Playing Senzo Zondo in Generations has turned Thami Mngqolo into a familiar face. The actor, who joined the soapie in 2008, took a break between scenes to tell us more about his personal life, and about playing a gay man on an SA soapie.
Where will our readers have seen you before Generations?
I played Thomas, a homophobic character, in Rhythm City – which is quite ironic, as I'm playing a gay character now in Generations. Viewers may also remember me from Home Affairs and the SABC3 comedy For Sale. I also did a few comedy skits on The Phat Joe Show back in the day.
What do you enjoy most about your Generations role?
The ability to step into someone else's shoes and see through another person's eyes is therapeutic for me. It's a platform for me to vent my own issues and anger when I'm experiencing difficult situations, and allows me to tap into Senzo. This character ties into me as an actor sometimes, but it doesn't define who I am as a person.
What's it been like playing a gay man in a soapie?
It's been a smooth transition from my previous TV roles. My biggest fear was the reaction I was going to get from fans and the public, but it hasn't been too bad so far. It's just a job and a character I play to the best of my ability.
Were you nervous about playing a gay character?
Before my TV career, I did extensive work in theatre. I've played some roles where I had to kiss another man. I tackled it way before Generations came along, when people were more judgemental about gay folk. Then, people appreciated the art and were slightly accepting of it, so it wasn't a problem for me.
What are the kissing scenes like with Zolisa Xaluva (Jason)?
It's a lot of choreography (laughs). When we did our first kissing scene, I expected it to go quite quickly, but kissing scenes are very technical. I was very nervous the first time Zolisa and I kissed on screen, especially since we had to do quite a few takes.
What has the reactions from fans been like?
Not anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. I've heard horror stories about how previous Generations actors like Genevieve Howard (Grace Mashaba) and Pamela Nomvete (Ntsiki) were treated by fans – even slapped by them.
Do you have a girlfriend?
Yes, I do, and we're happily in love! I've been dating actress Jo-Anne Reyneke (she plays Pearl in Muvhango) for over a year, and we're going strong.
How has she reacted to you playing a gay character?
She's been a champion about this. She is an actress herself, so she understands it's a job I have to do. But when she sees me and Zolisa on screen, she changes the channel (laughs). But she's fine with it.
What do you do in your spare time?
I like to chill and be social with my friends and family. Once in a while, I'll hang out with Psyfo (Ajax) at his place or mine, and we'll watch sport and maybe go out to a place and have some fun. I don't go out too much because of being recognised a lot in public, so I tend to do activities at home. I also love braaing!
Who are your role models?
I grew up with my grandmother, so she's had a big role in the type of person I've become. She reared me from the age of six, and has instilled her beliefs and morals in me.
A lot of my role models are sports stars, as I love sport, and initially saw myself becoming a sports star – before the acting bug bit me. I look up to soccer legend Doctor Khumalo, cricketer Jonty Rhodes and, in acting, John Kani.
Describe a typical day on set at Generations.
Most days, work begins at 7am, but I have a habit of being late at times (laughs). When I am on time, I tend to skip breakfast and prefer to just have a slice of toast and coffee before heading to make-up. We start shooting after 8am, and some days can be really long.
Wednesdays are very busy days for us because we shoot scenes in two studios, and this can take up to 12 hours. My shooting times are flexible, depending on my character's storylines.
Do fans call you Senzo or Thami when they meet you?
It's a split reaction. A lot of fans who don't know me, and who also don't know my real name, call me Senzo. I can understand why they'd do that, as their only reference to me is me playing this character on TV. It's very nice at times when people who know who I am refer to me by my name.
I always like to draw the line between Thami and Senzo, because they are two different people. I appreciate the fact people love my work, but I'm very different from Senzo.
What's the best/worst gift you've received for Valentine's Day?
Back in high school, I received melted chocolates from an admirer. I don't think I've given any of my girlfriends bad gifts – unless they were lying to me at the time. I'm normally good at spoiling my girl with flowers and romantic gifts.
Have you ever used your fame to score something for free?
Yes, I have! A few weeks ago, I was looking for parking at Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, and I managed to get myself some free parking.
What's the biggest challenge facing SA?
We need to accept how far we've moved on in life and in terms of our history. We're still obsessed with pointing out people's mistakes, and we should focus on the positive things instead.
What people don't know about me is . . .
I love to cook. It changes from season to season. Right now, I'm in a beef stew phase. I enjoy working in the kitchen!
What are your goals for 2010?
I'd like to stick to my gym programme. I've neglected that quite a bit, and now I just want to get more in shape. I also want to set up a business.
Dream holiday destination: Tahiti and any lagoon island.
Must-see movies: Body of Lies and Law Abiding Citizen.
I'm addicted to . . . chilling at home and playing Xbox games.
I normally spend my money on . . . a lot of airtime, and the latest electronic gadgets.
My favourite celeb is . . . soccer star Wayne Rooney. I wouldn't mind meeting him.
My secret passion is . . . sport. I'd still like to do a degree in sports management.
The CD I'm listening to is . . . Black Coffee's latest offering, Home Brewed.