Imagine being told you are not good enough or you don’t meet the standard.
Four years ago two-time Bulawayo Arts Awards Best Actor winner, Calvin Madula, was told he couldn’t act. To be fair, it was his first ever audition for a theatre production. And, at that time, some people saw him as just a pretty face. You see, Calvin started his career as model trained at Sarah Mpofu-Sibanda’s Fingers Modelling Agency. Although he quickly found success as a runway and commercial model, in the back of his mind he dreamt of being an actor (despite being nominated at the Zimbabwe Models’ Awards). Calvin wanted to be an actor like his childhood hero Jean-Claude Van Damme. However, Van Damme is known for his ass kicking skills, not his dramatic or theatrical performances. In other words, Van Damme is no Denzel Washington. Maybe, this is why Calvin had such a rocky start in an industry with basically, no action films.
All the same, after being told he’s not good enough, Calvin told himself, “I’m not doing this for fun”, and decided to get serious about acting. After being given the go ahead (from his mother) to follow his passion, Madula picked himself up, and got his first acting job for a minor role in a short film called, “The Envelope ”, in 2017. Since then, the photogenic actor (slash model) averages 3 productions a year. To date, Calvin has acted in over 10 local productions – films, series, and plays – for DSTV and ZBC that include “Gold Diggers”, “$400”, “Another Wedding”, “Dlala Ngamla”, “Hotel Khumalo”, “EzakoMatshelela”, “Burning Altars”, “Extra-terrestrial”, and “Everybody’s Talking”. What is more, “Everybody’s Talking”, directed by Mandi Mash, was chosen to participate in the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival in the United States. In addition, Calvin secured a spot at the prestigious Model and Talent Convention in New York.
Madula is clearly going places, in his own unorthodox fashion. What makes his journey interesting is that, he has made a name for himself without any formal training, and without being groomed by one of the big theatre companies in Zimbabwe. That’s why we arranged a ‘consultation’ with this highly utilized actor, to find out what his guiding principles are.
AG: You started out as a model and you still are. Modelling has become a recognisable career in Africa and Zimbabwe. However, all over the world, there are more female models than men. In your opinion, why is modelling not ‘really’ a career option for some men, especially African males?
CM: Modelling in Africa is not the same as the rest of the world – I would say. Because modelling has become a sort of tool to empower the girl child, there are a lot of pageants (Miss Culture, Miss Curvy, Miss Earth, Miss Global and more) for women. Even ‘shorter’ – and married women – have their own pageants; all over the world. And, with the addition of Instagram and music videos, there are a lot of opportunities for female models and less on the male side. So, men tend to have different career paths to supplement their income, and some enter jobs that they feel acknowledge their presence in that industry on more or less, the ‘same’ level.
NT: These days men like to dress up, groom and pamper themselves – just as much as women. As a model your budget for clothes, food, and cosmetics must be higher than the average man. But, if you were not a model or an actor, would you still be concerned with fashion and beauty?
CM: Most definitely! At the end of the day what matters the most is self care.You need to normalize feeling good, if not looking good! Not for an event or anybody, but just for yourself. Psychologically dressing well and looking good boosts your self confidence. Fashion is one component that’s very vital in building our day to day confidence. As the saying goes, ‘if you look good, you feel good’.
AG: On that subject of feeling good. You said – in several interviews that, when you transitioned from modelling to acting some casting agents told you “acting isn’t for you” – and it rocked your world. However, now that you are a multi-award winning actor, looking back at those times – what do you think you have learnt since then, that has made you a better actor – now?
CM:You know what – don’t be defined by people’s misconceptions of you. And, never ever let anybody’s misunderstandings of you make you feel, or think otherwise of your abilities. Nothing great ever starts off smoothly. There will be challengers disguised as supporters, and opportunities amidst hardships. But, regardless of all that, you just need to stay rooted to what set your heart on fire in the first place. That is exactly what I did. I stayed rooted and passionate. I still do that on a daily basis. You know, a year later, the same person who first told me acting is not meant for me, started telling me I’m an inspiration, and they are a big fan of my work (laughs).
NT: Not getting the call back from an audition is one of the most devastating situations for any actor, or a model. As a person who has walked in so many shows and acted in so many films – in such a short time, you must have had some sort of secret to landing the job. Please, please, tell us how do you prepare for a successful audition?
CM: Personally I owe it to consistency in preparation. I have understood that preparation is not left for last moments. It should be an everyday thing. On a daily, when I wake up, right after my prayers, it’s me standing in front of the mirror – doing a monologue or just some lines I would have visualized. This has helped me to bag jobs cause I adapt a lot of my self created monologues to an audition. I stay prepared such that when it comes to auditions, I just pick one from the list and I’m good to go! I realized most people go for auditions without a strong idea of what they are going to do concerning monologue choices; or they over prepare. I prepare to take the pressure off. So in the waiting room I’m reflecting and visualizing without stress. Also, I make sure I do my breathing, stretching and tongue exercises so that I won’t be stiff and stale during my audition. Most importantly, when I go for auditions I’m not really worried about booking the role. If you worry less about getting the job you can show more of what you are capable of – and that makes you memorable to the directors and casting agents.
