WITH his dreadlocks, big smile and even bigger belly, Mpho Molepo has become one of the most recognisable characters on TV. Yet even though he’s been in some of the most popular TV shows it’s 31-year-old Mpho’s role as the jovial Fats on Rhythm City that has turned him into a legend in our living rooms.
His dad and co-star, on the other hand, always seems to end up playing unlikeable guys – and Rhythm City is no exception. Arthur Molepo (61) plays crooked local government official Sydney Shabalala, and the veteran actor can add that to the thug, prison warder and angry policemen he’s played in big-name movies such as Mapantsula, Hijack Stories and Orlando.Many will also remember him as Busang, the black sheep of the family in Generations. We decided to get father and son together for a chat at a restaurant in Newtown, central Jozi…
So, Arthur, are you really as scary as you seem on TV?
Not at all. People expect me to be all strict and serious but once they get to know me they realise I actually make people laugh.
Mpho Ja, like the time I saw him on stage for the first time. I was only three years old and it’s actually my earliest memory – there was my dad up on stage in an apron, wearing a doek!
Arthur Oh yes, it was a show called Dikichining and I played a domestic worker!
Your Rhythm City character, Sydney, isn’t funny, is he Arthur? He’s a real shark.
Well, he isn’t very likeable but he’s real – people like that do exist. I don’t really mind which characters I play; my intention is just to bring each one to life.
And Fats has become a household name. What’s it like playing him, Mpho?
Well I’ve been playing Fats since 2007, so I know the character well. He’s fun to play because he makes a lot of people laugh. I don’t really consider myself much of a comedian though. I was in a store one day and a guy followed me around asking me to make him laugh like I do when I play Fats. He told me he and his wife rush home every day to watch me. I explained I wasn’t at work – I don’t make jokes for free!
What set off the acting spark?
Arthur For me, it took me quite by surprise when I was at Madibane High School in Soweto and cast as the thug Casca in Julius Ceasar. I fell in love with theatre. After matric I found a job at a transport company but I spent most of my time hiding away, reading scripts. After work I’d go to the Wits Theatre and rehearse or perform. I couldn’t keep it up and eventually had to quit my job to act full time.
Mpho I grew up in theatres, as my father took me to rehearsals, so after matriculating from the National School of the Arts in Jozi I was set for a career on the stage. The arts world is the only thing I know.
Did you encourage your son to go into the performing arts, Arthur?
Not really. If I could have chosen a career for Mpho it wouldn’t have been acting. But I did give him his first break when he was at school – I was directing a play and asked him to perform a song for the production. I shouldn’t have paid him that R500 because he didn’t have to do anything. He just sang a song I composed. Haai man!
Mpho My father used to tell me the entertainment industry was tough. He discouraged me at first but he still managed to give me the best in life. I was the first among my friends to have a computer game and sometimes it was difficult to understand why he said it was tough in this industry.
Well, is it a tough industry?
Arthur Yes, of course – it’s a struggle to get ahead. You don’t know if you’ll get the next job. You do it because you love it; I’ve had some wonderful years and I’ve seen a lot. There was a period when I toured so much that for six years I never saw a winter. I was doing plays in America during their summer and then I would come back home and perform here during our summer.
How about you, Mpho? You’ve been in Soul City, Tsha Tsha and Stokvel as well as many stage plays.
Yes, I’ve been fortunate. I’ve travelled too, although not as much as Dad. I play a jailed drug dealer, Digger, in Zone 14 and I’m busy with my theatre production company, so there isn’t time for travel right now.
Read the full article in DRUM of 14 October 2010