No means not TODAY: Relating to my previous example, I have learned that a NO means that today is just not your day, and that tomorrow might bring something even bigger and better suited for you.
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mari Molefe van Heerden, a South African actress and presenter best known for her roles as rebellious Lerato Jackson in the kykNET soapie Villa Rosa. She is also known for her role as Tumi Sithole in the SABC2’s very popular soapie 7de Laan.
Born and raised in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, she graduated from the University of Pretoria in 2009, where she was a DJ at Tuks FM.
Mari landed her first television gig in 2007 when she was cast as a continuity presenter for the now-defunct Afrikaans music channel MK, continuing in this role for two years.
Mari voiced the role of Pauline in the Radio Sonder Grense (RSG) radio drama Ratels. She later landed the role of Lerato in the kykNET soapie Villa Rosa. She left the show to be an entertainer on a cruise liner. After that, she played the role of Tumi Sithole in 7de Laan. Mari furthermore had a principal role in the kykNET comedy series Phil 101. Then she had a guest-starring role on kykNET medical soapie, Binnelanders. Mari guest-starred as twins in the kykNET comedy series Elke Skewe Pot. Mari started voicing the character Shoki Molefe in 2016 — to date on a popular RSG Radio series, Hartebreker.
In 2020 she starred as the co-lead in The Hex, which is a feature film that she produced as well. Furthermore, in 2020 she was cast as a principal role, FJ, in the second season of the popular SABC2 sitcom Die Vlieënde Springbokkie. She also does dubbing and most recently did dubbing work for the Turkisk show, Stiletto Vindetta. She is in a lot of different radio dramas constantly and continuously works with famous South African writer, Leon van Nierop, in the radio world. Mari has produced numerous short films such as Skoonma that did well in the Festival Circuit and TV commercials. She has also co-founded the Kleinkaap Short Film Festival in 2016, which is an annual Film Festival in South Africa.
Mari is also the owner of Twin Hearts Productions, which produced The Hex amongst other projects. The Hex has had a wonderful release in Africa in October 2020 by a major distributor called Multichoice who owns MNET, DSTV and Showmax amongst others in Africa. The Hex is set to release in North America on Demand and DVD on December 15th, 2020 by the incredible Cleopatra Entertainment. She is one of South Africa’s up-and-coming young female artists and producers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for taking the time to interview me, I really appreciate it. I grew up in South Africa in Port Elizabeth but then moved to Pretoria, which is the capital city of South Africa. I was adopted at the age of 2 by a lovely Afrikaans family. I am a lot younger than my four brothers. But unfortunately lost my mother at the age of 18. My life has definitely had many ups and downs, but I cherish the incredible memories with loved ones, the older I get, the more I realise how important difficult situations are because that made me a stronger person.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always enjoyed entertaining my friends and family and a direction in acting was just that obvious.
I remember when I was little I used to tell jokes, perform for my family and dressing up as a clown would always put a smile on everyone’s faces. A family portrait or photo would never just be normal when I was around.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
For my first ever big television role, my car broke down on the highway, and one of my front tyres literally came off and started rolling next to me. I was terrified and it made me so late that I completely thought that I lost the job. Luckily a gracious man helped me and I was on my way to my first day. Nevertheless, I kept that job for 3 years.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of my memories on set that I can remember was me running down a flight of stairs and that the directors pulled me aside telling me that I should run more like a girl, I wasn’t even aware that I totally ran like a tomboy and not gracious at all.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The Hex is definitely a highlight for me. It’s my first principal role in a feature film and the first time my work will be shown, outside of festivals, in North America. This is a dream come true! The Hex releases mid-December 2020 on Demand and DVD in North America by Cleopatra Entertainment. I am still working on this film, as I am a producer on it as well and the administration doesn’t get less. It is a privilege to work with prestigious Paris-based sales agent, Reel Suspects, on distributing the film worldwide. We had an awesome release in South Africa as well by major South African distributor Multichoice (MNET, DSTV, Showmax) in October 2020 and excited for future releases in more countries. Other than that I am working on a new creepy feature film which I am very excited about, that I will be able to tell you more about next year.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Each country looks a lot different demographically, but if we focus on major Studio productions, which the whole world basically watches and most of these big-budget films are from America and the UK, then I’d focus more on those in my answer. As in South Africa it looks a bit different due to multiple official languages than it would in America, in our Zulu and Xhosa productions we have a majority of black actors. In our Afrikaans productions, we have a majority of white actors. In our South African English productions, we usually have a more diverse cast, as English is the main language that connects different cultures in South Africa, like with our diverse cast in The Hex. But focusing on major Studio films that are usually from the US and UK, which we all watch globally and why I think diversity is important: Firstly representing different cultures equally in the Film and TV Industry as to not indoctrinate people to think the way a certain culture operates. Secondly, if there is more diversity in mainstream productions, then more people would be able to relate to the characters and know that their uniqueness is their strength. Thirdly, with more diversity, this could potentially assist people all over the world to learn more about each other. Hopefully, this connects different cultures and helps people to respect their differences.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- African time: Unfortunately when I studied I wasn’t taught how production times can change, and that sometimes you can wait hours before it’s your turn. Multiple times you just have to wait and be ok with it, because the show must go on.
- Be prepared: Learning lines is not where preparation begins and ends. There are different facets of being prepared. From learning your character’s background, getting the certain voice you need, to understanding that characters’ wardrobe.
- Don’t be shy: When i first started doing auditions, i used to be so shy and timid. I wish someone told me to let go and just be. Who knows how many roles I’ve missed because I didn’t show my full potential.
- Rejection is not the end of the world: I have done so many auditions and i have had so many rejections, that I doubted myself as an actor and even thought of changing my career. But I had to learn that rejection for a specific role isn’t a reflection of worth.
- No means not TODAY: Relating to my previous example, I have learned that a NO means that today is just not your day, and that tomorrow might bring something even bigger and better suited for you.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It is essential to take time off and give yourself a break. A well rested person, is more likely to thrive than someone who is burnt out. Your health and happiness come first. I’ve definitely learnt that family and friends are more important than one’s career.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Reine Swart and I started a film festival in 2016 and had a vision to inspire young filmmakers. I have always had an issue with our industry not allowing a space to showcase your work. It is important to learn from each other, and one is never too successful to learn and inspire. Therefore I think we should have more platforms where we can collaborate and share ideas, different ideas and different ideals.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My dad is an amazing person and I am super grateful to him. He has taught me so many life lessons that has assisted me in my career as well. One of these lessons I stand by is: No man is an island. I am a very giving person and my compassion for people comes from my dad. Each year I donate half of my clothes and shoes to the less fortunate.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A few years ago, I was unsure I’d be able to take on a big opportunity, but I would never forget these words my dad said to me: “Never say you can’t do something. Say yes I can, then go and learn how to do it.” This has been very valuable to me and I can’t tell you how many times I have just done that and succeeded.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
One of my most favorite actresses is Margot Robbie. She is one of the most talented artists I have seen, and would love to learn from her and listen to her journey. Especially because she is not only an actor but also a producer.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you, that’s very kind of you. I am on Instagram @mari_molefe_van_heerden and on Facebook as Mari Molefe van Heerden [Page]
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
I appreciate the support immensely and thank you again for this wonderful opportunity! Same great wishes to you.