Pretoria-born Shaun Smit and his gold hot-pants have been impressing theatre audiences in the newest smash-hit production of The Rocky Horror Show since July last year.
The gorgeous, talented and smart young actor is not only making a name for himself on stage but also recently signed a modelling contract with a model management firm in Milan, Italy to model abroad (yes, we’re also wondering what took them so long).
Unlike many of his colleagues in the South African entertainment world, Shaun is an openly and proudly gay man (yay!). He spoke to Mambaonline about the Rocky Horror experience, his recent coming out on his YouTube blog, being bullied and what it takes to keep that oh-so-ripped body in tip-top shape.
Was it a childhood dream to be in entertainment? When did it first occur to you?
Since I was six years old, when I entered my first singing competition. I fell in and out of love with other things like rugby and other sports, but my love for performing never seemed to go away.
Do you think you have an exhibitionistic streak? Do you like being in the limelight?
I’m very comfortable in my own skin, and had to accept every single part of me. If you don’t do that before you hit the industry, you will not have the strength to carry on when judgement is thrown in your direction. The limelight can be a great place, but one doesn’t realise that it’s not always an easy thing – you have to look your best every time to you go out your front door. That being said, I haven’t had any extreme experiences where I’ve felt like someone well-known.
At what age did you come out? Was it a difficult or easy experience?
I only came out in December 2013. It’s still very raw. My experience is a bit of both – I’m receiving great support from all my friends, but things with my family are still quite complicated, yet I know everything will get better in time. I’m a very optimistic person.
Well, we’re totally proud of you! What about school? What kind of kid were you and how did you deal with being gay?
I went to Afrikaans schools where gay kids were bullied. I was very much in the closet and dating the nicest, most beautiful girls in school. There were guys who did not like me receiving all this attention, and who yelled “faggot” and “gay ass” at me. Back then it really hurt me. But if I think about it now, I can just laugh, it’s like me shouting “you straight boy” at someone; it’s just the truth, not an insult at all. The reason why I didn’t come out in high school was because I hadn’t accepted myself back then. I remember telling myself, “If you ever had to kiss a guy, you have to kill yourself after that.” It wasn’t an easy journey for me as I was raised in a home and society where being gay is just completely wrong and unacceptable. One can only go on for so long pretending to be something you’re not, so I closed my eyes and opened the closet door a few years later.
What’s it like kissing Brendan van Rhyn (who plays Dr Frank-N-Furter) on stage every night?
Brendan is a dream to work with. He knows exactly what he’s doing on stage and always makes me feel secure acting with him. At first it was difficult for me to kiss guys on stage, but with someone as professional as Brendan, it’s a breeze.
Do you ever feel self conscious wearing that skimpy gold costume?
No, not at all. If you hold back one second, you will look ridiculous. I get into the right mindset before I go on stage, and then there’s no holding back. At least it’s not “Shaun”, it’s “Rocky”. Well, that’s what I tell myself to make myself feel better about it… [Laughs]
Seeing as you’re just about naked on stage for Rocky, would you ever consider doing an all-nude scene for a role?
I have my boundaries, what I feel comfortable doing – and being fully naked is not part of that. Underwear is where I draw the line.
Damn! Do you think that your modelling career has led people to underestimate you or not take you seriously as an actor?
No I don’t think so; I’ve been acting for much longer than I’ve been modelling. I’m also not someone who allows critics, the media or anyone else to get me down or define who I am.
Were you always an athletic child and how did that banging body come about?
I’ve been doing sports 24/7 since I was six years old, so keeping healthy and fit has always been a huge part of my daily life.
What kind of gym routine does it take to stay in “Rocky shape?”
I get lots of cardio from the actual show; being on-stage dancing every night is a great workout. Then I visit the gym, about four times a week, just to maintain muscle and not get too lean.
What led you to start making your own video blog? What’s the response been like?
Honestly, I was just bored and I really enjoy editing videos. I’ve recently reached the 1000 subscribers mark on my YouTube channel; it’s not a lot, but it’s a great start – the optimist in me coming out!
Why did you decide to be so open about your sexuality when so many other performers or public figures in SA choose to stay in the closet?
I can be impulsive sometimes, and I was just over hiding who I really am and people gossiping and asking questions, so I thought, what the heck, make a video and post it on YouTube. I haven’t regretted it ever since. I now know who my true friends are. I’ve lost many friends, yet gained so many great friends. I’m also much closer now with some of my friends who didn’t know before.
In the US, so many celebrities have come out lately. Why do you think that hasn’t happened here in SA?
I’ve received a lot of my courage to come out from Americans. My favourite couple from the USA, Ethan Hethcote and Mark Miller, make weekly videos together on YouTube and I’ve been in contact with them to meet up when they visit South Africa. I don’t think the South African public is as open as in the US. It’s a difficult situation which I’m not always sure how to handle. Most SA celebrities who are in the closet think – in my experience – that it’s safer to be in the closet and that their fans will reject them if they have to come out. Now, I completely understand that, but that’s another reason why I chose to come out early in my career, so that people know this about me the moment they hear about me.
Do you think being openly gay has ever affected your career?
Yes, but only in a good way. People respect me for being myself and still being in the industry and not being afraid to take on the same roles as the straight guys. I haven’t received any negative energy from producers about me being so open about my sexuality.
What’s the Rocky Horror experience been like? Did you expect to be doing the part for such a long time?
Crazy and amazing! And no, not in my wildest dreams.
What have been the worst and the best parts of doing the show?
Worst: I only have a Speedo on during winter. Best: I only have a Speedo on during summer. [Laughs]
What did you learn from being part of such a successful show?
I have learnt so much, wow! I will never be able to put it all in words. It’s taught me about being free, being you, letting go, dreaming big, perseverance, stamina, trusting people, not judging people and to enjoy life every day. I’m still a guy who’s growing up and has so much to learn…
What would Shaun Smit like to be doing in five years time?
You’ll have to wait and see, but I’m working day in and out; busy with new projects and new ideas for the future.
Bar/Club: As long as I’m with my friends, I’m happy.
Holiday spot: Seychelles
Pet/s: Doggies; Miniature Schnauzer
City: Cape Town
Fashion designer: Donatella Versace
Actor: Johnny Depp
Pop icon: Rihanna
Catch Shaun in the Rocky Horror Show at The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town until 2 November and in Joburg from 14 November to 1 February 2015. Check out his YouTube video blog here.