent in your craft?
By staying curious and knowing that there’s a lot more that I don’t know. As a person, I try to get closer to the things that I don’t know and then figure them out. I’d say curiosity is a very great part of it. There is something that I live by; “if I were to know 99% of everything, I would still speak to somebody who knows 2% because they might have the 1% that I need to complete the picture.” I do believe you can learn anything from anyone, and I’ll never be that person to say, “NO I’M SIYA, SHUT UP! I KNOW.” I will always take the time to listen and with what I get from that I take it or I leave it. I will always listen for sure.
How do you approach a script to better understand a story and connect with the character you are portraying?
Well, I’d read the script just for enjoyment at first and then I’d read the script looking at it through the character’s eyes. I’d read the script looking at it through the audience’s eyes. I’d try to use those three different aspects to kind of get a rough idea of who I think this character is. I will then go and look at similar stories, and similar references, be it Art, Photographs, Movies or Music. I then start to bring in different elements of different art films because I do believe that film is the epitome of art because we have all art forms in there. I try to use that as much as possible. From there, I try to figure out who this person is. One of the big things for me is what music they listen to because I’m a big music person, even though I don’t make music. I try to construct this character in the world in which they’re in and then once that’s done, take the character outside of the world and outside of that story, and see where they are before it and after it. Even though it’s something that we never see, I think it’s a useful exercise.
Starting young as an Actor what has allowed you to harness your craft?
One of the things that I’m very, very fortunate for is the other actors and filmmakers that I’ve been able to work with because every time I step onto a set, even though I didn’t study film and television formally, I’m at school. When you know you have such great actors and filmmakers and just people around you, just continue to learn. I’ve been lucky enough that everybody that I’ve worked with so far has been very patient and willing to teach. I’m always at school.
You wrote and directed a short film ‘CARROTS’, in 2020. Why and how did you transition from acting to directing? What inspired you?
Well, I guess, just loving movies is a very, very big thing and at a certain point, you always ask yourself, can I make one myself? We have a lot of strong opinions about other films that we’ve loved and disliked. I also got to the point where I was like, hey man, maybe I can’t have such strong opinions without having done it myself. Just to give it a try. So, that was one of the inspiring aspects of it and I hope to be making a lot more.
As a writer and director, what kind of stories interest you? In terms of Genres, Subjects and why?
In terms of genres, I’m very loose but one genre that I do like above the rest is Science Fiction because I don’t see it as a genre. I see it more as a means of execution because when you have a Science Fiction film; you have a Science Fiction Drama, Science Fiction Romance and Science Fiction Action. There’s always another genre next to it, and I love the way you can use the Science Fiction genre to execute your idea. I’ve always been attracted to human stories that speak about the human experience. So generally, if somebody would recommend a movie to me and say, hey man, it’s a movie about a guy! I’m already in. Just things that speak to all human beings, that break boundaries of culture, race, gender, and all of those things and get down to the actual human experience and what we live day-to-day, those are the movies that I’m most attracted to.
How have you used social media to create and distribute your work, as well as connect with filmmakers and artists?
It’s a great tool for me. To this day we’re able to just reach people all over the world and just drop a DM. There have been some people that I follow on Instagram that I’ve sent DMs because I appreciate their work and they’ve responded. We ended up jumping on the phone for a couple of hours and having conversations. Even people across the world that I’ve never met to this day. It is a way to connect and pick people’s brains. It’s a way of showing who you are to the world without them having to meet you. So, it’s a very powerful tool and I tried to be as mindful as possible as to what I put out. My short film was on Showmax prior which is amazing but now on YouTube. One of the benefits of YouTube is that anyone anywhere can access it, you know it has taken this big ball that we all live on and made it tiny, which is amazing.
You have been an actor for over a decade, from child actor to adult actor, how have you achieved longevity?
The passion hasn’t died out. That’s the biggest thing that keeps me going every single day. Again, to repeat, curiosity. Just what can I do now? One of the things that helped the most with longevity is that no job is the same. So, there’s not much comfort in what we do and security, and that keeps me on my toes quite a lot and I’m grateful for it.
Now that we have international streaming platforms diversifying the African industry, what does this mean to you as an Actor, Writer, Director and Producer?
It just means bigger platforms. More resources as well. Even more so, it’s like a big megaphone just shouting to the rest of the world who we are, and what we think about our continent. We’ll show the rest of the world that we are not JUST Africa, there’s a lot more to it. That’s what I’m excited about what is happening in this day and age. YouTube! I’m a big YouTube fan. I spend a lot of time on YouTube. It’s just showing that we are more of a diverse people and we have way different stories and even controversial stories that people might not agree with or think are true. So, I’m excited about all of that.
As The NEXT, what growing mark do you aim to create in the industry?
Well, I hope I can inspire somebody else to say I’m going to do it. If that happens, I’m good. I don’t need anything else. I want to give back to the industry what the industry gave to me when I was young. It opened my mind to think about things that I never even thought I could think about or imagine just from watching a little square thing on the wall. So, if I can do that, I’ll be happy.
Siya Xaba is represented WMG Rep