A perfect prankster
The deep, yet surprisingly soothing voice on the other end of the line provides me with a one-way ticket straight back to my childhood, bundled up in front of the family television, literally squealing with laughter at the madcap antics of Leon Schuster – the man who actually made South African movies about South African people and South African scenarios. Years later, this legend is still managing to captivate audiences, both young and old, with that particular brand of magic, and his latest offering: Leon Schuster’s Schuks Tshabalala’s Survival Guide to South Africa.
When asked about the reason for returning to his original style of filmmaking, Leon’s answer is simple – the public. “I’ve had so many requests from the man on the street saying please Leon, just give us one more of those skelm camera movies!” With an amused chuckle, he adds, “I always end up putting my life at risk – on the line – so that SA can have a laugh, but I don’t mind doing it. I played rugby for the Free State, so I’ve been donnered much harder on the field than I have in my movies! I’m quite a bit older than when I did my first, but it still comes naturally.”
For Leon, the secret to the success of his movie style lies in taking everything he does to the max. “I always take my gags to the furthest point. I don’t stop at a stage and start to pity my victim, because I know the audience wants me to go the full hog – to go right up to the point where they’re lifting their fists. The truth is that people like to see Schuster getting payback, so if I do get a klap, it’s a good thing. I give the public a lot of nonsense and uphill, so I deserve to get smacked every once in a while… it’s only right!”
By its third weekend, Schuks Tshabalala’s Survival Guide to South Africa was standing at a gross of R15.3 million – no mean feat for a local film. For Leon, there are a few gags truly stand out. “The one that really brings the house down and has people falling out of their seats is the gag with the snakes and a group of colourful Cape coloureds – you know that when you combine the two, it’s always going to be a lot of fun.” From an acting point of view, Abusandile from the Transkei really made use of Leon’s impressive talents. However, a firm favourite for this seasoned actor is a gag involving the formidable Helen Ziller. Growing animated, Leon enthuses, “What’s fantastic about Helen is that she is truly a caring person. In the piece, her humanity really comes through when my character starts hitting another man, and she immediately jumps to his defense. She called the other day to say that she had received amazing feedback from the movie. Since she owes me big time, she also promised to make me Minister of Cultural Affairs if she becomes president… so I’ve got a pozzie booked, she just need to become President!”
Despite popular belief, Leon’s rise to fame was not a particularly smooth one. Giving a glimpse of his serious side, he muses: “It’s been a long road… a hard road… but I do it for Volk en Vaderland. I’m very thankful to the public – if there weren’t fans, I wouldn’t be able to make movies. Over the years, I’ve also managed to pull in a multi-cultural audience, which I am also particularly grateful for.” Hinting at the strain of being responsible for bringing out high-grossing films, he adds, “You are always judged by your latest work – all your previous achievements are quickly forgotten. Keeping standards high and making sure that the money keeps rolling in at the box office is not an easy task, but it’s one that I love to do.”
The topic of Bloemfontein is one that this seasoned prankster is always ready to discuss. Leon does, and always will, consider Bloem his hometown. “It’s where I grew up, studied, played rugby and taught for two years at Jim Fouche. Bloemfontein is in my veins, and Free State rugby is in my veins. Back in the day, people used to mock the then Orange Free State, saying there’s no oranges, nothing is for free, and it’s in one hell of a state… but I’ll tell you one thing, the Free State still rates as one of the best places. It’s the only place in South Africa where the Blue Bulls are actually welcomed. We always give a good reception – but that’s Bloem people, salt of the earth. When I talk about visiting my mom and brother, I always say that I’m going home. I can’t think about supporting any other side, or loving any city as much as I love my Bloemies.” As a child growing up in the city of roses, Leon discovered his passion for acting, pranking, slapstick and making those around him laugh out loud. “I remember running down the isle of the Ritz Theatre, playing cowboys & crooks, which was all the rage at the time. I also remember loving Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and the Three Stooges. I was always acting things out, and pulling pranks. I used to fool my grandma into thinking I’d shot myself in the foot with my pellet gun… tomato sauce everywhere, me squealing like a wild pig. Pranking is just in my nature, but I’d never thought I’d become a movie star… no, I’m not a move star, I’m just a local outjie that likes to entertain people.”
Humble, loyal, genuine and utterly hilarious – we say long live the king of South African comedy!
If I were stuck in a lift with Julius Malema, I’d… probably avoid a converstation for fear of a fist fight! He’s so used to scolding people, and if he called me a bastard, there is no way I’d just be able to take my microphone and move. Hopefully, we could talk a bit of sense… and be able to shake hands at the end of it all.
In my next movie, as an actor, I would love to involve… Charlize Theron. She still a local lady, and I honestly feel that she owes the South African film industry something. I could always write a bit of a romantic comedy script – people would probably expect me to play her daddy, but I think I’ve prefer the role of the lover!
The one thing most people do not know about me is that… I’m actually very reserved. I’m not always the prankster and loudmouth that you see on the big screen. I relish spending time alone, contemplating life, ideas, and my next big project. The rumours are rife that I’m an extremely sociable person who goes to parties and glamorous events the whole time, and likes to get “vrot.” But the secret part is that I really do love being alone. I don’t have a special woman in my life at the moment. However, I do spend a lot of quality time with my 21 year-old twin boys, who are currently studying at Potchefstroom University. In reality, I am quiet, reserved and laidback. At heart, I’m a Bloem “boytjie,” a very basic person.
If I wasn’t singing, acting, filmmaking, presenting or making people laugh, I’d love to be a… manager for one of the Super 14 sides, or the Springbok rugby team – it’s always been a secret dream of mine. I’ve been asked on a number of occasions to go and motivate the Springbok team before they went on tour. My humble opinion is that I think I did a good job, because I’m a great motivator when it comes to getting the team hyped up. Thanks to my years on the rugby field, I’m also very rugby literate and rugby wise.
The strangest thing I’ve every had to sign for a fan… is one that, surprisingly enough, pops up quite often – a women’s boob!