Feature interview: Conversations with Presley Chweneyagae

Presley Chweneyagae is one of the most instantly recognisable stage and screen actors not only in Africa but also in the world.

Chweneyagae’s international breakthrough film was in the Oscar Nominated Tsotsi. His role as the title character; Tsotsi brought him to the attention of a worldwide audience and garnered him other international appearances.

SA-born Chweneyagae is in Botswana this week for the Maitisong Festival. He is co-starring with Andisiwe Mkuyana in the classical play by Selaelo Meredi, called Beautiful Things. This love story that resonates with all audiences is directed by Moses Rasekele D. From the newly in love to the adults who have been through the best and the worst.


As an actor he has refused to be confined by traditional acting. He has taken risks in his career to be involved in small-scale productions that have brought him further acclaim. We spent some time with actor in between his call times.


Tell us about the play


The legendary playwright Selaelo Meredi wrote the play. The play starts of as romantic comedy but shifts to be a dark story about love, loss and a past. Its about a man and a woman, Muzi and Noni, and how they try to connect, fall in love after failed relationships, fail each but finally manage something to overcome their pasts.


How is this different from your other work?

It’s different because I have been in Botswana before to promote films. This time I am doing a play. It gives me time to really connect with audiences, something theatre offers really well.


It’s also different because this play is an obvious love story that really addresses real life issues. So it takes a lot out of me as actor to access those new ways to portray the different emotions. The characters demand that you aren’t stereotypical, they require nuance.


Speaking about acting, how has the industry shifted since you started out?

It has really changed. There’s a lot more young actors getting big roles. New faces with a real hunger for taking the industry to new heights. This encouraging even though we all face the same challenges of funding, but I think as we all take our talent and work seriously we can create a burgeoning industry.


If you were to choose what would it be; theatre or film?


I wouldn’t choose. I love both.

Currently, in South Africa, we are creating workshops with young people. And their hunger and talent push me to be a better actor. And both mediums reveal different parts for me.


What makes a good story for you?

One a story that has layers, that is complex. For example in our play, Beautiful Things, one moment you think is just a romance story, then you realise it’s an intricate human story. Two, a human story that can be universal and cuts across race, traditions, cultures and beliefs. Selaelo first performed the play, himself, in America, and it has travelled all over the world. Clearly this is a human story that relates to everyone. And any person can find a moment of truth for himself or herself in the play.


Any words for actors and how they keep on working their craft?

Always centre your performance from a place of honesty. If it’s not real     or you it wont be real for the audience. Come watch the play; watch

many plays but start with ours…


Beautiful Things is on at the Maitisong Festival in the Moving Space at Maru-a-Pula School. On Wednesday 8.30pm, Thursday 5.30pm, Friday 8.30pm and Saturday 2.00pm (13th – 16th April 2016). Tickets P150.

Image courtesy: Evans Mathibe