From Broadway to Backstage to Zabalaza, to My Perfect Family and now Uzalo, it is safe to say Baby Cele is one of South Africa’s industry icons.
IOL Entertainment recently sat down with the veteran actress, who has captured the hearts of South African and international fans over the years, and some might you find it hard to believe that Cele will be turning fifty in a few years.
“The cameras are not doing justice to you, you look amazing” we said simultaneously. “Thank you...you’re making me shy,” says Cele in a low pitch voice.
It’s even more difficult to imagine Cele as Gabisile, the fierce, outspoken, aggressive and stubborn character she portrays on the Mzansi's number one soapie, Uzalo.
When asked what her first reaction was when she read the script for her character Gabisile, Cele explains, “I've never liked characters that shout but we all know Gabisile’s out there, so I had to think of people I know, like my sister, but my daughter also helped a lot with preparing for the character”.
Cele adds that she had to think of Empire actress Taraji P Henson’s character, Cookie Lyon, when she tried to compare Gabisile to an extroverted character, but as “a South African version with a bit of kasi flavour”.
Cele also explained that playing this extroverted character sometimes becomes emotionally and physically draining.
“Playing Gabisile requires a lot of hard work, I have to walk fast and speak loud”, she said.
“She’s very hectic, sometimes I would want to ask the director to tone her down but again I don't know where the writer is going with the story line so I just let her be. Many viewers resonate with Gabisile and that’s what persuade me to bring out the best of her”.
On what to expect, Cele says Gabisile’s past is catching up with her and of course more drama.
“There's a bit of history with Nkunzi. How does she know him, and what happened between the two of them. Right now she doesn't have a man.
"We know her husband has passed, maybe she'll find herself a man and who knows, perhaps the man might even tone her down”.
Chatting to Cele about her journey in television and theatre, she reflects on when the acting bug first bit her, and reveals reveals that she wanted initially wanted to pursue a career in singing.
Three decades ago, Cele was a cast member of the stage musical Sarafina — she performed at Broadway for two years, and toured all over the world.
“I joined Sarafina as a singer not an actor. I wanted to be a singer like Brenda Fassie but the acting [bug] bit me and I fell in love with acting”, she explains.
Cele also said that she was grateful to Mbongeni Ngema for giving her the opportunity to act at the age of 16.
“I met Mbongeni Ngema while he driving down the road, next to my house. I didn't even have to audition for the part in Sarafina, the musical.”.
As an icon with a wealth of experience in the industry Cele says has fallen in love with directing and producing after being given the opportunity to do learn directing on the SABC1 sitcom My Perfect Family, where she played the starring role of Portia Nkosi.
She continued developing her new skill by directing when she joined Inkaba back in 2012, and also on Zabalaza, the drama series where she played Gasta for three years.
“I would like to direct my own feature film in the near future and get into producing as well”, said Cele.
“I've recently started writing and to be honest, I didn't think I had it in me, but again thanks to Bongi Ndaba, the head writer of Uzalo for giving me opportunity while mentoring me as well”.
Cele has starred in various television shows including Isidingo, Home Affairs, Shreds & Dreams, Sokhulu and Partners, Jozi Streets and Ring of Lies.
*Watch Uzalo on SABC1 weekdays at 8:30pm.