HARARE – Ever since he broke on to the Zimbabwe film stage as Tuyane Tsumba in the film Yellow Card, Leroy Gopal (LG) has become the favourite to many.
The 34-year-old, who recently bagged the Best Actor in a TV Comedy Award in the South African Film and Television Awards (Safta) last year, recently spoke to Daily News on Sunday’s Dakarai Mashava (DM) from his base across the Limpopo.
Below are excerpts of the interview:
DM: What do you regard as the highlight of your career?
LG: For the highlight, I am caught up between two moments.
It would have to be either the time I found out that I was going to be the lead actor for Yellow Card or the time I won a Safta for Sestopla for my first attempt at comedy on television.
DM: How did you feel when you scooped the Best Actor in a TV Comedy Award in the South African Film and Television Awards (Safta) last year?
LG: I was ecstatic. I didn’t think I was going to win to be honest.
I was so proud as well for flying the Zimbabwe flag high.
I’ve often seen other African stars winning in other countries or flying their flag high in other countries but I never thought I would follow suit.
It was like winning a gold medal and everyone who has impacted and influenced my career, stands tall and proud because of this achievement.
DM: Were you always keen on pursuing an acting career before you landed a role in Yellow Card?
LG: Yes, I was always keen on acting.
From the age of 13, I knew that I had the bug and I just followed my dreams from performing at family gatherings to the stages of Shona drama in school. I was always keen.
DM: Who introduced you to acting?
LG: Roger Hawkins, my maths teacher at Gateway High School who others thought looked like “Undertaker” the wrestler, introduced me to acting when he gave me my first professional role at 7Arts theatre called The Singer.
He walked into class one day and said “Who wants to act in my play?” Everyone chickened out but I said yes and went for it.
Once I got the taste of the stage with an audience of 1 500 people, I knew then, that I wanted to entertain the world.
DM: Which actors were your role models before you got into acting?
LG: Growing up I loved Will Smith. I also adored the late great Safirio “Mukadota” Madzikatire.
Mukadota made me believe that in order to make it, I must be crazy enough. I also looked up to Eddie Murphy who I believe is the king of comedy.
DM: Who is the best actor you have acted alongside?
LG: Wow there are so many people that I have acted with.
The late Collin Dube better known by the stage name John Banda was such an amazing talent to work with.
Just the way we played and built our characters was so richly intriguing. He is truly missed.
I also enjoyed the whole cast of Sestopla.
70 percent of the time we improved on the script as we went along and we all helped each other build Sestopla characters.
DM: Are you still in touch with the Zimbabwean film scene and what do you think needs to be done to bring the local film industry up to speed with South Africa?
LG: I’m not really very involved in the Zimbabwe film scene.
There few times I have come close to closing deals but nothing materialised.
What I think really needs to be done is that filmmakers in Zimbabwe must tell their stories. Our country is so rich with so many stories.
People must not try and tell stories like Hollywood or Nollywood but should build on the foundation that Neria, Yellow Card and other classic Zim films have built.
DM: Is there a possibility of you returning to Zimbabwe to help improve the local film industry and to live here again?
LG: Returning to Zimbabwe is definitely something I am going to do. Not in the near future though as
I am currently working on growing myself as an international star.
I have slowly begun to infiltrate the American industry.
I feel a foundation is set and it is time to build on that foundation.
DM: How did you manage to make a breakthrough in the competitive South African film sector?
LG: My breakthrough in SA was really by God’s desire for me to walk this path.
While studying for my honours degree in performance and directing at AFDA, I was blessed when Dion Opperman, the then producer of the soapie Backstage called me and asked, “What are your plans after college?”
Nothing, I replied and he said to me, “Don’t sign anything because I have written a character for you that will show South Africa a lover boy like never before”.
The following year I started shooting Backstage playing Duma.
Over time I had to learn to speak Tswana and Zulu and to sustain my performance and tailor-make it for the South African market.
DM: Has your acting been financially rewarding for you?LG: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that it started a few things that I have ventured into.
No, in the sense that one cannot rely on acting alone as a source of income.
There are so many other things that I do.
Motivational speaking, I coach voice and acting and I’m also a team building facilitator just to name a few.
DM: Have you managed to do some investments in either Zimbabwe or South Africa?
LG: I do have some investments in South Africa.
DM: What are your future plans? Are there any plans to graduate from acting into producing/directing?
LG: I want to see myself in Hollywood blockbusters alongside some really great actors like Denzel Washington and Will Smith.
I also want to do some more African productions anywhere in Africa.
There is a talk show that we have been busy with that I think once we are ready it is gonna rock the world.
I have already started directing, which is my other passion. I have directed some music videos in South Africa and in Zimbabwe as well.
The first music video I directed was for one of Zimbabwe’s finest, Audius Mtawarira.
So most definitely crossing over is an option. As for producing, not really. That is not my strength.
DM: What films/soapies are you currently involved in and what future projects are in the pipeline?
LG: I have just wrapped up a film titled Seal Team 8, a 20th Century Fox production.
I play the role of general Tonga a Congolese dictator. It is a film about an American seal team that is sent to kill the general but when they get to his camp, they get more than they bargained for.
It is a high-paced action movie. There is also a film called Secret Marriage which opened recently on etv where I play JP, a Kenyan in SA with a serious passport problem.
I am also shooting season three of Smart Rewards Ride Show in which I am a presenter.
I also worked on a British film The Lost Diaries of Livingstone where I play an Arab Slave trader.
As I write this I am on set for season six of The Game Fact show Where I am also a presenter.
DM: Are you married? How many children do you have?
LG: Yes I am married. I am married to Keletso and we have three beautiful kids Kiki Leroy Gopal my son who is six, Didi Tadiwa (two) and Mimi Naima who is four and-half-months.
Family is very important to me and I always make time and find a balance in my heavy schedule.
DM: Where are your parents and siblings? Is any of your siblings involved in the film industry?
LG: My mother lives in Zimbabwe, my father passed away when I was 14 years old.
I do have siblings who include my older sister Claudia Gopal Muvuti who is actually a former Ms Iron Woman Zimbabwe. My other siblings live abroad.
DM: Any special message to your Zimbabwean fans?
LG: To everyone in Zimbabwe who supports team Leroy I want to say thank you for your love.
God is real and if you want a chance in life, try Him, He will never let you down.
To every young man or woman who wants to be an entertainer every resource that you need to make it is locked within your heart.
Don’t wait for anybody or the right time, it will never come and you will wait forever.