It is a long way from Harare to Hollywood, and Tongayi Chirisa would know. Tongayi who? Tongayi Chirisa, the dude that starred alongside Leeanda Reddy and Leon Schuster in Mr Bones 2.
You even saw him on Crusoe, the American TV series that was based on Daniel Defoe’s fictional character Robinson Crusoe.
In a nutshell, things seem to be working out for Chirisa, a young actor who started from humble beginnings in Zimbabwe, then moved to South Africa where he both studied and did a few jobs including the Schuster gig.
Soon Hollywood came calling and now, based in LA, Chirisa can brag that he has worked with the likes of Sam Neil and Sean Bean.
But the last thing you will get from the man is any hint of bragging. In fact, Chirisa comes across as the shy type, who will only talk shop if he has to, otherwise he is happy chatting about comic books, music and all other guy stuff.
But given that he is featured on the second season of the hit series American Horror Story, it was hard not to chat about that, especially with it showing on M-Net Series.
“I was alerted about the audition by my manager and I went without thinking too much about it,” he recalled.
In his line of business, auditions are like casting bait into a lake – nothing is guaran-teed. So an actor can go for a number of auditions without getting any response, and that is regarded as normal.
“I didn’t think I would get it because you can go for 50 to 60 auditions with one ‘yes’ coming out of all that,” he explained.
But he was optimistic all the same and that helped because this was meant to be his gig. Going into the audition room, the actor shredded the role that he was vying for and the casting agents were impressed.
“I am realising that if you do the work the writers can see it and they will consider you. A scriptwriter can give you a script and the closer you get to what he had in mind in your inter-pretation, the more chances you have of getting the part,” he said.
“In this role I took the script and worked with a friend of mine, Ratidzo Mambo, a fellow actor, to try and tear the role apart and find out how best to portray the proposed character,” he explained.
In the series, Chirisa features as a demented schizophrenic who hears voices yelling in his mind. He is from an old era as his farm boy clothing suggests.
He has crossed paths with evil and it has haunted his mind ever since.
Chirisa found the character intriguing and challenging at the same time.
“In my preparations for the auditions I was trying to figure out exactly how a person in that condition would behave, because I have never suffered from that or seen anyone who has. I mean, how do you respond to loud voices shouting in your head?” he asked, laughing.
Whatever he decided was the answer to that, Chirisa went in and got the part. He went on to excel in the role – so much so he is optimistic that it will open up more doors for him.
“January is the beginning of pilot season and my management and I are excited about what American Horror Story has done for us. Remember, we got the role in the show’s second season, where it was now popular and more established actors were also being considered for the role,” he explained.
Whenever he is done shooting, Chirisa watches the final cut of his performance to develop his craft.
“When I portray a character, I am hoping to keep him as authentic as possible. So I am separating Tongayi from who-ever I am playing. If I see some Tongayi mannerisms in a role then I know I have failed and I need to work harder,” he said.
American Horror Story airs every Friday at 9.30pm on M-Net Series (DStv Channel 114).