South African Actors On (And Behind) the Big Screen – Part 1
The Names You Know, Don’t Know and Should Know
Hollywood. That’s the dream, right? When you hit the big screen, you’ve hit the big time—and we’re beaming with pride at South Africa’s BIG performance.
There’s way more South African’s influencing cinema than you may have realised. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the well-known, unknown, and should-be-known South African’s making waves in film.
Where’s she from: Benoni, Gauteng.
Discovered when: she made a scene on a bank after a teller refused to cash her cheque. A talent agent, John Crosby, saw the whole thing.
Famous for: trailblazing A-list Hollywood Movies! Seriously, if you don’t know about Charlize and her Oscar-winning (Best Actress) performance as killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster , then where have you been? She was the first South African-born woman to win an Oscar.
She’s since starred in countless other box-office hits alongside Hollywood’s finest such as Keanu Reeves, Will Smith, Mark Wahlberg, Nicole Kidman, and Tommy-Lee Jones.
Where’s he from: New Brighton, PE, Eastern Cape.
Discovered when: Kani achieved international recognition when he was awarded a Tony for best actor for his roles in the plays Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island, back in 1974.
Famous for: most recently, voicing Rafiki in the 2019 live-action release of the Lion King. You’d also recognise him from the MC universe as T’Chaka,—an interesting fact about that coming right up—Endgame, Sarafina! and A Dry White Season with co-stars Donald Sutherland, Marlon Brando and Susan Sarandon!
Here’s the kicker: his son Atandwa is also an actor, who made his debut on U.S. television on the CW series Life Is Wild, and played a younger version of Kani’s character T’Chaka in Black Panther.
Where’s he from: Pretoria, Gauteng
Discovered when: he “broke-through” in the role of Imhotep opposite Brendan Fraser in the 1999 film, The Mummy and its 2001 sequel. He didn’t have a big “you’re it, kid”, moment but worked his up the Hollywood ladder on merit and talent. From theatre plays in Pretoria to our own Silver screen and eventually to the USA, where one of his first theatre roles was in the 1992 production of Salomé that starred Al Pacino.
Famous for: being the Mummy in The Mummy, and his roles in Agent Cody Banks, Blood Diamond, and his television roles in Veritas: The Quest and 24.
Fun Fact: he is continually confused with to American actor Billy Zane (who was the bad guy in Titanic). Zane’s own Instagram bio reads: “Not The Mummy. Bad on a boat.”
Where’s he from: Johannesburg, Gauteng
Discovered when: he perchance landed the role of Wikus van der Merwe in District 9 (2009). Hi school friend, writer-director, Neill Blomkamp, asked him to appear in a 10-minute test film that he was to show the infamous Lord of the Rings director, Peter Jackson!
Famous for: bringing Captain H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock in The A-Team to life with incomparable gusto that audiences loved! As mentioned, he played in District 9 and Elysium. You’ll also recognise him from Maleficent opposite Angelina Jolie.
Fun Fact: so, Neil Blomkamp is a super-famous SA movie director. For this reason, many people think he’s behind Sharlto’s success, but, Sharlto mentored in the very early days (he has his own film production company by the time they met).