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A rising veteran! Maggie Benedict had most of us at her multilingual talent, starring as the feisty and ambitious Akhona Griffiths in the most watched South African TV programme: Generations. Under the belt of this Mamelodi-born and multiple South African Film Television Award (SAFTA) winning actress is a stellar resume, having acted on Isidingo, 7de Laan, Binnelanders, The Mating Game, No.1 Ladies Detective Agency amongst many more. She is also experienced on stage, having performed in “Does Anyone Know Sarah Paisner?”, “Anais Nin Goes To Hell”, “Jesus Christ Superstar” amongst yet another list. The film industry has become familiar with her, more especially since landing the role of Arabic-speaking Helima in Darfur Now. There is an incredible story to be told about her and she agreed to share an admirable slice of it with Inspired4Writers.
The origional plan was to meet up and do the interview in person, however since the fire outbreak at the SABC studios, she was one of the many people having to work twice as hard to catch up on filming time. Therefore, through the gifts of improvisation and technology, we agreed to conduct the interview via email, as we discussed her busy schedule, her plan A at age 18, studying and working in New York, working with Jill Scott and Vusi Kunene as well as her thoughts on acting accolades, amongst other interesting topics. By: Kabelo Khanye.
Kabelo: We are grateful that you have agreed to do this interview. You are probably one of the busiest young artists in the industry, how do you maintane equilibrium?
Maggie: It’s a Hurry Up and Wait industry so although we have hectic periods of activity, you also have unpredictable periods of … nothing! Just waiting! That’s time to call a friend, finish reading a chapter, nap, rehearse, catch up with colleagues. Balance is achieved somehow.
K: What are the joys that you experience by being a daily TV soap star?
M: Shopping queues are a whole lot shorter these days! The payment is a longer queue of fans with picture and autograph requests but hey … swings and roundabouts.
K: Speaking of Generations, how did you land the fiesty role of Akhona?
M: The age old process of audition-callback-callsheet!
K: How has your life changed ever since you landed the role?
M: Life is busier. Never was one to keep a diary, but now it’s a necessity. It’s all good!
K: Ok, let’s go back to when you were 18. What were the core goals you had for yourself and did you give yourself a time period to attain those dreams?
M: At eighteen, my plan was to get into the then Pretoria Technikon’s Musical Theatre programme after Matric. It didn’t occur to me, bravely or insanely, to put a time limit or hatch a Plan B. Plan A was going to happen and so I strapped on my tap shoes and got busy making it happen.
K: What were some of your fears about entering the field of acting?
M: I didn’t have any fears because my mama said a prayer! Sounds naïve, but my mother had the great ability of saying a prayer over anything in my life and sending me out into the world busting with confidence. Nothing anybody said or did could’ve messed with the pep in my step. ‘Do your worst world’, I’d think as I shimmied along, ‘Mama said a prayer.’ I miss that the most about her.
K: What were some of your challenges on your pursuit to attaining your goals?
M: I’m geographically moronic! The hardest has been navigating the streets of Jo’burg! My friend Dewald has proved invaluable. I don’t know how many phone calls he’s received (read: STILL receives) with me panicked and lost in some foreign suburb. Keeping the nerves at bay for auditions was also another challenge. I don’t think they’ll ever go away, I just manage them better now. Breathe, prepare to the hilt and let the rest go. What more can you do?
K: May you please share with our readers the Lessons you Learned and Applied, based on your experiences in attaining your goals?
M: I’ll pass on a tip I got from COSMO magazine when I was 16: SAVE!!!! Save 10% of your salary every month. No matter how small the amount – every cent counts. Having a slush fund gives you the power to say ‘No!’ to that unspeakably CRAPPY job that will only serve to successfully drain your soul and retard your big career goals. It’ll sting, some months it’ll be nigh impossible, but DO IT!
K: What impressed me about you is that at age 29, you decided to further your education. By then, you were dividing your time between stage productions such as Cinderella, Showboat, Jesus Christ Superstar and TV productions such as Isidingo, Justice For All an Hard Copy 3 to name but a few. Despite growing professional success, you still chose education. What was the motivation or inspiration behind this decision?
