Top 10 SA Exports to Hollywood

2009-05-27 17:15
Ivan Sadler & Shaheema Barodien

In recent years, South Africa has shown it can hold its own when it comes to movies, with our people in some top Hollywood jobs. It’s no mean feat for a country that twenty years ago used to be known only for its rugby, institutional racism, and dried meat. Here are the top ten South Africans working in film; opening doors for future generations.

10. Johnathan Liebesman
This SA born director made his first American feature film at age 26 – Darkness Falls, on the strength of a short Roald Dahl adaption, Genesis and Catastrophe, which won him the "Hollywood Young Filmmaker Award" at the 2000 Hollywood Film Festival. His next big project was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and he is currently starting filming of sci-fi blockbuster Battle: Los Angeles, starring Aaron Eckhart.

9. John Kani
One of South Africa’s most distinguished theatre actors and playwrights, John Kani has also dipped more than a toe into the waters of international cinema and television. He starred alongside Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris in the action classic Wild Geese (1978), and has since appeared in such hits as A Dry White Season and Sarafina!, as well as award winning indie movies like Final Solution (2001). He is still extremely active in theatre and recently appeared in The Tempest, touring across SA and the UK, as well as appearing on UK TV series Silent Witness and The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, directed by the late Anthony Minghella.

8. Alice Krige
Born in Upington, Alice Krige studied drama in London in the late 70s and has appeared in a multitude of international films and TV shows. She is perhaps best known in science fiction/horror circles for her role as the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact (1996), although she is no stranger to the genre, having made her name as the titular character in Ghost Story (1981). Recently she has appeared in acclaimed HBO western series, Deadwood, as well as Lonely Hearts, with John Travolta and James Gandolfini, Silent Hill, and recent apartheid drama Skin.

7. Ronald Harwood
Born in Cape Town in 1934, the Oscar-winning screenwriter moved to London as a teenager to pursue acting and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. The writing bug soon took hold and he became a prolific novelist and playwright. Harwood, most notably an adapter for the screen, wrote Cry, the Beloved Country, Being Julia (starring Annette Bening), Baz Luhrmann's Australia, and won his first of three Academy Award nominations for The Dresser in 1983. He won the Oscar in 2003 for his adapted screenplay of The Pianist (for which Adrien Brody also won a Best Actor Oscar) and was nominated again in 2008 for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Harwood is also the cousin of renowned South African stage actor Antony Sher. 

6. Embeth Davidtz
Although she was born in the US, she moved to SA as a child and studied drama at Rhodes University and acted in local theatre productions. She moved to Los Angeles to further her career, starting off with bit parts, and eventually landing roles in such hits as Evil Dead 3, Schindler’s List and Bridget Jones’s Diary. Her most recent movie was Fracture, opposite alongside Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins, and will soon be on our screens again in the drama Winged Creatures. She has also made a number of TV guest appearances, most notably on Grey's Anatomy and Scrubs.

5. Trevor Rabin
A name more familiar with fans of classic rock, Trevor Rabin is the only soundtrack composer to grace this list and he has racked up an impressive CV of top US movies, as well as playing guitar in 70s SA rockers Rabbit, and being a part time member of world famous progressive rock group Yes. He has scored such thrill rides as Con Air, National Treasure, and Race to Witch Mountain, and is currently composing the score to the upcoming G-Force movie, and fantasy adventure The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

4. Richard E Grant
One of SA’s favorite sons, despite being born in Swaziland, this UCT graduate achieved a permanent place in cinema history with his knockout performance as Withnail, in the cult hit Withnail and I (1987). Since then he has appeared in a multitude of international productions, including Robert Altman’s The Player (1992) and Pret-a-Porter (1994). He would later star in Altman’s Academy award winning Gosford Park (2001) with the cream of British performers, including Helen Mirren, Clive Owen and Jeremy Northam. In 2005 he directed the autobiographical Wah-Wah, starring Gabriel Byrne and Emily Watson, which was the first film shot in Swaziland.

3. Arnold Vosloo
The eponymous Boetie from those apartheid era comedies dwelled on the outskirts of the Hollywood circle with numerous roles in B-movies like Hard Target and the dreadful Darkman sequels until he hit the big time with The Mummy in 1999, hunting Brendan Frasier and Rachel Weisz in this Indiana Jones-style adventure. He appeared in the sequel too, and has since been in many big Hollywood movies, including Blood Diamond and has played a terrorist on the TV series 24. He will next grace our screens in the upcoming GI Joe action blow-out.

