I would rather have a character that doesn’t resemble me at all

A month before eNCA entertainment journalist, Nontobeko Sibisi, tweeted from the Saftas: “A loud round of applause for Warren Masemola back stage as he enters the media room #saftas11”, another South African Film and Television Award (Safta) winner, Masasa Mbangeni, put her 140 characters into singing Masemola’s praises. “I’m madly in love with Warren Masemola. God that man can act. Y’all have no idea,” tweets the Scandal actress. Later, Masemola would win Best Supporting Actor in a TV Drama for his role as Cosatu in Heist.

But this wasn’t his first Safta. His colleagues voted him as the Best Supporting Actor in a TV Comedy for his role on the SABC1 comedy, Ses’Top La, in 2015. That first Safta felt surreal, he says, but two years later and winning is still as magical as it was the first time. “You can never be ready or prepared for that moment when they call out your name. When people you think are bigger than you start to recognise your work and celebrate you, it means a lot. It means I’ve grown over the years. I can only appreciate it,” says the 34-year-old.

Whether playing the incredibly fabulous Thokozani “Thoko” Chanel on SABC1’s Ses’Top La or a goofy but ruthless adman in Ayeye, Masemola manages to do what can only be mastered by few great actors, which is to transcend his personality and become the person he’s portraying. In a country like South Africa, where people often mistake an actor’s role as their real-life personality, many have struggled to balance their craft with who they are, often having to justify their characters to strangers. “One of the most dangerous things you can do as an actor is to obsess about other people’s opinions. I try hard not to think about that. I would rather have a character that doesn’t resemble me at all. For me, it’s always about portraying the character as a part of a bigger story. I’m an actor, I enjoy being on set and working with others,” explains Masemola.

Telling a story is something the Market Theatre Lab graduate relishes – so much so that after graduating, Masemola travelled extensively while doing European theatre. These days, you can catch him on the telenovela, Saints and Sinners, or Ring of Lies. In an age of narcissism and having famous partners, Masemola is recognised mainly for his work. A quick Google search and you find very little on his private life, apart from his love for cycling (his dream is to cycle from the Cape to Marrakech) and the causes that mean a lot to him. Masemola is one of the least scandalous A-listers in South Africa. Even his social media platforms reveal little about him, but are more of a celebration of his working life. He had been hustling for years when, in 2008, he finally got his big break when he was cast in e-tv’s drama series, Scandal. And having shared so much of his talent with us through so many different characters – from Alexandra thugs to starring next to Hollywood actor Gerard Butler in Machine Gun Preacher – Masemola deserves not only the accolades, but he’s earned the right not to have our noses in his private life. He’s a true thespian, down to his love for theatre. When he’s not shooting a series or movie, he prefers to sharpen his skill by doing theatre work: “We need to encourage audiences to come to the theatre. The actors are right in front of you and we get to interact with the audience. I’ll never stop doing theatre,” he says eagerly.

“I’m a happy guy. I strive for happiness; I’m full of love,” says Masemola. And yet it is actress Terry Pheto who expressed so much of what most of South Africa feels about this boy from Pretoria, when upon hearing of his win this year, tweeted: “He is EVERYTHING and then some! Love you and celebrate you Warren Masemola. Thank you for sharing your gift with the world.” Indeed, we reckon it’s only a matter of time until he’s holding an Oscar.

More on Warren Masemola

·      Named after his grandfather, his first name is Montloana (pronounced “Mondlwana” in Ndebele).

·      His passionate about theatre in South Africa and is currently shooting a production in Soweto, where he’s said to be portraying a schizophrenic character.

·      Masemola was diagnosed with alopecia at the age of six.

·      He is also the recipient of a Golden Horn Award for best supporting actor in a TV comedy.

·      Fluent in Sepedi, Masemola can act in both vernacular and English roles.

·      He’d like to play a role of a nyaope addict in the future.

·      Originally from Soshanguve, he now lives in Joburg and is sometimes seen cycling around the city.

·      He’s also a voiceover artist.

·      Both his paternal grandparents were blind.

·      He wore a dress and high heels in 2016 for his role in Ses’Top La.