Ishmael Ngobeni: a young South African star

Welcome to TV Series Hub, please introduce yourself and how did you start out?

Ishmael - Ishmael Ngobeni: a young South African star

My name is Ishmael Kurhula Ngobeni. When I was young, my family used to watch South African soapies of which I had no other choice but to watch it with them. When I was in grade 8, I noticed this element in Generations that no other soapie at that time possessed. There was something about the way that the actors portrayed their roles that grabbed my attention. They were very good at what they did. Then I thought to myself, ‘this is very interesting and definitely something I would like to do.’ The way in which the actors played their roles was amazing, being in someone else’s shoes and projecting their feelings regardless of how you felt.

I grew up in the townships where we didn’t have access to many things like acting and other expensive sports. It was a dangerous place. Hearing that someone got killed was nothing new to such an extent that people’s reaction would be “ah, one of those things”. People used to do drugs, smoke weed as well as drink, mostly because they had nothing else to do. In order to escape from all of that I decided to do dancing.

How did dancing help you grow up in the area, was there anything else such as sports or watching series/movies you did?

I used to love sports, especially playing soccer but something unfortunate happened when I was young that made me scared of soccer and haven’t played soccer since then. That changed when I came to university.

Growing up I was a very shy person. When I was in grade 4 I didn’t have any extra-curriculum activities like other children had. To pass time, I used to play with mechanical and electrical components. Then when I got to grade 7 I decided to join dancing. Dancing was a life changer, it gave me confidence. This new-found confidence enabled me to hold a conversation with people, especially with females of whom I was previously afraid of approaching. It also helped me in knowing and understanding the true value of friendship. Gaining this confidence had a big impact in my decision to become an actor.

How did your passion grow for acting as you grew older?

When I was in grade 11, I saw an advertisement online about people who were looking for actors. Unfortunately, at that time I didn’t have a good phone and therefore couldn’t take good pictures, but I had the will and where there’s a will there’s a way. Every time I watched a movie I always wished I could be one of the characters. Then I came to the University of Cape Town (UCT). I could have gone to Wits, but I chose UCT because being there allowed me to travel internationally as it give me access to International acting opportunities and have connections with powerful people.

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How did coming to UCT help?

First year I was being introduced to a University environment and I didn’t know what to do or how to get into acting. One day in the month of October as I was having supper in the Kopano Residence Dining Hall, there happened to be a lady who was sitting at the same table as I was. I told her that I would like to join the world of acting. She then told me about her agency called ‘House of Fame’ which wasn’t very far from the area. I just knew I had to join.

In January, there was a movie called the Kissing Booth which was being filmed at UCT. As I passed by the location they were filming at, I wondered what was going on and also why there were so many people in one place as I didn’t know what was going on. On the first day I couldn’t ask questions as I was in a hurry. On the second day I waited until they were done filming for the day as they were very busy during the filming and I did not want to disturb. When they were done, I walked with them to their transport and they drove to the Base Camp. I asked who the person in charge was and I was pointed to where the casting director Candice Maree was. I told the director that I was with a casting agency and that I would like to be part of the movie. She took my details and the next day my agency messaged me, and I went for it. I got to be in a number of the scenes and I must say, I had a great time.

I also worked on other things such as advertisement. The more you do the more you are known. I am a very social person so during breaks I would go and speak to the crew, the actors as well as the directors. I asked them questions and learnt quite a lot about the industry. After some time, I found this acting agency called the ERM Stars.

I am guessing you joined ERM Stars?

Unfortunately, It didn’t go well the first time. When I went there I got rejected.  They told me that I didn’t have enough experience. I also checked with other agencies and while doing this I spoke to the main cast in movies and they told me they were with ERM Stars, APM and Artists One. I then realized that those are the biggest agencies and that I had to get in one of them.

I went back to ERM and they told me that I still didn’t have enough experience. I went back the third time and told them that I had gotten experience but that it was mostly background (extra) work. They simply laughed at me, they even called people from other departments to laugh at what I was saying was experience. They asked why I wanted to be in that agency so much when there were so many others. I simply told them, “I love this one.”

One of the staff members at the agency asked me to follow her outside and she explained how it’s going to work and gave me all the documents that I had to sign. I was then told about this acting workshop held by Casting Director Mito Skellern who is known for her work on Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), The Legend of Tarzan(2016) and The Brothers Grimsby (2016). The class was for an hour and I had to pay R1000 (approximately $70), although I didn’t have enough capital I made a plan to attend. After a while I had to go for an audition, which was different from being an extra. I had to perform based on a script. It can happen that you go for 200 auditions and only get called back for one. As they say, you win some and you lose some.

