Celeste Khumalo a Powerhouse in South Africa

,,Celeste Khumalo is an effervescent powerhouse who hails from Johannesburg, South Africa. She is an individual that thrives in the entertainment industry as an actress, model, brand ambassador, and social media influencer. The first time the name ‘Celeste Khumalo’ appeared in the newspapers was when she was crowned Miss SA Teen 2011 and the last to reign under the title. Many South African’s may know her as Bulelwa Jafta, the Human Rights Lawyer in one of South Africa’s most popular soapies, Generations The Legacy, the Head Girl on the record-breaking online hit TV series and Showmax original, The Girl from St Agnes, or as Linda on The Queen.

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Celeste Khumalo

Beyond entertainment, Celeste Khumalo has a deep passion for social development & education, more specifically early childhood development. Having worked with various charity organizations and corporations to identify and address issues that deal with creating a better society. Khumalo recently worked on projects with the Minister of Energy to assist and encourage disadvantaged children with their educational journey.

‘An entrepreneur’ is also an accurate way to describe Celeste Khumalo. She’s a self-starter with an open mind and heart. She opened her first business in 2015 – Republic Nails, a nail bar in Hatfield, Pretoria and her second bar in Melville. After a three year run, due to career changes as well as the need for self-development at the time, she closed down both branches, took up an MBA, and has been pursuing her passion for acting. Within the spirit of entrepreneurship, the new ventures she’s currently aspiring to create more jobs for women. By using her education, hard work, and integrity, she is confident that she can assist others to find their success.

 A combination of titles best suited for people like Celeste Khumalo and the world cannot wait to further follow her journey.

Welcome to TV Series Hub. Having been in the spotlight as Miss Teen SA in 2011, you have never looked back and are now an actress, model, brand ambassador, and social media influencer. What is something interesting about you that people don’t know?

Oh gosh, I think I have been in the spotlight for so long, there is a lot that people know about me. I think they know quite a bit about what I want them to know about me and my public life. It’s only when I am working on projects, I won’t announce that I am working on a project, I will announce when a project goes live. A lot of times, I keep things under wraps until people can engage with it.

You are a Varsity College alumni, how did attaining tertiary education help you in acting? Was it something that you needed to do?

The acting was always the dream, being in that kind of spotlight even before Miss Teen I had done a lot of TV commercials, I had been a young model, I’d enter the pageant was mainly to get an education. With the upbringing that I had, it was hard, I was raised by a single mother -getting a degree was important our future, there were no funds available on my family’s side at the time.

The pageant gave me the opportunity to get my degree and that is why I entered it. It also helped with my entertainment industry journey. The entertainment industry was where I wanted to be, there was always a passion, in front of the camera or behind it. With the bursary being the main prize of the competition, the closest thing to entertainment that I could study was a BA in Corporate Communication. I obviously took up that one, the things that you learn about communication will always assist you in any industry anyway. I never studied acting, I wish I did, but even with that said there are opportunities to learn acting in my day to day activities and on sets. I learn as I go nonetheless.

Break into the industry, Acting? Did it just happen or was it in the cards?

It was always in the cards, I think with the modeling you reach a certain level or boundary you can reach, with acting you can take it further. One agent had sent me for an audition for international production. The audition took place at MLA with the agency owner Moonyene Lee and the director of the production. I was cast and that opened the door to a formal acting career. I joined the agency a year later and months after joining I was booked on The Queen, and since joining I’ve been on three major South African productions.

Judging the South African industry, everyone who has accomplished is not just an actor. Why do you think we are in such a situation and how can we improve it?

As a South African actress, we do not have regulations or laws that protect actors or artists in the entertainment industry in South Africa which is the main problem – a big problem. You can work on a production, you earn what you earn, you will never get royalties in return. The industry can get so tough even the way productions handle actors is at times unfair. A lot of people end up struggling in between jobs or productions or get to a place they can’t get hired anymore and they are struggling because all they have ever done is be an actor. The only thing that can change is if the Government can take our industry seriously pass some Bills and restructure the kinds of laws that affect actors for the better.

Even now with the lockdown, everybody is engaged in watching TV or some form of entertainment, but the actors behind that are hardly even protected and it is so easy for a lot of them to lose their jobs at any moment. Today you have a job, tomorrow you don’t. We have to try for multiple ‘streams of income” because one cannot necessarily depend on just acting. Fortunately, avenues like social media have assisted in making multiple streams possible, also people get to own their content.

