Actor, TV host and triple threat thespian, Christopher (Chris) Jaftha began his career on the longest-running theatre production in South Africa, African Footprint. Chris has appeared on our screens in a variety of local shows, from Top Billing to terrifying us in Showmax’s Heks; he appears to be a jack of all trades. Chris Jaftha talks about his journey in show business with IStyleBlaq.
MUZI How has your showbiz expirience been?
CHRIS: It’s been a crazy roller coaster ride. Fun, daunting, frustrating, joyous and extremely poignant at times. I believe that one of the reasons we don’t always succeed in the industry is that we may lack understanding of what our motives and intentions are. If we’re looking for fame, wealth, or anything else, we might fall short because at the faintest signs of trouble those foundations may not be strong enough to withstand the elements and the tests to come.
The Arts, media and entertainment is probably the biggest platform to inspire change for better or for worse. So what’s the reason we have this desire we can’t escape that calls out to us? It should be that we are here for others and not just ourselves and to use our gifts for the benefit of those around us, our communities and the world at large.
Yes we have to be functioning at 100% and we have to always make sure our cups are full but life is not just about us but about the lives we impact around us. You don’t choose your calling, it chooses you. This innate desire that I couldn’t shake didn’t begin when I was a child, it started after high school but it was always there. I mean, I studied fine Art at the National School of Arts after falling in love with fine art, had I known better I probably would’ve taken drama instead but everything happens for a reason, there’s always a lesson to learn.
So To answer your question about my experience in show business, I’ve faced rejection, been out of work for years, had work for years, toured the world, got treated like a rockstar, hit highs and lows. Being in the game now for over 20 years, what I was fortunate enough to have learnt is this, all of the hardships and rejection is a part of the process, the foundation you need, depending on how high you want to go.
Most people love the end result but don’t see the process that leads to that success, which is one of the hardest parts. You can’t be afraid to fail, fail forward always but never give up, you won’t give up, if you know you are called and even then, few are chosen. Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. Depending on the choices you make with the hands you’re dealt can make you succeed or fail, the choice is always up to you regardless of what circumstances we find ourselves in.
MUZI: When did you realise you had a passion for acting?
CHRIS: After finishing high school, I wanted to travel. So I joined an organisation that used dance, drama, and industrial theatre to raise funds for HIV/AIDS orphanages. I had grown during my time with them and began doing my own solo acts, which is when I became interested in acting.
MUZI: You just mentioned that being in the industry requires a strong desire and a calling. I read your bio, and you seem to be doing a lot of things, from dancing, acting to presenting. What do you consider to be your true calling, or are you a jack of all trades?
CHRIS: The Complete saying is actually a Jack of all trades is a master of none but still better than a master of one but I’d like to say I’m a jack of all trades and a master of some. I’ve pushed myself in many different directions thanks to my parents, who always threw me in the deep end. My first gig as a professional started as a dancer. I wasn’t a professional dancer but because I work hard and respect others I was chosen from hundreds of dancers with 15 to 20 years of experience to join African footprint where I eventually toured the world and the rest you can say is history. Everything I’ve done has been done with genuine passion but film is where my heart is the happiest.
I love the idea of being able to emote and immortalise those moments while having the audience in the palm of your hand but most importantly telling stories that have real Impact and change in people’s lives all across the world now, especially with the digital platforms at our disposal.
Another skill set other than dance, singing or drama that falls into the same field, is presenting. When I first started presenting, I felt extremely vulnerable because, as an actor, you have a character to hide behind. When presenting, you should be yourself 100 percent and that can be daunting especially when you’re used to being masked by a character as an actor. if something goes wrong or something happens, people will judge you not a character you’re playing or hiding behind.
They will look at you, what you are like, and who you are as an individual. That is how I was able to isolate and identify what needed to be done and as soon as I let my guard down and let go of my inhibitions I was then able to shine.
