Lerato Makhetha on his big break on Isidingo

Lerato Makhetha (PHOTO: Lerato Makhetha Twitter)
Lerato Makhetha (PHOTO: Lerato Makhetha Twitter)

Johannesburg - Everything in life happens for a reason and someday it will make sense.

It took five years and a series of low-budget roles for him to understand this life lesson. But Lerato Makhetha gets it now.

This wisdom has helped him make the most of the opportunities presented to him – and it’s helping him to live his best life.

The 31-year-old recently landed the role he’s hungered for and he’s having great fun with it, he tells DRUM when he and his family join us at our studios in Auckland Park. Lerato and his wife, Phetola (33), look on indulgently as their daughter, (5), hands over a bouquet.

It’s from her parents to say thank you for the story we did on Lerato and his father, veteran actor Jerry Mofokeng.

A lot has changed since then, Lerato tells us. He’s shot two films for Mzansi Magic’s Bioskop channel. But the best is landing a big role on Isidingo playing Ntando Sibeko, an emotional guy with a chip on his shoulder.

It’s a role he’s wanted for five years, and was played by Loyiso MacDonald until he left the soapie to join Mzansi Magic’s The Queen.

He told Phetola he would’ve loved to get the role when he first saw it, Lerato says. “I told my wife this is the kind of role I want to play,” he recalls. “This is the kind of role written for me.”

He loved the soapie so much that when his daughter was asked two years ago, for a Father’s Day card at school, what her dad’s favourite sport was, she wrote “Isidingo”.

“I definitely feel like this is one of the things I wanted but I didn’t know it would happen.”

His wish came true last year after taking part in SABC3’s reality show The Final Cut, where he worked with directors from different SABC soapies like Isidingo, Skeem Saam, Muvhango and 7de Laan.

Months after the show ended, Lerato received a call from his agent that the producers wanted him to come audition for the role.

He’s not been an overnight success, Lerato says. It took eight years in the industry for him to get this role.

“I am grateful I got this break. It has been tough but fair,” he says. “It’s hard when you get into an audition room with your friends who are more famous than you and you hang out together and they get the job and you don’t. I believed it was going to happen eventually.” 

Lerato is the son of legendary actor Jerry Mofokeng, but he didn’t want to use his dad’s star power to get roles and he worked hard to get his father’s approval.

He recalls the day he told Jerry about landing the role on Isidingo. He didn’t tell anyone about the auditions, just in case.

“My dad was shooting when I came to audition. I didn’t want him to see me.”

Jerry plays Bra Moscow on e.tv’s Scandal and both soapies shoot at Sasani Studios in Highlands North, north of Joburg. Once he got the role he went to visit his dad on set with his scripts.

 “He saw me holding the scripts and he thought they were his and maybe he had forgotten them at home. But then he realised they were for Isidingo. He was really confused.”

 That’s when Lerato broke the news about his new gig. “He said, ‘What?’ He kept quiet for a while and then he cried. I was like Amen! It was a full-circle moment for us.”

His reaction gave Lerato the validation he’s been wanting so badly. “I think he was a bit overwhelmed that I did it and I did it on my own,” Lerato says. “Every kid wants to make their dad proud.”

Lerato got his first professional gig on e.tv’s Ekasi Stories low-budget drama Chicken Murder in 2010. Since then he’s shot about 15 low-budget films.

“How successfully, we can debate that,” he says with a laugh. Luckily success has come in spades now.

In addition to his Isidingo role he’s recently featured on Mzansi Magic’s Wena Wedwa and Ndaba Zabantu.

He doesn’t ride on his dad’s star status but he doesn’t mind being compared to his idol.

“I am my dad’s son. I think he’s amazing. If people say I don’t match up to his level they are right. He’s a legend.” He hopes to make his father proud with his Isidingo role.

 Even though he’d wanted the role he was a wreck when he shot the first scene. “It was with Katlego Danke. Listen, I was a mess,” he recalls.

“I was struggling with an am-I-really-here type of thing and then there were multiple cameras looking at me and people standing behind them.

“It was a mess, I didn’t even know if I did well. But I got through it. I’m just hoping the public receives me well. I just made it my own and am grateful Isidingo allowed me to play him my way.”

He describes Ntando as a guy with his heart in the right place.

“But very hardheaded. He has ideas he wants to fight for but he’s quite arrogant about it. A little bit indecisive about what he wants, very smart but naïve.”

He’s enjoying him, he shares. There one thing he loves far more than acting – his family. Lerato and Phetola have been married for eight years.

They met at church where Lerato, a music graduate from the National School of the Arts, was playing a piano with the worship team.

She’d just joined the church when she asked a friend to introduce them. “I went to meet her, we started chatting. We became really good friends.”

He was attracted to her character, he says.

“She had to be the most secure person. I didn’t know women like her existed. She was beautiful and confident. She knew who she was and what she wanted. The chemistry was there early but someone had to say it. So I asked her out.”

Six months later he knew he wanted to marry her.

“I ask myself if I could live without her and I realised I couldn’t. I didn’t have the money for lobola but I saved it.”

A year later he had enough and they got married a year after. In 2013 they had their daughter, whom they adore.

“My friends were like, ‘What are you doing?’ We grow and we learn from each other. It doesn’t mean we do not fight but it’s because our values are aligned.”

He’ll do anything to support the people he loves most, which is why he’s also done corporate work in music to make ends meet between roles, he shares.

“Just because I’m an artist doesn’t mean I don’t have responsibilities. I’ve got a family and a daughter, I have to do what I have to do. I’m glad it didn’t get to a point where I washed my hands and said I’m done. I didn’t give up.”