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Celeste Khumalo

Being in a spotlight from an early age is always comes with ups and downs. What has been the most positive moment for you? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

I will start with the challenging part. The challenging part is knowing who you really are and bringing confidence to that. I don’t know if it is a psychological thing, but a person in our industry, to thrive needs to get paid and get applause. Growing up where you constantly need the people to validate the kind of work you are doing does take a toll on an individual’s self-esteem. You go out there, you show up, show your ability off, and people may or may not give you a good reception or people may not like you and want you out.

The best part about it is that I am ever-evolving. With the different characters that I had, I have an opportunity to be something different and to expand my range and that also feeds to the kind of individual I am – it shows me my strengths and weaknesses in different areas. I also face a lot of rejection – but that also builds resilience – this thick skin and it can be hard but I know if have the talent so I push for it.

The positives are meeting new people, and also entering different spaces. I always say that as an actress I have the opportunity to be someone else and make all that other person’s mistakes and not take full responsibility as an individual. I get to live different lives. I could be a lawyer or a housewife, a high-school girl or a good cop or bad cop, a wanted criminal, not that I’m promoting criminality… Do you know what I mean?

Some people just play GTA.

Some people just get to play it, but we get to be a moment in real-time and go through the emotions – it’s cool.

Rejection is like a normal thing in the entertainment industry – you get rejected more than you get accepted. How do you deal with rejection?

Some people hate you, some like you, and some love you. They hate you when you’re on, start to like you, and love you when your character dies or is written off. The audience’s emotional cycle is the toughest kind of rejection – all over the place, especially when you work hard. Their roller-coaster of tweets and comments can put you in a corner at times.

With an audition and I really want the role, after I have auditioned, I let it go into the universe because I have no control over it. There are times you don’t get that role and your question “Am I good enough? Am I in the right industry? Do I know what I am doing? Am I really an actor?” How I deal with it all is with my agent who I speak to all the time about certain productions, certain roles, certain feelings as an individual and certain wants as an actor, I have a therapist and a very supportive group of friends and people around me who keep me in check and help me keep my sanity – because you can lose it sometimes.

Speaking of family, it is a strong backbone and so are friends. How has the family helped you so far? Do you have a problem with fake friends?

I make sure that I keep my friend circle very small. A lot of people can come into your life and come in for the idea of you more than who you actually are. My circle is very small and with the kind of circle that I have, I know what each friend provides for me. I know which friend to call for which problem.

With family, because I have grown up around them and they are so used to who I am, they are like a sounding board. When I want to change as an individual or expand as an actor and take on a challenging kind of role or life perspective that is far from the person that I am, I kind of test it with them and see what their ideas are what they think, don’t like and what their perceptions are and take that into consideration until I decide for myself how I am going to play that or if I have the capacity to play a part. Family and friends love you and they can grow accustomed to what they like and think about you – which can inform or hinder you, point you in the right direction or get you completely lost. Build you up or break you down. Even beyond family, whoever it is that’s advising, criticizing, or commenting, being able to discern what fits you is important. I don’t have fake friends, I can spot those from a mile away.

You value privacy in your personal life. How important it is to you to have that privacy? Is there an experience behind such a decision?

I do my best to keep what is private, private, I do feel like I do share quite a bit of my life, even on a day to day basis. Also, people shift the focus they start tying other people or events into the headline of my life be instead of focusing on who I am or my craft. The reason you know me because of the work I do – this is the content I am giving you, this is the career I am in, so let’s focus on that compared to the family stuff or personal stuff.

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Celeste Khumalo

An important thing you mentioned is living life for yourself and not for others. How do you do that?

It’s crazy to say, but I have to keep reminding myself to check on how I feel, about something. With social media, if you give a lot, you might get people coming in and flooding into your life and If you give a little, your numbers don’t grow – that for me has been the deciding factor on how I feel. Am I working for everyone’s like, applause, or approval or working towards living a life that I am comfortable with that I feel good in, whether people approve of it or not – that is where I draw the line of how it makes me feel inside. It can be draining putting all of this content, or your life out to people and you get less than 1000 likes and you know you worked hard on it. The reminder that I should check with how I feel about myself. Am I proud that I put out a YouTube video that took me 10 hours to edit and only 200 people have viewed it? Yes. I put my time and effort into something tangible.

