Chirisa traces journey to Hollywood

HARARE - Hollywood actor Tongayi Chirisa, who is clearly one of Zimbabwe’s best exports to America, says there is no film industry to speak of in Zimbabwe.

Chirisa is currently in the country for an interactive session with his fans courtesy of Vault Cosmetics, South African Airways and Meikles Hotel.

“I don’t know if you can actually call it an industry here, because industry means that you have universities that train and teach film, you have institutes that allow you to go and work for them after school.

“Imagine if Zimbabwe had one bank, would you call that an industry? You can’t call it an industry when you don’t have channels for the hundreds of people that come out of film school and they have no platform to show what they can do.

“We can’t call it an industry if there are no production houses creating content, when you have two directors that are currently working in the country, when people don’t understand fundamentals of what it means to make film,” he said.

Chirisa, who fell in love with theatre at primary school, launched his acting career at Harare’s Reps Theatre in 2002.

“Every role sets the stage for the next one. ‘Mr Bones’ is just a part of it; you have to start from the first drama show I did at Courtney Selous in grade 4, it’s a combination.

“It was a drama play we had to do for assembly on a Friday morning where I had to play king. My teacher thought I had the talent, it was only after I went to high school in form four that I realised  that it was actually a  God-given gift.

“I proceeded to ‘A’ Level (Lomagundi College), after that I proceeded to Reps Theatre. I did eight shows consecutively over two years because I had the hunger and I wanted to learn more about this craft. And then my first paying job as an actor was Wedding Night (2003). I won a Nama for that the next year,” he said.

After that, he joined Studio 263 to become the detective we all knew and loved- Detective Trevor Davies but two years later he packed his bags and left Zimbabwe in search of better opportunities.

“It was all about growth. I did two years at Studio 263 at that time my character was solely focused on me and Tino Katsande. What was interesting was that I wanted to push myself and see how much I could do as a character. I would come in with suggestions and say let’s see what would happen if my character was involved in a car accident and put in a mental institute.

“After seeing and pushing the boundaries, I got the Nama for best actor in TV. There was that ceiling and I wanted to see what next, what else could I be. So South Africa seemed to be the next best alternative. While that was happening I was already talking about leaving and how I could go back to school and act. I knew that I had the talent but I did not want to be left out in understanding film, and the film business,” he said.

After moving to South Africa he played a role in Leon Schuster’s Mr Bones 2, as Hekule, the King of Kuvukiland. Prior to that he had worked on Diamonds, Skin, Mrs Mandela and Zimbabwe.

“I went for an audition for a TV show called Crusoe and I got to play the co-lead, which luckily for me was going to be airing on NBC in the states.

“That’s what took to me America; it was a pretty somewhat smooth transition, because when the opportunity came calling, it was a no brainer, I had to move,” he said.

He said he owed his growth and transition to life.

“The biggest things is life. In 2002 I had my first show at Reps.Now  I have had 13 years of life and life experience. I think life is the best contributor to my path, that’s what I draw from.

“I think if anybody is pursuing and they are looking to me as an example, then I hope one thing they get from me is that they have to be consistent. Despite the economic situation, keep going, you make a way to keep things going.

“You can’t just sit down and say there are no films and feel it’s a dead end, if we all had that attitude, none of us would be doing what we are doing,” said the former Studio 263 actor.

The Whitney actor added that he is currently working on a production called The Zim.

“It’s a beautiful short film on the time of the land invasions. It’s not propaganda, and it’s not black and white. This is a human story. We are tackling the issue of the conversation when all this was taking place, conversations between the farm workers and owners.

“How they were responding to the threat that the land they were working on was going to be taken. We are trying to create conversation between anyone who calls himself Zimbabwean and see beyond the skin colour and look at what we can do to improve our country,” said Chirisa.

Despite landing some fairly big roles, the celebrated Zimbabwean actor believes he is still far from his zenith.

“I haven’t played a challenging role yet, because if I had played it that means my career will be accomplished,” he said.

Chirisa, who has no children, is still searching for the dream woman to marry.

“The older you get you realise that there are some things that are just not worth it. You might look like Halle Berry but you have the spirit of Diablo himself. There is nothing more unattractive than seeing a beautiful woman with an ugly heart,” said the former ‘Mr Bones’ actor.

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