Breaking into the world of television and acting is not all a bed of roses as many would like to think. Many envision dreams of seeing themselves on television, watched by millions; they have no idea about the obstacles that lie ahead. Some have given up on those dreams, and kissed their careers goodbye, even before they could start. The Botswana born couple, Shona and Connie Ferguson recently chronicled their early days in the acting industry, and the many pitfalls they bypassed before they became the powerhouse in the industry.
The Fergusons, through their production house, Ferguson Films are behind some of the most popular telenovelas in South Africa, including The Queen, airing on Mzansi Magic weekdays at 2100 hrs, and The Throne that airs on Mzansi Magic on Monday-Thursday at 1900 hrs, as well as other productions that include Rockville, Igazi and The Imposter whose second season is running on Mzansi Magic on Sunday at 2000 hrs. The Fergusons have engaged close to 200 employees, half of whom are on fulltime employment.
The Lobatse born Connie shares that after competing in the Miss Ellerines competition, she found herself on her way to South Africa where she was to enrol in a hair braiding course. But prior to that life changing journey, she points out that back at Lobatse Senior Secondary School, one of her teachers, a Mr Biriam, a tall British and no-nonsense teacher recognised her talent as a drama student.
The teacher pushed them a lot. She notes that children are gifted differently. Some are meant to pursue careers in medicine, others are teachers, and so forth. “None of those appealed to me,” she says, adding that Miss Ellerines was her break-through. But prior to being one of the most loved actresses on television that she is today, she reveals that she has endured challenges.
“I had a tough time in South Africa and auditioned a lot,” she says. She says that what the youth or those who wish to break through in this industry need to know is that failure to clinch auditions should not deter them. “This is something that the youth needs to know. Rome was not built in one day,” she says.
Prior to her debut in Generations as Karabo Moroka, she appeared in a couple of dramas in the then Sotho television. She stayed with Generations for sixteen years, and says that during that time something inside her wanted to do more than just standing in front of the camera.
“I didn’t see myself acting all my life, and I wanted more,” she explains. She further says that during her days as the beloved Karabo, she would also assist with behind the scenes duties although this was something that most producers and directors never publicly credited them for.
Itching to do their own thing and tell their own stories, the Fergusons took a risk and started their own company. “We wanted to tell own stories that will resonate with a lot of people,” she says.She says that when one takes a risk the time has to be right. Ferguson says that before the lord says yes, doors will remain shut, and one might even wonder whether their proposals were being opened.
Their first big project they embarked on as a couple was The Wild, which was later cancelled as the couple were gearing up to take over its production. Sharing his story, Shona Fergusons told the audience that before he was the Robocop/ Jerry Maake, a character that he plays on The Queen today, he auditioned countless times.
His career in acting started in Generations where he only had two calls. He says that while some might have looked down on that opportunity, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. In one year, he points out that he went through more than twenty auditions, and was turned down. He later joined Muhvango, where he stayed for three years.
“Those two calls at Generations gave me three years at Muvhango,” he says adding that he was a call actor and was paid per call. During this time, he was changing agents hoping that one of them would get him the ideal opportunity. One of those agents, informed him that he was too good looking, and that people who are too good looking normally do not have talent. The fact that he has tattoos also did not favour him, his agents told him.
“I was told so many times that I will never make it. but today, those very same big producers want to work with me,” he says. In his search for gold, and when auditioning for Scandal, he was also informed that a mole on his face did not look attractive. He decided to remove the mole. He was turned down three times at Scandal and later clinched the role of Alex Phiri, where he stayed for four years.
When The Wild was supposed to change production houses, they were already doing the ground work for the production. And that ground work gave birth to their first production, Rockville, which was initially meant to be a spin off to The Wild. When Mzansi Magic was conceptualised they decided to change the characters, and his wife, was meant to play the glitzy role of Dudu, who was married to one of the lead characters namely JB (Ferguson).
But her wife had enough time playing those glitzy role, she wanted something different and opted to take the role of Mavis Mavuso, a woman who was going through hardships. Rockville went on to have four seasons, and gave birth to other productions.