Actor Thapelo Sebogodi on carving his own path in showbiz
Thapelo Sebogodi. (Photo: Thapelo Sebogodi Instagram)
Cape Town - They’d spoken about working together but they just couldn’t seem to find the time to pull it off. Rising star Thapelo Sebogodi was busy making a name for himself as Khabzela on Mzansi Magic’s The River, while his famous father was swamped on the set of The Imposter.
And in between playing Dali on the new drama series, Seputla Sebogodi also juggles his music business, Putla Records. But the veteran actor says teaming up with his son was well worth the wait. They shared the stage in Flak My Son, which just ended its run at the State Theatre in Pretoria – and Seputla can’t be prouder.
The play, which tells the story of manhood over three generations, received a warm response. Critics and fans said Thapelo (32) is a chip off the old block and Seputla (56) is as pleased as punch with the reviews. He arrives at our Auckland Park studio an hour later than scheduled, reluctant to steal his son’s shine.
It’s Thapelo’s first interview with DRUM and he’s getting groomed for our photo shoot while his dad heartily tucks into the lunch the young star has left on a nearby table.
“Thapelo is a lot like me,” Seputla says before taking a bite of T-bone steak. “But he’s a better version of me. He’s better looking, smarter and very hardworking.” The pair are as close as two coats of paint. Seputla does a rhythmic whistle and Thapelo responds. “Watch, he’s going to come to me,” he says.
His words had barely left his mouth when Thapelo emerges from the dressing room, running to his dad to check if he’s okay.
“I’m fine, don’t worry,” his father assures him. “I was just showing them our whistle.” The signature whistle is their secret code to see if the other one is okay, Seputla explains. They came up with it on the day 43 people were tragically killed in a stampede in Ellis Park in 2001.
“We had gone to watch the Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs game together when people started stomping one another,” Seputla recalls. “I don’t know what happened, but I lost sight of him.” He whistled to locate Thapelo and spotted his son on top of a stand a few feet away from him after the teen whistled back.
“I grabbed him and we got out of the stadium.”
Thapelo is the firstborn of Seputla’s four kids, Kgothatso (29), Sebogodi (19) and only girl Thabang (16). Thapelo and Kgothatso share a mom while Sebogosi and Tebogo are their siblings from another mother.
As a child Thapelo struggled with his father’s fame, especially after Seputla became a small-screen sensation thanks to his starring role in the popular comedy show Suburban Bliss.
“I was nine years old when a woman ran to hug my dad and pushed me out the way,” he recalls. “It still scares me because it can be so invasive. Sometimes people have no respect for my dad’s personal space.”
It’s because of this he never wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, even though they “lived” on sets.
“After school I’d have to wait for my dad at the theatre or go with him on set,” Thapelo recalls. “All my school holidays were spent on the set of a movie or in theatre. I hated being there.”
He had a change of heart when he and Kgothatso were cast in Suburban Bliss one day. “They needed kids for one scene. It was a lot of fun! Seeing ourselves on TV was great.” He didn’t realise all the years of watching his dad work would rub off on him. “I was being groomed without my knowledge or my approval,” he quips.
After matric Thapelo enrolled at Tshwane University of Technology where he studied drama. Seputla wanted his son to become a pilot but supported Thapelo’s career choice. “He had great matric results. I was surprised he wanted to study drama,” Seputla says.
“The industry is ruthless. I didn’t want my son to go through some of the things actors endure every day – bad treatment, no pay.” Thapelo was shielded from the dark side of showbiz.
“I didn’t think it had too many challenges until I saw it for myself. I needed to understand contracts and learn when to say no to certain roles. There’s no guaranteed salary and the industry doesn’t truly respect actors.”
He made his onscreen debut in 2012 on SABC1’s reality series Life’s a Stage, following up with roles in Greed & Desire and Afrikaans mini-series Donkerland. Thapelo says he’s never used his dad’s name for interviews and auditions, and few people knew he was Seputla’s son.
His dad was “strict but fair”, Thapelo says. “I had a hot temper growing up. If I got into a fight, he’d make me play chess for hours. I’d make one move and he took 20 minutes to make his.” Seputla says there was method in his madness. “I wanted to show him every action has a consequence.”
It’s not just his firstborn he’s close to. The former Generations star has an open relationship with all his children and no topic is off limits – including his love life. The actor sat his kids down to discuss his rumoured proposal last year after Makoena Francina Kganakga posted a picture of Seputla on bended knee, with a diamond ring in his hand.
“I’m about to become someone’s wife,” she captioned the snap. But Seputla tells DRUM he’s still in the market for marriage and sets the record straight on his rumoured engagement. “I’m single. I don’t have time for relationships because I’m always travelling, but one day I’d love to settle down.”
“I’ve only been married once (to Leonette Olyn), at home affairs. The other relationships were just proposals. I paid lobola but never signed anything. For me lobola is not marriage,” Seputla says. He didn’t propose to Makoena, he says.
“It was a joke, man; she’s just a friend.” But Thapelo tells a different story. “Our dad told us about the proposal before it happened. Everyone deserves love. And if it doesn’t work out, you try again.” Back on the subject of careers, Seputla steps back from his doting dad role when they’re working. Although he guided him on understanding scripts, he didn’t help his son land any jobs. “At work I’m his colleague,” he says. “He carved his path as an actor without me and I need to respect that.”