To land a hot role in a soapie these days, your talent is not the most important factor, veteran actors have charged.
Instead, as the battle for viewers heats up across channels, casting directors appear to be taking as much notice of an actor’s looks, their skin tone, and the number of followers they have on Instagram and Twitter.
Veteran actor Vusi Kunene says that today, anyone can be an actor.
“As long as you look good or you know someone. That is what it takes to be an actor today,” he says.
“It is all about popularity and the number of followers one has. It’s become like a factory. Quality doesn’t matter. People are copying one another according to what works. Stories are being told the same way.
“Now, it’s about fame, social media and who is trending. These are the things that are used to measure whether someone will be cast.”
Outspoken actress Florence Masebe told City Press this week that looks don’t give you talent and that “not every pretty girl” who is cast in a soapie role is talented.
“We all know that talent and dedication is what matters – looks don’t give you talent, but they do help,” she says.
Masebe says it is also unfair on good-looking actresses that they are given weak story lines and their beauty is expected to carry the plot.
But there are, she says, beautiful actresses who have plenty of talent, such as Dineo Moeketsi, who plays Kea on Mzansi Magic’s The Queen, who has grown as an actor.
“I cannot wait to see her work on her next project,” she says.
Masebe, who used to star on top SABC soapie Muvhango, says that there is a tendency for producers to cast light-skinned women because of their looks, and not their talent.
And veteran actors need to speak out about this.
“Drama is about talent. It has nothing to do with light-skinned or dark-skinned girls. We have young, talented girls who studied drama and are waiting for their breakthrough in the acting industry,” she says.
“When you are light-skinned and have a huge following, that doesn’t make you a talented actor.”
Masebe says actors such as Leleti Khumalo, Nthati Moshesh, Masasa Mbangeni, Brenda Ngxoli, Tsholo Monedi and Nokuthula Ledwaba are incredibly talented but do not have the social media followings of some of the younger starlets.
“These actors are beautiful, talented and smart, but you won’t find them trending on social media, their work speaks for itself,” she says.
Kunene, however, says it’s not the casting directors’ or producers’ fault, because they are told what to do by the channels that broadcast the programmes.
“They are told who to pick – given criteria,” he says.
Mzansi Magic spokesperson Nondumiso Mabece says the cast is agreed by the show’s producers and the channel, and negotiations between the actors and the production company focus on factors such as the actors’ experience, character fit, level of demand for other roles, viewer and commercial appeal, and the size and duration of the role.
Generations: The Legacy casting director Pumza Ralo admits that looks matter for increasing TV ratings, but their main focus has always been a good story line and the best ensemble cast they can get.
The Queen’s producer and casting director, Shona Ferguson, disagrees with Ralo, however, saying talent wins hands down.
“Everyone is good-looking but that does not guarantee high ratings.
“As much as TV is about fantasy and escapism it’s important to be true and authentic to the character,” he says.
“It’s about believability and not popularity. With the growing sensation of social media anyone can have a big following or popularity and it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the individual will have the same connection with the audience as a particular character and/or actor.”
Muvhango creative director Tessa Made admits that when they audition new actors, they have a clear idea of what he or she should be like in terms of looks, language and nuances. But the first thing they look for, she says, is talent.
“Muvhango is well known for breaking out new actors, because one of the things we have perfected is seeing beyond an actor’s audition and zoning in on potential,” she says.
Isibaya executive producer Desiree Markgraaff says looks, talent and popularity don’t contribute to their casting decisions.
“We cast for talent and the right fit to character. If they are popular it could be a bonus or a curse – sometimes you don’t want a very popular person as you don’t want their previous roles to blur the new character they are playing. There is no rule,” she says.
“If an actor or actress has screen presence and great performance skill then they are watchable. You can’t help wanting to see more of them.
"Think of Kevin Spacey or Forest Whitaker as an example – neither of them are handsome or hunks, but you cannot take your eyes of them on screen.”