Jamie Bartlett has decided the time has now come for him to focus on himself after spending so many years working very hard to provide a good life for his only son who has now reached his final year at the University. Jamie has spent almost 13 years playing David Genaro in Rhythm City, he wanted to enlarge his territory, so he quit the popular soap.
“I’ve been playing Genaro for a long time now, I’m not saying he’s uncomplicated, but my God, we have exhausted every part of him,” Jamie tells DRUM.
“I ended knowing everything about him, the way he smells, I know how much wax he has in his ears. It had come to an end.” David will go down as one of the most brutal men in Mzansi soapies, the guy who terrorised his rivals non-stop without giving a thought to the destruction he caused in the process of getting what he wanted. But karma has everyone’s address and in the end, the soapie villain died the way he lived. In a dramatic scene, David is shot dead by Suffocate (Mduduzi Mabaso) and Khulekani (Mncedisi Shabangu), who’s determined to get revenge after David killed his son.
“I greatly enjoyed his first death, 10 years ago,” Jamie quips. Back then David passed away in a hail of bullets after Gina (Dorette Potgieter) avenged how he kidnapped and tortured her, but it turned out he had pretended to die. But this time around there’s no resurrecting him back from the dead. “Something happened when my son finished university,” Jamie says.
“I felt that living in Joburg, I had lived to put him through school, then it was his economics degree. I’m turning 54 this year and I felt like it was just a bracket end.” But leaving the soapie after 13 years was really hard.
“I needed to have a conversation with myself,” he says. “Do I need to spend more time with Mom in Cape Town? Or should I teach and travel more between here, London [where he’s originally from] and Cape Town? Do I open myself up to more acting, and how many British movies do I want to do, or do I want to be in Cape Town?”
I have plenty of things to think about, but one thing is for sure. “I’m not done with acting, not any time soon,” Jamie says.
“I think I’m ready to start 25 years of something different.”
We were catching up with him at his stylish, three-storey loft apartment in Jozi. The airy lounge is splendidly decorated with quirky lamps, colourful glass vases and treasured ornaments. Two colourful Basotho blankets are neatly draped over an olive velvet couch. The talented TV star was wearing a trendy colourful shirt and sporting red sunglasses that are slowly becoming his signature new look. “You must be an interesting person,” Jamie says.
A giant black and white picture of two young black men wearing Gucci belts and drinking beautifies the wall opposite him. He says he loves that artwork because it tells the story of young black men from the townships. “I am crazy about South Africa, worms, and trees. Jamie Bartlett is what you see here. A man who reads plays, who reads classical pieces of work and who has a few close friends.
“It takes a long time to live very comfortably in your own skin, I live more comfortably now than when I was 30, I now know what I want,” he adds. “Yes, I’ve fallen off the wagon a couple of times, but I’ve had to get back on. I’ve made mistakes and wrong decisions in life. I think the ineradicable thing is that I am a father. I have gone through the pain of parenting like every parent does. It changes you. It makes you grow up. I’m more grown emotionally than I have ever been.”
Jamie got up and offered us imported coffee served in exotic round glasses, he said he got them while travelling in Eswatini. The open-plan kitchen looks like it belongs to a professional chef. In the gleaming sink, crabs lie waiting to be prepared for “someone special”.
“I’m cooking tonight, I love cooking. She loves crab,” Jamie says. He won’t share more on his lover, but now that he’s got more time on his hands, he hopes to cook up a storm for his special friend.
With a lot of experience under his belt, the award-winning actor believes in sharing his knowledge. That is why Jamie hosts a masterclass at The Finishing College, an accredited private college in Bramley, Joburg.
“I teach other actors and corporates confidence, things like being comfortable in your own skin, how to make your presence be felt, how to speak with a smile in your voice. “That’s where I want to be right now.” It’s a far cry from the long hours working on set. However, I am going to miss playing diabolical David. Jamie was so familiar to the character he’d sometimes tell the scriptwriters “no, he would never do that”. He knew David inside out.
“As an actor, you need to play for a five-year-old girl and the 85-year-old gogo sitting next to her controlling the TV. They must be all connected to you, hate you, love you. You must have an impact on both the gogo and that child, in the same room,” he says
“In order to do that, you need to sound genuinely honest. They must believe what you are doing.” He’s going to miss his Rhythm City family and the fans he made on the soapie, which is broadcasted across 22 countries in Africa. Whenever he stepped out in public, Jamie says, people lined up to take selfies with him.
“There would be so many every day. Every traffic light, and even at roadblocks every cop lady would say, ‘Hello, David’.
“I think some people assume that you dial your performance from out of space. Meanwhile, Jamie Bartlett is a normal suburban guy who does what everybody does.” But for fans of the bald TV star, he will always be regarded as devilish David who sizzled up their screens every weekday.