2. Gavin Hood
Gavin is the man of the moment, recently having directed the box office smash X-Men Origins: Wolverine – one of this year’s biggest releases. He is way more than just a one trick pony though.  He won an Academy Award for Tsotsi in 2006, a South African story of a Johannesburg gangster, and directed the political drama Rendition starring Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal. Gavin also starred in his directorial feature debut A Reasonable Man in 1999.

1. Charlize Theron
Undoubtedly the most famous movie star to come out of SA, she has slowly risen to the top with her combination of good looks and superb acting skills. As the first South African (and African) to win an Academy Award for a leading role (Monster in 2003), and rated seventh in The Hollywood Reporter’s 2006 list of highest paid actresses in Hollywood, she is living the dream to which most other SA actors aspire. She will next be appearing on our screens in The Burning Plain (opens in SA on 5 June) with Kim Basinger, and after that in post-apocalyptic thriller The Road, with Viggo Mortensen and Guy Pearce. SA's golden girl continues to shine.

Here are a few other names to keep your eye on – some promising young talent that are primed to impress this year.

Langley Kirkwood – Former Isidingo star, who played a Recon Marine sergeant in the acclaimed HBO mini-series Generation Kill, about the 2003 invasion of Iraq and shot primarily in South Africa. Look out for him in Clint Eastward's movie about the 1995 Rugby World Cup - The Human Factor, due for release in December this year.

Neill Blomkamp
– An animator on shows like Smallville and Dark Angel, he is currently directing the highly anticipated SA-set sci-fi thriller District 9, due for release on 28 August.

Steven Silver – This SA-born documentary maker is currently directing his feature debut (due for an early 2010 release) – The Bang Bang Club, a highly touted film about the last days of apartheid, as seen through the lens of four South African war photographers, collectively known as The Bang Bang Club.


  • Bruller - 2009-05-28 08:15

    As far as I remember Alice Krige studied drama at Rhodes University before she moved overseas.

  • Shaheema - 2009-05-28 09:12

    Hi Bruller. You're right, Alice did take up drama at Rhodes (after initially pursuing psychology and English Lit). However, she moved to the UK in the late 70s and spent 3 years at the London Central School of Speech and Drama.

      Phil - 2011-07-17 18:40

      Shaheema I now noticed that you put this article and this list together. I'm just curious. How did you do your research or what did you base it on because the list is somewhat 'off' to say the least. The title is 'top South African exports to Hollywood'. John Kani has not done anything of significance in Hollywood in a very long time. His plays and career are far more in the UK. What has he done of late that people would know? Trevor Rabin is a musician, for crying out loud. YES went out like 20 years ago. Who in the world is Langley Kirkwood? My South African wife tells me he's never ever been to Hollywood. How can he be an export? And how can you possibly leave actors like Sharlto Copley, Stelio Savante and Gideon Emery off this list? Sharlto is known the world over for District 9 & The A Team. After Charlize he's your best known actor. Elysium will confirm that. Stelio Savante is the first South African born male SAG award nominee for his role on Ugly Betty. SAG awards are very respected in La La land. And he is extremely highly regarded here for his theatre roles with multiple oscar winners. He's probably South African's finest stage actor in Hollywood. Gideon Emery also very well known here for Takers & for Primeval. It doesn't make sense you would leave him off this list. My wife says Gideon is well celebrated back home. Did you just pick people that you like personally and leave out people you don't like? Just curious.

  • James - 2009-05-28 09:52

    Ok. lets make a pact never to brag about this list..... The good news is that this list can only improve with all the south africans leaving the country.

  • Nikki - 2009-05-28 10:15

    Didn't Alice Krige also star in Sleepwalkers (Stepehn King)? She was the mother if I am not mistaken?

  • Nickey - 2009-05-28 11:16

    Thank you to all the South African actors in Hollywood that make us proud to be South African. You Rock

  • leon - 2009-05-28 12:27

    What about Robert John "Mutt"Lange He was married to Shania Twain and produced U2,The Cars,Def Leppard,Shania Twain and much much more

  • Ronel - 2009-05-28 13:19

    Isn't Dave Matthews South African too?

  • Peachie - 2009-05-28 13:33

    Didn't Embeth Davidtz also act opposite Robin Williams in the Bicentenial Man?

  • Sam - 2009-05-28 13:41

    Nikki> Yes Alice Krige did star in Sleepwalkers - was the first role I saw her in.

