The Return of 7de Laan's Prodigal Son
By Daniel E. Dercksen
Daniel E. Dercksen talks to actor Frank Rautenbach, who played Tiaan in 7de Laan and is back in South Africa as the star in the film Faith Like Potatoes and will shortly start working on a film based on Hansie Cronje.
Just when he thought it was safe to break away from his role in the popular soapie 7deLaan and flex his acting muscle in Los Angeles, Frank Rautenbach returned home to step into the shoes of two famous South Africans in two upcoming films: community hero Angus Buchan who runs a Children's Home for abandoned children on his farm in Kwa-Zulu Natal in Faith Like Potatoes; and an upcoming film about cricket legend Hansie Cronje.
To most soapie fans the name Frank Rautenbach might not strike a chord, but mention the character of the boisterous Tiaan he plays in 7de Laan and everyone wants to know whether he will return to the series. For him, it's a role that "was an important stepping stone" and one he will "always honour it as that.
His choice to leave 7de Laan for the boulevards of Los Angeles was "pretty much out of frustration," says Rautenbach.
"The frustration is born out of two things," he says. "First of all we shot movies like Tsotsi and Yesterday that did fantastically well at the Oscars, but yet, there's not enough cinemas in South Africa to distribute that movie to make it super profitable, like it is in America; secondly, everyone is talking about how alive the film industry is in South Africa with foreign films coming here, the unfortunate thing is we don't get the lead roles, we only get the bit parts, that's if you are lucky, and then when the bit part comes, it's two lines and you're a soldier and that falls away on the editing floor."
It is clear that Rautenbach is not an actor with his head in the clouds - although his enthusiasm is overwhelming - but one with his feet planted securely in reality.
"I think I've always been a performer," he says. "I always was a little bit of the clown in the family. Even though I like rugby, but rugby is more about performing for the crowd versus actually loving the game. My disposition was towards acting. Acting is my passion, if you want to add it to my ability to act and make movies."
Growing up in East London, where he became a keen surfer and golfer, his big break came in 1994 when he became the face of the international Menthos commercial. This lead a 12-year acting career, which culminated in his role in 7de Laan, and his first CD 'Draai', which he recorded for fans of 7de Laan.
Currently all his attention and focus is on the release of the film Faith Like Potatoes, which will enjoy its premiere in KwaZulu Natal in October, and distributed locally and internationally.
Based on the book written by Angus Buchan, and directed by Regardt van den Bergh, the film deals with Buchan's struggle to settle down in a new country with his wife.
Although Buchan is older than Rautenbach, it was not difficult for the actor to identify with him.
"When I started acting out the role, I started realising: Hang on, a lot of the stuff is in me," says Rautenbach. "There's a whole bunch of stuff I could identify with personally as a human being."
It was only after reading the script that he met Buchan, a meeting that reinforced his ideas about the man and the character.
"When I met him I saw this passionate man, a guy who simplifies life," says Rautenbach. "I think personally I am very much like that. I like simplifying things, I don't like complicated things. If they are complicated, try and make them simple."
He paraphrases M. Scott Pick's book The Road Less Travelled and Beyond, the third in a series, in which the author mentions that he does not "give a hoot for simplicity before complexity. What I am concerned about is the simplicity that comes from figuring out the complexity, and that's what I am on about."
Next up for Rautenbach is to take on the challenging role of Hansie Cronje, a film that will also be produced by Frans Cronje of Global Creative Studios (who produced Faith Like Potatoes.)
"It will be interesting because Hansie is both the hero and the villain," says Rautenbach. "I will be able to act out a story that needs to be told."
"What really excites me about the Hansie story is that his full story hasn't been told. Two years after the King commission the media forgot about him and he disappeared into the ether and nothing else was said about him. But yet, in those two years, a lot of life happened to him, especially between him and his wife."
For Rautenbach, Cronje "was a true hero", and feels excited about playing the role of a "man putting together his life after he failed miserably because of his own bad decision."
He has always been inspired by "the idea of the underdog winning," because he regards himself as "an underdog."
"There's a lot of people who were cynical about him," says Rautenbach, "When people get cynical it's because his wrong doing exposes the wrong doing in their own hearts."
Rautenbach believes that "in all of us there's' a dark side that's redeemable but conversely also a side that can dominate."
"For me in Faith Like Potatoes and I guess with the Hansie Cronje film; both of them are stories about real people, about real emotions. I love telling a story that's got a lot of depth in terms of emotions, and the range of emotions."
Rautenbach thrives on being challenged and has definitely crossed over to the big screen.
"I love being on different sets, I know that TV can be shot like that as well, but I don't enjoy being in the studio all day, it drives me nuts," he says. "With film you've got time, there are many different locations. Every day feels like a new day. Every day is a different challenge. Film gives you the freedom to explore the character deeper, and gives you the freedom to add your perception or your perspective on the character."
"TV it's highly formulated, and sometimes it kind of cuts up that enjoyment of bringing your creativity to the screen."
Talking about the chances for a South African actor to make it in Los Angeles, Rautenbach is quick to state that it's "impossible."
"It's literally impossible for anybody, even an American, to make it in LA, but that's where the miracle starts," he says. "If you walk in cold as an actor, then it's impossible, but there are ways and means of getting through Jerrico's walls."
"The cool thing about America is that they don't discriminate," he says. "If you have value they will not discriminate against you, they will embrace you as long as you add value."
He fondly remembers a surfing moment in LA that sums up his views on making it in the City of Dreams.
He was on a beach with 200 guys in the water. "They were all swearing at each other and topping each other's waves, and it drove me nuts," he says.
"I've never experienced something like that. Yet, one and a half miles down the beach there was a surf spot right in front of our house where we were staying and I was the only one in the water. The way I see LA is that you must go for the road that is less traveled, you must go for the alternative routes."
He hopes that with his alternative route and his role in Faith Like Potatoes, his local fans will be "entertained by a really cool story" and that they will get "a lot of hope out of it."
"They will go: Life is makeable, we can do this thing called life, it's not a give up situation."
COPYRIGHT © 2006 Daniel E. Dercksen
Published with permission in The Sunday Tribune, September 17, 2006
Published with permission in The Weekend Argus, November 4, 2006
To Read more about Faith Like Potatoes visit www.faithlikepotatoes.com
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