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Ishmael on set of Scorpion King (2017)

What projects did you get once you joined the agency?

In January when I was writing my deferred exam, the agency wanted me to send a video of me acting based on a script they had sent me. I had a shooting of the video with the help of a friend of mine who is studying Computer Science and is also very passionate about film and media. He edited the video and sent it to me and I got the job. The job was for a series called Fynskrif After that I got another job for an advert for Coca Cola. I’m currently doing more castings and gaining more experience.

How do you balance your studies and acting?

I must say that it is quite tricky balancing the two. I often need to make sacrifices between my studies and acting. There was a day when I had a lecture at 10am and was also called for a casting. I decided to go for the casting instead because I truly love acting. Fortunately at UCT, the lectures are recorded so later on that day, after my casting, I watched the lecture video and caught up with the rest of the class. Whenever there is a movie or any casting this is what I do because I want to grow myself and my portfolio. I want to aim for the stars in my acting.

You have been on Maze Runner; how did you get the role?

It happened during the mini-vacation of the first semester which is the break between terms. My agent sent me a message asking if I was available for Maze runner and luckily, I was. I went for fitting before the actual day of filming and I felt like it was a bit odd as we usually go for fitting on the day. I had the pleasure of flying in a private jet to some location in the northern part of South Africa. I was featured in the movie. It was an amazing experience.

How has campus affected your opportunities?

During school time I had to decline quite a number of opportunities as it was during test or exam time. But if I could, I would have gone to all of them to get more exposure and create connections in the industry. By doing so, you become a familiar face when you go for castings. When I do go for castings I make sure that they remember my name by doing something memorable, something they won’t be able to forget.

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How did Generations inspire you to be an actor?

It is just how beautifully they do it. From the camera quality, the movement of the camera, the stabilization, the lighting, the directors right down to the actors, their craft was so amazing, I wanted to be part of such amazing artistry. I feel like every word in Generations has a meaning, even if it is a casual conversation. Generations has good content unlike other shows where I feel like they do it for the sake of having some dialogue or for the sake of having the actors saying something.

What are your ambitions for your career?

I am going to be one of the greatest actors in Hollywood. Getting big roles like Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L Jackson and Ryan Reynolds, especially starring in action comedy roles because I love the combination of comedy and action. The big screen is where I see myself in the future.

Which actor/actress do you hope to work with in the future?

Every great actor there is in the world including the likes of like Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L Jackson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds as well as great directors like Steven Spielberg, Wes Ball, Tyler Perry and James Cameron.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

In the next 5 years I think I will have completed my studies as well as my internship at Eskom which is for 2 years. After I complete my internship I will focus on my acting career. The aim is to travel the world and act in as many movies as I can including doing voice overs, talk shows, live shows as well as dancing and opera singing.

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Reflecting to your community, how do you want to give back to them?

I feel like one of the greatest gifts I can give back to my community is the knowledge and wisdom I will have accumulated in my career as opposed to just giving them money. If a person can manage to change the mindsets of people around them, that in itself is a great accomplishment. One thing I have realized as impacting the mindset is the inability to travel due to various reasons such as not having enough funds. In the future, when I have money, I would like to once in a while take school children to travel and see what the outside world has to offer them. I want them to see the different possibilities of who or what they can be in their future. I have realized that no one can aspire to be something that they know nothing of or have not been exposed to.

When I told people around me that I wanted to be on TV one day they told me that it was impossible, that I was dreaming and needed to get back to reality. But because I wanted it so much I kept true to myself. I wanted to make my dream a reality.

Travelling helped me a lot. In my household only my father works and therefore doesn’t spend a lot of money on luxury but we travelled occasionally. In my travels I met different kinds of people, saw different kinds of places and that blew my mind. Before travelling I never knew that there was a place outside my comfort zone, I was always in my comfort zone.

My father was a person who prioritized education. He taught me how to think for myself and it helped me be my own man as well as being strong mentally and to pursue my dreams.

Thank you for joining us, do you have any advice or experiences to share with our audience?

“With God, nothing is impossible”, this is a motto that I live by.

When you set your mind on something you must first have a vision, a way of accomplishing it. You must also believe that it is possible, that it can be done. The mind is a very powerful tool, if you believe you can achieve something you will find ways to achieve it. Only through hard work and determination can you achieve your goals.