  • Sindi - 2009-05-28 16:50

    James-Ouch! Anyway, Alice Krige also starred in Chariots of Fire.Very proud of these fellow South Africans.

  • Anon - 2009-05-29 06:10

    LOADS of ex pat in the US and elsewhere...Dave Matthews, ex Dbn boy, Rory Burne, F1 man, Ross Braun, top F1 man, Seether (formally Saron Gas), Robbie Robb (Ex Baxstop) and his band outsold Michael Jackson, filled stadiums in California and elsewhere. Manuel in Fauwlty Towers (UK).

  • ROMY - 2009-05-29 09:03


  • Hop - 2009-05-29 11:23

    Beebe who directed Geisha, is also South African, and if I am not mistaken, also won an Oscar for this film.

  • adrienne schick - 2009-06-03 12:55

    What about Juliet Prowse? Or was she before your time???

  • YTAH - 2009-06-05 09:21

    Swaziland is so entirely NOT South Africa. Leave poor Richard E. out of this.

      Phil - 2011-07-17 18:47

      You are so right on the money. He's born in Swaziland. How in the world did they come up with this awful list? It is titled 'Top SA exports to Hollywood' and they include people who aren't even from South Africa. Richard E Grant and Embeth Davidtz are not South African. And John Kani does not have a career in Hollywood. And Trevor Rabin is a musician. He did one or two albums with YES about 20 years ago. Then they leave out Sharlto Copley, Stelio Savante & Gideon Emery. They need to hire some new journalists is what they need to do. Or have someone in New York or Hollywood educate them.

  • Fan - 2009-08-18 12:54

    Dion Beebe didn't direct Geisha- he's a cinematographer- and won an oscar for Chicago.

  • Fan - 2009-08-18 12:56

    ps: Embeth's biggest critical acclaim was for Junebug.

  • Monique - 2009-08-20 03:40

    Esta TerBlanche, who used to play Bienkie in Egoli, is in the soapy All my children.

      Catnap LDB - 2011-06-20 22:33

      Yeah but you never hear anything about her really, she's been involved with that show forever! :o)

  • wilma McDonald - 2010-02-10 14:40

    My daughter have to speech about " Why does SA Filmstars go to hollywood" Can anybody give me answers.

  • Phil - 2011-07-17 18:17

    There are several important names that have been left off this list. Sharlto Copley. District 9 & The A Team make him top three in my humble opinion. His Wikus character from District 9 is so popular that they made a short film documentary about it. Sharlto is also going to be in Blomkamp's new film Eluysium & I live in New York so I can only go by what we see here. Stelio Savante. He is the first South African born male SAG award nominee for his role on Ugly Betty. Has a massive list of New York stage & Broadway credits opposite Susan Sarandon, James Gandolfini, Ed Asner, etc. Played the scariest South African villain I've ever seen on the JJ Abram's show Undercovers. Stelio is a great character actor that is very well known, at least here in New York. Gideon Emery. His role in Takers was fantastic. Would never have known he was South African. And he was one of the only redeeming things about Primeval. He also voices characters for video games that are played by millions. John Kani might be known in South Africa but I don't think that anyone here has ever heard of him. Embeth Davidtz has said repeatedly in interviews that she is American & not South African. Trevor Rabin? Is that a joke? He shouldn't be anywhere near this list. Never heard of Langley Kirkwood. But my wife is South African & she tells me he has had small roles in American projects that filmed in South Africa. Which means he's not even an export to Hollywood. Shouldn't be in the conversation. Do your research!

  • Channel24 - 2011-07-18 10:15

    @Phil: Please have a look at the date this article was published - May 2009. This was shortly before Sharlto Copley became who he is today, though we did anticipate Neill Blomkamp and Steven Silver's career trajectory after their respective films. We're obviously due a new list because the names who were relevant 2 years ago may not be as well-known today.

      Phil - 2011-09-03 06:51

      The only thing you are due is new writers and journalists. Are you that desperate to claim foreign celebrities as your own? Embeth Davidtz has repeatedly declared she is not South African. Richard E Grant is not South African. Rabin was big twenty or more years ago. For about two minutes. But a top export to Hollywood. Are you joking? Langley Kirkwood is not an export. He is a local actor. And John Kani. Are you for real? Really grasping at straws here. If you're going to list Kani then where is Anthony Sher? The names missing from your list prove that your writers do not understand the industry. Gideon Emery and Stelio Savante are easily in your top five exports to Hollywood. Get with the program and hire a writer that lives in Hollywood. They are certainly more qualified to write about which South Africans are your top exports.

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