Rising star Siyabonga Xaba has won critical acclaim for his brilliant performance in Mzansi Magic’s telenovela Gomora.
At the age of 22, he has already starred in The Book of Negroes and a highly acclaimed film titled Queen of Katwe, alongside Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo.
Siyabonga began acting at the age of nine. He featured on various local television shows such as Soul Buddyz, Strike Back, End Game and the Showmax Original A Girl From St Agnes.
We sat down with the actor to discuss his role and his experience in acting on Gomora, as well as his career as a whole.
When did you get bitten by the acting bug?
It all started when I was still very young. I enjoyed being by myself and just watching TV. By doing so, I started gaining interest in portraying different characters that I saw on television.
I remember watching the Men In Black movie, and that’s when I realised that I wanted to pursue a career in acting. My primary school teachers also gave me the stamp of approval. They told me that I had what it takes and encouraged me to join the drama class. The rest, as they say, is history.
What vital lessons have you learned from acting on Gomora?
The production assisted me a lot with regards to stretching that long-distance acting muscle. Also, being around acting veterans every day, constantly picking their brains, and just learning certain life lessons from them was a blessing.
Katlego Danke and Mam’ Connie Chiume were always there to guide me. They’re almost like family or parents to me.
I also learned a lot from Lulu Hela and Kutlwano Ditsele. They taught me a lot about how directors go about their work. Being in that environment all the time helped me learn more about how the industry works.
How are you handling all the attention you’re getting?
It’s pretty normal in the sense that I love being on set, it’s one of the spaces where I feel most comfortable.
When I’m there, I’m thinking about the work at hand and once I leave there, I then go back to normal life. The rest is great, it doesn’t affect me that much to be quite honest.
So most of the time when people see me in public it’s usually very positive.
Speaking of success, you starred in Queen of Katwe, which won an Oscar. What was it like to be a part of such a successful project?
It always feels great to be part of a successful story, when everybody comes together and we have these words on a piece of paper and try to create something magical. That, to me, was a great feeling.
What was it like working with actors of such calibre?
It was very enlightening! Especially acting alongside David Oyelowo and some of the actors from The Crown – just observing and seeing how they go about their work was very enlightening.
Speaking of your Gomora character, how did it feel filming the very last scenes as Langa?
[Sighs and laughs] We filmed all the hospital scenes on my last day, when Langa was unconscious and when the doctor announces his death. But on that day, I decided to sleep throughout the scenes. So in those scenes, I’m really fast asleep!
However, having to say goodbye to everyone was quite emotional. Closing the chapter of this character wasn’t easy, but it’s been a great ride.
Leaving is the hardest part. We were all here together and got to know each other so well. But I mean, it was never a final goodbye as we still keep in touch from time to time with everyone.
What have you learned from Langa?
Langa has had a very tough journey. Imagine having the life you’ve been born and raised into snatched away from you, just like that?
Your father passes away, you later find out he is not your biological parent. On top of that, you find out that your best friend is actually your brother.
To be able to take in all of those things and still be a good, loving person is the biggest lesson I learned from Langa.