M: I studied Musical Theatre on the advise of my father who, ever practical, thought it wise to be as versatile as possible if my stubborn self was really going to follow this ‘crazy career’. It paid off! As a singer, dancer and actress, I was eligible for every brief that came across my agent’s desk. Jackpot! The downside, for me at least, is you become a Jack of all trades. I felt I knew JUST enough to skate through any kind of job and feared it was only a matter of time before a challenging role was brought before me that would expose my shallow depths. I felt like a stir-fry and I wanted to be a stew so back to school it was. I’m not a stew yet but thankfully the ‘Formal Education’ quotient is ticked off. ‘Age’ and ‘Experience’ are the other ingredients and, as we all know, that’s a lifelong curriculum. Here goes nothing …
K: Then in 2007, you applied and were accepted to join the Michael Howard Studios in New York. How did that experience alter you artistically?
M: Oh, I can’t even begin to describe it! There are no words! Best money I ever spent!!
K: And even in New York, in between classes, you attained success there too. You were cast in the theatre productions “Does Anyone Know Sarah Paisner” and the following year, “Anais Nin Goes To Hell”. Did you ever think you could develop your career in America?
M: South Africa has it good despite all naysaying. There are more and more projects domestically and internationally being made here. It’s highly fertile ground. My family is here and that’s enough said, HUGELY family oriented.
K: Upon your return to South Africa, you were cast in The no.1 Ladies Detective Agency, co-starring with Grammy-Award winning Jill Scott and acting veteran, Vusi Kunene. What was that experience like?
M: Jill Scott is everything you presume she is (and I’ll bet more!). Intelligent, wise, graceful, humble, committed. Although we were cast in the same production, I didn’t share any scenes with Mr Kunene, so I didn’t see him in Botswana. We did Justice For All together years ago and regularly bump into each at the SABC [studios] (Isidingo shoots downs the hall from Generations) and working and hanging around him is always an education.
K: Yet another great acheievement your resume boasts, is you being cast in the international acclaimed film, Darfur Now. Your role required you to learn Arabic, how far would you go for a role?
M: I would go as far as is healthy for a role. As determined and committed as I am to being an outstanding actress, I’m far more determined and committed to being a whole, happy, curious, engaged human being. I’m not jeopardising that for a role because, if you boil it down, it’s just a job.
K: And while we talking languages, you had Generations’ fans talking about the new cast member who can flow through multiple languages in one sentence! How many languages do you speak and were the script writers aware of this talent once you were cast?
M: Oi, the language issue! I get invited to so many language themed talk shows and events and I sincerely don’t get it. I’m rather embarrassed by the attention. We live in a country with eleven official languages. I know people who fluently speak all of them! An actor I greatly admire [is] Fezile Mpela [who] speaks nine! I only speak three – English, Afrikaans and Sotho. That’s like ignoring the achievers and giving the kid in the bottom percentile of the class all the attention … then again, maybe the kid in the bottom percentile of the class NEEDS all the attention – lol. I don’t know. I just think there are more exceptional folks who deserve the attention for their genuine linguistic efforts.
K: Let’s talk awards. You have won Best Female Lead in a Drama Series
(for The Mating Game) and Most Harrowing and Humanitarian Performance (for Darfur Now) at the 2011 SAFTA Awards. What do awards mean to you?
M: Awards are fun! They help incredibly on the business side of things when you’re submitting projects for approval/funding etc. On the artistic [side] though, getting the role is the real award! Everything else after that is sweet desserts.
K: One of our Facebook Friends, Brinny Mphogo, asks: what are some hints and tips you can share with aspiring artists? and what are your thoughts in terms of this countrys’ talents?
M: Join SAGA. Go with your gut when selecting an agent. If they ask you to pay a registration fee/headshot fee/what-what, if you have to part with any money for whatever concocted reason – walk away! When you get on set – steal with your eyes and shut your mouth! Sometimes the squeaky wheel doesn’t get the oil, it gets replaced. Pick your battles.
K: What is next for Maggie Benedict?
M: What’s next? I never know. I love it that way. Surprise me Lord.
K: What is the one Truth that you hold on to?
M: ‘Some days you’re the pigeon and other days you’re just the statue!’ Be kind.
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