This brings the end of the social media 101 part of the interview, in a nutshell, what would you say is the way to social media? How should you keep it positive and avoid the negatives?

I limit my social media. I have a timer on apps and it will tell me how long I have been on the sites for, I have set it to 1.5 hours a day that I allow myself to engage on social media. It is just about having the discipline because you end up constantly wasting time on it. You see other people achieve things and you start to find yourself feeling inadequate, you’re comparing yourself, you can totally lose yourself and start to do things for attention – so I limit my social media activity.

I will post the content and I will leave my phone aside…

It is nice to just come back and see the flood of numbers too.

Yeah! Sometimes when you come back and you are like “oh okay, this did well,” but if you sit there watching like “why aren’t people liking my content?” “what is going on?” “did I do this right?”… It’s a trap!

Moving to the acting side of things, a lot of times people forget that a character and the person are 2 different people. Have you had any funny or memorable experiences so far?

Yes, there will be days where I would go and I am not putting on makeup, I am wearing my glasses and my glasses are really thick. It is just like I am in a tracksuit or very basic and on that day that is when the whole world notices who I am. They just start calling your character name and at times I wonder how they see because I look nothing like the character.

People stick to the character they love, I have done quite a few productions. I don’t know if people have moved with me to each production in terms of viewing, but then people will stick to the one character they love the most and call me that forever. Which can be weird because the one public favorite character died in that production. They would ask where the boyfriend of that character is or why I die and if I’ll be resurrected! You gotta love Telenovelas sometimes.

Do you like watching yourself on TV?

No. No. No. It is the most daunting thing to watch yourself. You are the biggest judge and you end up harshly judging yourself and by the end of the program you are hating who you are, you think you are in the wrong industry, wrong career. However; I do, every now and then, pop in to see what is happening especially if it is like a Telenovela, you shoot 3 months in advance, I pop in every once in awhile and sometimes I am like “Girl, you can act! That was nice.”

I think you should watch yourself once in a while, that is where you learn how you want to better your craft, but it is daunting.

Moving on to your acting career, you have been on Generations: The Legacy – South Africa’s 2nd most-watched show, Shadow on Netflix, The Queen – South Africa’s most-watched show on cable tv and The Girl from St. Agnes Showmax’s most-watched original production in 2019. Which one is your favorite?

My favorite one, because of the production style, was The Girl from St. Agnes. It was a single cam, a lot of telenovelas have multi-cams so you have to mind your actions, steps, and beats. Every action of yours is designed for the tic tock between cameras. In a single cam, they have got the wide and close-up, you can just be in that moment with your fellow actors.

I like productions that are smaller and confined, so I am more for the seasonal series and a film kind of production than telenovelas. Acting in films is where I want my career to go.

Is there any show you would like to be on?

I have been watching a lot of international productions. What I like about international productions is that there is a conversation in scenes, they’re very wordy. Here is it is short and concise – get to the point, there are so many other characters who have so much to say. For example, if you see Kerry Washington in Scandal, she has paragraphs and paragraphs of things to say!

I’d like to be on any kind of Shona Rhimes, Own Network, or Tyler Perry productions. I like the “Blackish” spinoffs by Kenya Barris too. I one day hope to be an action girl and make it to a Marvel or DC kind of Box Office film or Oceans, Fast and the Furious, James Bond. Those kinds.

This begs the question, why have you not moved to the USA yet?

It is a dream. A lot of actors would love an opportunity, not to disregard our own local productions, but if you are going to win an Oscar, Emmy, or Tony; it’s in America. Why I haven’t yet? The right time, people, and a series of events will help me get me there.

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Celeste Khumalo
[Credit: Dartphotographyza]

What other projects are you working on?

I can tell you for sure there is nothing at the moment. I just got off of Generations and corona happened. There haven’t been any auditions that have come in because the industry is also trying to figure out what is going to happen for themselves. So there isn’t anything on the books at this time.

I’m personally working on charity projects and my thesis for my MBA.

Out of curiosity, why an MBA? How does it fit in with your current skill set?

