If the acting industry was human and could speak, it would surely express its gratitude to Tiisetso Thoka for being part of it.
Most say about the Limpopo-born actor that he is a real talent. He’s been in the industry since his YoTV days, but only started raising eyebrows with his role in Mzansi Magic’s Isithembiso as Ali, the boxer.
It seems like yesterday that the excitement started on social media about his flawless and effortless acting. He has moved from Isithembiso to The Herd and now Imposter season 2.
Believe it or not, Thoka started off wanting to be a lawyer and he studied and completed a law degree. “When I was growing up, my dad always believed that I would end up being a lawyer because that is all I could talk about, despite going to the nearby community centre daily to do theatre acting and enjoying it,” he said.
So after matric he studied law. It was in his third year of studying with the help of a bursary that he came to his senses, and secretly continued doing theatre parttime and studying law.
“After my fourth year I went and worked at a law firm in Roodepoort for about a year and eight months, and then it was enough. I quit, and decided to go back to TV since I did YoTV while still doing law.”
Thoka says his background really didn’t do much to assist him to get to where he is today, explaining that apart from pushing him to want better, he had no one to spoon-feed him and had to work hard to be where he is today with his acting career.
“My mom was a waitress and my father a teacher in a village school,” he said. His parents always wanted him to do well in life, hence his dad was upset with him for quitting his law job for acting and didn’t speak to him for about six months.
“This was rough on me, plus I didn’t have any money and needed to pay rent, but I was adamant about following my dreams. Things finally started to pick up, though.”
The actor says that before Isithembiso the public hardly took notice of him despite previously being on YoTV and e.tv’s Gold Diggers. He points out that getting a call to audition for Isithembiso gave him a real leg up in his career.
“I went for so many call backs for this Ali role, and had days where I waited for a call back and got none, but then they finally gave me the role and told me that I will die in episode seven.”
This was disheartening after the many callbacks he got, but he nonetheless decided to sign the contract. With the start of the series, Thoka says fans loved his effortless acting skills so much that his role was among the favourites for fans of Isithembiso, and production decided to keep the role alive until episode 52.
The producers then decided to give him a long-term contract with the show. “Isithembiso really opened major doors for me in the acting industry. Since being a part of it, I haven’t had to audition for a role. All I do is get calls about roles that would fit me.”
He is a man that can speak 10 of Mzansi’s official languages, thanks to his hustle.
“After moving to Joburg, trying to hustle and find an acting gig, I firstly lived with my grandparents in a back room where my grandmother worked for a white family. It was five of us in that back room,” he explained, adding that this is one of the things that made him promise himself to never stop hustling for better things in life.
“From there I lived with my friend who was Tsonga, then my other friend who was Xhosa.” He says all this moving around afforded him a chance to learn different languages and cultures, pointing out that being from Limpopo he grew up around Venda and Tsonga speaking people, making the languages a part of who he is.
However, growing up in Limpopo, in the village of Ga-Mphahlele, was not easy. “It’s not easy to dream in the dusty streets of Ga-Mphahlele. My friends back home would find it funny that I wanted to be like the likes of Rapulane Seiphemo and Connie Ferguson. They told me my dreams were just far-fetched, so it was kind of hard to believe in them.”
“Playing Dingane on The Herd was a challenge. Only God knew I was going to kill the role. It was hard playing an umkhovu (zombie), talking for a few episodes and then being mute for most of them,” he said.
To prepare himself for the role of Dingane the herdsman, Thoka says he went to a few places in rural KwaZulu-Natal, to spend time with his friends and learn more about the culture. “Being mute, I had to use a lot of facial expressions and some non-verbal cues.”
He says he believes the role went a long way in putting him on the map in the acting industry. Thoka says with his new role – Pablo in Imposter, a man who speaks fluent Sotho – he feels less challenged and more relaxed as he finds the role a lot less complex.
Being a dad
“Over the past three and a half years of being a dad, I have totally changed. Fatherhood has taught me responsibility, love and to think about others,” he said.
He is very close to his daughter. “She is my best buddy. I was in theatre when she was born, even when she started saying papa (dad). I know the pain of not sleeping at night, not having money for nappies and seeing her sick. Being a dad has taught me a lot about being cautious in life, and I think the more she grows up, the softer I become.
“Every single thing I do is for her. I work hard for her.”
The Vodacom deal
Now he is an Ambassador for Vodacom; a brand Thoka says he has always wanted to work for. He explains his new venture with Vodacom as a blessing in disguise.
“Vodacom changed my life. I grew up seeing the adverts. I can’t believe I’m the one actually representing it right now. It gets overwhelming but at least with me it hasn’t changed how I see myself or others.”
Thoka says though he was happy to finally be part of Vodacom, his family was happier than he was. “This has changed my life. Because of it, I have done so much for my family. I’m doing a lot for my child and myself as well. I’m hoping that this deal creates a long lasting relationship for me with the brand,” he concluded