I was 24 when I landed my first TV role in a major South African (SA) soap opera called ‘7de Laan’ (7th Avenue). I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t watch the show and had no concept of how huge the daily’s following was. I remember my first day on set: I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the crew and the cast. When my friends and family heard I got a part on the beloved show they were all star struck and couldn’t believe that I was going to get to meet ‘Dezi’, ‘George', 'Paula’, ‘Bart’ or whichever popular character was the nom de jour. I on the other hand had never watched a single episode of ‘7de Laan’ and honestly didn’t know (or care) who these people were.
For me, it was just my first TV role. One of the literally handful of opportunities actors in SA had to be on TV in 2004. At the time, ‘7de Laan’ was shooting 4 or 5 months ahead of the actual TX (transmission) date, which meant I had been on set for about 4 months before my first episode aired… which would change my life.
I think the first person that recognized me in public was a gas attendant at a petrol aka gas station (yep, we have those in SA!) It freaked me out. I mean it was great, but also super weird. Here is this middle aged, Zulu man calling me ‘Liesl’ (that was my character’s name) and discussing the plot of ‘7de Laan’ with me in detail, whilst filling up my car!
And from there it just got silly. Millions of people watch you on TV every night of the week (and on reruns over the weekend) and they honestly start to believe that they know you. I was stalked in shopping centres, stared at in elevators, people would even follow me into public bathrooms and knock on the door as I was trying to pee, shouting: “Hey, are you Liesl from ‘7de Laan’?”
Look, I don’t think we experience 1000th of what the real stars here in Hollywood experience, but it is still a very weird thing to become a public figure all of a sudden. Especially with my personality. I love my fans and we need them to support our work, but it is also a total mind *&%$ for an introvert like me to deal with instant fame and that many people invading your personal space.
Every actor thinks they want fame, but until it starts to happen to you, you actually have no idea what you are wishing for. It’s not something you can switch on and off or just have when it suits you. Which is why I think as South African actors, we have the worst kind of fame, because it isn’t ‘real’ fame. It’s not like Jennifer Aniston fame, it was quasi fame, which meant that you were never sure… Do people know who I am or not? Is this waitress super nice cos she thinks I’m Liesl from ‘7de Laan’ or is she nice because she’s giving good service? Incidentally one of the lines I used to hear most was: “You’re famous, aren’t you?” Which kinda is an oxymoron, because if I was, you would have known! (Fortunately, I had been married just before I became ‘famous’. I cannot even imagine what it must be like to try and date if you’re a well-known figure!)
15 years, a number of TV series, films, theatre performances, magazine covers, countless talk shows, interviews and online articles later, we move our entire lives halfway across the ocean to a place where literally nobody knows or cares who I am or what I’ve done. I cannot explain the feeling. The only way my mind can make sense of it was dubbing it as: The process of becoming ‘Un-famous’.
For the first time in my adult life nobody knows who I am. Nobody has some pre-conceived idea of what I should look like, what I should act like or what they expect me to wear or say or be.
And it’s freaken AWESOME!
I have realized that we as human beings care waaaay too much about what other people think about us. And I wish I knew why? Because honestly, here’s the truth about the world: everybody’s too busy surviving and dealing with their own shit to care. And that’s very sad but also completely liberating. This meme sums it up perfectly (Thank you Karen Zoid for posting this many eons ago. You won’t even remember it, but this really had a profound impact on me!):
So I find myself in this unique position of being able to reinvent myself. Starting with a cleanslate. And it is wonderful and completely terrifying at the same time.