I had been accepted at the New York Film Academy for a Masters in Acting and Film a couple of years ago, I think I was 23 or 24. I did my best to find assistance funding, but unfortunately, that didn’t follow through – it was going to cost a lot of money to live and pay for it. I still wanted a master’s degree and then I took a general MBA up here at home.
Someone at the production reminded me that as much as I wanted to be an actor, entertainment is a business too. So my MBA would still come in handy. I do still want to study further and more formally for acting. Maybe I’ll one day get a chance at UCLA or NYU or in the UK.

From all the experience you have so far, what advice would you give to the next you?

I think one thing that I had to be patient with is myself and the process. A lot of us want to get on production and shoot towards getting awards and the whole world to recognize your talent. We can forget there is so much background work that must happen, so many productions that you have to be on to learn new things to eventually get to a place where you are award-worthy or internationally recognized and then cast where characters are written for you. Patience. Every part of the process matters.

And action. As much as it is not active on camera and on the set, it is individually by yourself – how much are you putting into your craft and working towards what you want to be. Process, patience, and action.

How do you measure success?

It is something I forget to do all the time. When I get the request for my bio or showreel and I look at it myself – that is a success. You forget that you have done quite a few productions and are on your way somewhere.

Defining success is remembering how far you have come and being able to smile and be like “hey, I have actually done something, I have actually done few things that were major for me as a person.”

No interview goes without speaking about COVID-19, you have mentioned how it has affected you, but do you want to mention how it is affecting everyone? How are you coping with it?

One thing I can appreciate, as much as it is a disaster – this crisis the world is going through, first of all, it has forced everyone to go inside for the moment. We live in such a fast-paced world where people are constantly working a feeling pressured and depressed. Right now, this moment has been a mental break that there is no production happening right now, even if I’m not cast for anything it is okay. Secondly, I have got the time to figure out who I am and what I am feeling, all of the things that had me all tensed before the break, have broken down and I’m dealing with. It’s emotional and full of growth in this period. It is a lot of introspection, a lot of engaging with online material or workshops, speaking to my agent a lot, watching movies a lot and kind of deciding the kind of actor I want to be and the kind of work I want to do and what I must do about that.

For the world, I think people need to take that break, like I have, just get back to being yourself and be okay that with the fact that you don’t have control over a lot of things – that is generally what life is. You think you have control and then life happens. We should take this moment and then let the world heal – nature needs a break from human beings and I am happy it is taking its break, to be honest.

You do a lot of charity work, everyone has their own passion they pursue. What is yours and how did you become passionate about it?

Mine is mainly centered around education. Right now, I am an ambassador for The Earlyed Alliance which distributes digital programs that are catered for childhood development and education in English and Zulu. I am also the chairman of the board of The Early Education Foundation. The projects that I accept and look into, center around education, so it would be school-leaving – people in Matric leaving school, and then trying to find opportunities out there because not everyone would be afforded the same opportunities that I had where there was a competition I could enter and then get educated – a lot of people face this problem of not being able to study.

Then there is this school I identified in Durban, a primary school when I lived in Durban. It just needs a refurbishment, a facelift, the structure is okay it is a government school. Seeing that school, it wasn’t a conducive environment that is inspiring or that inspires kids to pursue education or come from their homes and come to this environment that encourages hopes and dreams or success of some sort because they have a high drop-out rate. Things that we take for granted, they didn’t have a soccer field or a netball court, and it is from Grade R to Grade 9, it is like why do you come to school? What motivates you to come to school? When you leave your home, you are impoverished, you are in a very rural community, and you come to this place of learning that is so uninspiring. It is the small things that we take for granted.

Not that school is fun, this MBA has just been you know a long journey and this last stroke is the toughest. But, I know what education is going to do for me. I have been fortunate enough to be in an environment I enjoy studying, I enjoy going to school, I enjoy getting this thing that is going to open doors for me at one time in my future.

So education is where I have centered around and hope to get to a place where I can just help people go through school at any age. I know that tertiary students are a big problem, but even with the foundation that I am with; everybody forgets that down at the bottom before you enter primary school your stunting happens on how you will become in the future as an adult. If we don’t focus on how kids learn while they are still young and are able to absorb all this energy and we stunt that growth.

You can connect with Celeste Khumalo on:

Twitter: @CelesteKhu

Instagram: @celestekhu

Facebook: Celeste Khumalo