MUZI: In your first response, you mentioned longevity. I’m simply curious. In this competitive industry, how do you stay relevant and reinvent yourself?
CHRIS: I never compete with others; I celebrate with them, but I focus only on my own game. I strive to be better than I was the day before in every aspect, not just my career. I’ve always believed that relationships are crucial. People will think twice about hiring you if you are difficult to work with, not a team player and not respectful. They would rather go with someone who is disciplined and does everything that needs to be done when they say they will do it. That being said, it’s better to not only be talented but hard working, disciplined and respectful as well.
You’ll be on the right track if you strive to be better than you were yesterday and recognize your flaws and areas for improvement. Everyone has flaws and should work on them but everyone has positives as well, no one should take that away from you or change the positives of who you are.
MUZI: You have been fortunate to have received training in your craft; what valuable lessons did you learn from your training at the National School of the Arts and the Stella Adler School of Film in Los Angeles, and how are you applying them now?
CHRIS: Wherever I go, whatever form of entertainment I find myself in, I am constantly learning, and I always strive to do my best. I audited a few classes in California yes, but it doesn’t end there, we need to be constantly learning and improving ourselves on a full spectrum scale. I’m always striving to be better than I was yesterday but this doesn’t come without its challenges, however always remember that any challenge is a lesson needed to be learnt, whatever that may be, but this eventually improves your skills and adds to our foundation.
It’s also good to remember that seasons don’t last forever, so we need to stay prepared. We were talking about being a jack of all trades earlier and a lot of that was learnt through theater. You can’t be a lead if you’re not a triple threat, so I had to push myself to become well rounded in every aspect if I wanted leading roles and to continue to grow as an artist and individual in the industry.
MUZI: If you could change anything about the industry what would it be?
CHRIS: There are, in fact, a few specific things. Artists not receiving royalties for repeated work which falls into the performers protection amendment bill and the copyright protection amendment bill, Mr President we have been waiting for your signatures! Between 2016-18 the arts brought in roughly R74.4 billion to the country. So we expect to be treated like real players in the game. Enough is enough. And back in the day as a model, which I believe is the same still, you would have to wait for 3-6 months before you get paid. Absolutely unacceptable.
We need laws in place that protects our art and the artists and people behind creating the worlds and environments that the rest of the world finds solace and escape in. Art is life and the numbers speak for themselves! And lastly to see artists stand together, United, so our voices can be heard and taken more seriously.
MUZI: What are you currently working on and what can we expect from Chris in the future?
CHRIS: So I’m working on a few projects behind the scenes, but I always like to share exactly what it is only once it’s completely bagged, when everything is in place. That’s something I’ve been taught by my parents from a young age, I didn’t always listen and had to learn the hard way, so now I keep the cards pretty close to my chest and when the time is right all is revealed. All I will say is that it’s in film and will be followed by a TV series, but you’ll be the first to know once it’s ready for all to see.
MUZI: Do you miss Top Billing?
CHRIS: I’m grateful for my time there. Most notably, I formed long-term friendships with several members of the crew and built great relationships with some of our guests as well. That was a nice piece to the puzzle. I learned a lot, especially with the type of presenting style there. Being there for a few years allowed me to truly be myself. I’ve always been a team player or enjoyed helping others in being a part of a team.
In terms of presenting there, a lot of people think you’re coming to this cushy cushy high life sort of nothing but again it goes back to people not seeing the process but loving the end result. If you want to be successful you must love the process more, the end result then will speak for itself. Those are my brothers and sisters, so when they call cut I’m helping carry equipment and all the not so glamorous stuff, we did things together and worked as a unit. So I’d always preferred to keep it real in that regard. We had a great time.
Photos by Masterpicv & Nzuripengendo
Catch the last few episodes of Umbuso on @mzansimagic 8pm Sundays on channel 161 where Chris plays the heavy hitter Mike.
All episodes will be on Dstv catchup