AG: Someone once said to me,“Madula does too many projects, he will over-expose himself”. I replied maybe his using the Samuel L. Jackson strategy. Jackson has appeared in over 150 films and they have made over 27 billion, worldwide. He’s now the highest grossing actor of all time. Long story short – are you a quantity over quality person?
CM: I think the best way to answer that is to highlight the fact that I didn’t study acting in any formal manner. The passion I have, in addition to the research I do – are the only references I use to determine quality. So, every time I am cast for a role I make it a point to give a sterling performance so that I won’t be forgotten. So being cast in these productions – big or small – helps me because it’s a learning curve – sometimes even a wake up call, to do better. Really, it’s about working with different directors and actors. That has helped me differentiate and understand a lot of things in terms of exposure, quality, and quantity. And as far I’m concerned, I’m so glad I’m working a lot because the knowledge and experience I acquired is what got me the global attention I have now. Now that I’m signed and represented by this international agency, who knows what’s next to come.
NT: You’ve named Sarah Mpofu-Sibanda, Percy Soko, Thembelihle Moyo, Johane Mpofu, and Arthur Evans, as key figures who you’ve worked with that helped you shape your career. At this stage in your path – after being signed without schooling – how important is a formal education (colleges, workshops, universities etc)?
CM: When I started off, all I had then was just the passion and a hunger to learn. But as you grow in the craft you realize it’s not only about standing in front of the camera and being passionate. There are a whole lot of technical and creative aspects that help put together a stand out performance for you and the team. So, you definitely need a formal education to better yourself and your craft, as a whole. As for me now, besides the local training sessions. I have also been privileged to be trained through workshops with some international casting directors and personnel like Roger Del Pozo from the New York Film Academy, Rhyvyan Drummer from Tyler Perry Studios, Tsholo Phiri from the Sabc’s Expresso Morning show, Elsubie Verlinden of 33 and Me Talent Agency, just to name a few. My perception of the craft hasn’t been the same since!
AG: Besides education for our artists, the Zimbabwean arts industry is struggling to become a powerhouse in Africa, let alone Southern Africa.I know we have had some hits like “Neria” and “Cook Off”, and we have talent like you won’t believe. But, what is the problem?
CM: Well that’s quite a sensitive ‘ask’, but let me get straight into it. Umm, well, we are lacking in support. Mainly financial! And protection! We need – if not laws to protect filmmakers- then a system that allows us to have freedom to access locations that’ll serve the purpose of the productions – without disrupting people’s liberties or businesses, of course. Those movies you just mentioned had a decent-ish budget and some support. That’s why they managed to break free of our industry’s hang ups. Today, to be honest, you find, sadly – most filmmakers, production wise, are putting in only 40% of their effort and the actual budget, into the film. The remaining 60% will go towards surviving, making another film, and other side deals to put food on the table. It is rare that all 100% goes into production. So, compromises are built into the product. And, the end result is half baked.
AG: You’ve acted on stage and in film. Some theatre actors say they will never do films because of the financial reasons you’ve just mentioned and more. And, some film actors say they will never get on stage for other reasons. Besides, the live audience and having to remember your lines on stage issues. Or the stop start aspect of film. What do you think is the reason for this theatre versus film debate?
CM: Theatre is more like the foundation of acting or the “high art” of acting. Even if you look at those renowned international actors, they all have theatre backgrounds. Most of them, besides the success they have attained in the film industry – still do theatre. However, some actors that didn’t start on stage think there’s too much work in theatre, as compared to film. There are no cuts or retakes in case you make a mistake. That’s scary to some. At the same time, there are those on the theatre side that are a bit snobbish and say film is for lazy and untalented people, who need constant direction. Personally, I believe acting is quite broad and as an actor one needs to know and understand all sides of the craft. As long as you are able to balance and separate the two, but still incorporate what works for both – you will be unstoppable. And lately, it’s versatility that pays off!
NT: I’ve noticed that most of your productions, events, and shows you have worked in – or attended – all feature well known figures in the Bulawayo Arts industry. From Donna N, Shadel Noble, Mzoe 7, “Ms Diva” Nyasha Mtamangira, Farie Jules, Rasquesity Keaitse, Chelsea Von Chase, Ben Chest, and Lady Tshawe, just to name a few. Do you think creatives need to learn how to network in such situations?
CM: Networking happens to be the backbone if not the stepping stone for growth. If you are an actor let alone any creative, and you don’t know how to make contacts, you are wasting your time. People need to do away with the celeb or ‘big man’ syndrome and just walk up to someone and converse. Try to find ways to support each other and work together, because there is so much power in collaborating. There are a lot of creatives out there with burning concepts and ideas but most times you won’t know anything about them if you just keep your distance and hide in your shell. That opportunity you get to be around other creatives is your gateway to breaking bread. Besides the contacts, the conversations should help you broaden your social horizons – and help you get recognized in the future.
NT: To end off, I don’t want to say role models, because we should always be ourselves, so I will just say – what African artists or people inspire you to keep going in these uncertain times. Who are you learning a lot from just following them?
CM: Locally I would say Arthur Evans, Joe Njagu, and Daniel Lasker. These guys always chase their dreams no matter the circumstances – and that uplifts me so much, so I keep pushing. Across borders I would say Shona Ferguson (and Ferguson Films). That guy and his team are a true inspiration. It’s one of my dreams to work with him.
FOLLOW CALVIN MADULA AT: https://www.instagram.com/calvin_madula