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COVER: JENA DOVER

“THE GREAT THING ABOUT GROWING UP AND NOT BEING THE APPLE OF ANYONE’S EYE IS THAT YOU ARE FORCED TO DEVELOP YOUR CHARACTER. SO WHEN YOU BECOME OLDER AND MAYBE YOU DO BECOME ATTRACTIVE; NOT ONLY DO YOU GLOW FROM THE INSIDE BUT YOU GET TO FLOW FROM THE OUTSIDE TOO” – Jena Dover | Interview by Lwazi Hadebe | Art Director: Lawrence Manyapelo

Red hair occurs naturally on about 1–2% of the human population, occurs more frequently 2–6% in north or west European ancestry, and less frequently in other populations.

We remember her early on being the Kids TV presenter, now turned a model, actress and a Lawyer. It has been a long day for her but it appeared she knew exactly what she was getting herself into. Talks lead to her remarkable physique, childhood, hair and she opens up about being young and having to work. Lwazi sits down for a talk besides the pool with superwoman, Jena Dover. 

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“I’m really happy that I finally got to work with Previdar, it has been one of my bucket list things so I’m excited!”

Speaking of bucket lists, you were quoted saying you have lived a selfish life, and around your 20’s you already had a bucket list. Tell us about your early 20s? “My 20s were a moment for me to explore who I am and what it is that I want from life. While some of my friends from high school were off getting married and setting up families for themselves. I knew very early that is not what I want to do and that I had to get a bunch of stuff out of my system. I travelled a lot, lived in New York for 2 years. I came back and decided I want to be in movies, and then I was in some movies. I later then decided I’m going to be a Lawyer and then I became a lawyer. It sounds a little ridiculous – like a huge expense of energy, which it was but I needed to do it because I don’t want to have “what if” moments when I settle down”

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How was it like for you growing up as a ginger?
 “My story is no different from any other ginger story which is your childhood is a nightmare. It takes a while for a ginger to grow into their looks and I thank goodness everyday for the fashion industry because while I was being told that I was the Ugly Duckly or super different from anyone else I had the fashion industry and photographers and people on TV commercials telling me how extraordinary and different I was. So in a way, the entertainment industry saved my self-esteem and I think that’s why I’m able to sit here today and say I am fine! I am good! And I will make money out of this”

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How did you deal with the negative energy that you got?  “The great thing about growing up and not being the apple of anyone’s eye is that you are forced to develop your character. So when you become older and maybe you do become attractive; Not only will you glow from the inside but you get to glow from the outside too. I am grateful; I have a sense of humour, I can be sarcastic – I can be self deprecating; all of those qualities were developed during my formative years because I wasn’t focused on the external”

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Harry thruman had a quote and it’s a quote you’ve applied in your life. “If you can’t convince them, confuse them” how did you confuse the ones that didn’t get you?  “I think if you are not accepted you tend to transcend into the weirdness; you do funny things to get attention in a different way; maybe wear your hair a little differently, behave a little differently and that’s your way of generating attention. If people are disregarding you, you can always bring a little weirdness to the table – but I’m not saying that’s the only way of doing it! (laughs).”

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“Before corporate South Africa has its 1st cup of coffee, you are already on your way to your other job, after shooting at Sesani studios for Scandal” quoted from a publication. How were you able to handle it?  “I’ve always juggled my whole life. In fact, I feel weird if I do only one thing. For example; when I was in school I was on KTV, when I was doing my Law degree I was on Scandal. I’d literally shoot a scene – run to a lecture and drive back to the studio; shoot a scene and then run back to Wits. It was crazy but I love it, if anything my life is still as crazy because as I said, Before corporate South Africa has its 1st coffee I’ve already shot about 3 scenes for Rhythm city and by the time everyone is going to work I’m also in my car going to the Law firm. And that has been the consistent thread throughout my career”

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With the amount of work that you did it paid off, you suddenly had brands like Pantene and StudioW under your belt.  “Both of those campaigns were life changing for me not only from a lucrative point of view but internally because I had two classy brands who put a stamp of approval on me and I knew I was doing something right; I’m giving off the right image, I speak to the right consumer and for me those are the ultimate brands”

“With Pantene I was finally able to monetise out of my hair after being pulled down because of its colour throughout my childhood and suddenly there are people who said “here’s a big cheque for it, because you are the way you are. Looking back those are two huge highlights of my career.”

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You mentioned that with the right script you would work with ThabangMoleya one of your former colleague from KTV, which brings me to Gail Johnson; Nkosi Johnson’s mother. What about her that makes you want to play her character?
 – Gail was not just a straight laced charitable woman that people loved; she was no angel. She was criticised a lot for allegedly pushing Nkosi onto a public platform when he was really ill so she got a lot of back-lash from that and at the same time brought a lot of attention to a course that at the time needed it in this country. Nobody usually wants to play a two dimensional character and she is much more layered, much more interesting and darker than people will probably appreciate.

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How were you be able to get this right?  – “id have to read the book again and spend some time with her which is my call out to you Gail (laughs)”
You’ve met Nelson Mandela also, how was that like for you? “It’s unbelievable and anyone who’s met him will probably share the same story. I met him at a time when he was very strong, he was still the president, energetic, ‘very tall’ which is something I don’t think a lot of people knew about. He had an aura about him that would cut through you and not many people have that. You could feel him when he was near or in the vicinity. On the same day I met Naomi Campbell as you know they were close. I had to look twice when I met her because I didn’t know it was Naomi the supermodel. She was in flats with no make-up; she didn’t realise that the press was going to follow her around. But you could tell that once that woman puts a stitch of make-up and some heels, she was going to blow you away.\

JENA-DOVER-ON-PREVIDAR-19You got to interview Adam Sandler in New York, tell me about the experience. “He’s weird; he wasn’t the easiest to interview. He was surrounded by monopoly money, half way through the interview he offered me some cash and I thought it was real I don’t know why he did that. Overall it wasn’t a coherent interview; it wasn’t one of my best”

JENA-DOVER-ON-PREVIDAR-20 We talked about Nelson Mandela who is a father figure to the whole world and that brings me to your father. Your relationship with him; was it good? “I haven’t spoken about this in any media platform. It was difficult. My father was very strict; he wanted the best for me, to a point where it was a bit hard. He passed away and we didn’t have a good relationship towards the end and I would say it was complicated. When you are a child actor there are times where you harbour a little resentment towards your parents for that. Yes I am grateful I was on kid television at a young age and I’m grateful for all the opportunities it came with  but there are parts of me that harbour a little bit of resentment because I worked really hard at a time where I was a child and as a child you shouldn’t have to. My father wasn’t happy with the fact that I wanted to study Law with that I always end up thinking he was living his life through me. I think he felt he should have been a star or just somewhere in the entertainment industry. Over and above, I know he was proud of me.

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Still on father figures we’re going to talk about George Hamilton; Pets to the rescue, how was it like working with him? “He is amazing, very kind. I remember I had to take time off school to shoot. He pulled pranks on me on set, I enjoyed shooting with him”
You then got a role in the movie Safe House starring Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington and you went to LA to shoot at Paramount. Take me through the experience. “It was an exceptional experience, the most money you can throw at any project. It had the biggest stars on the planet, one of the most talented directors on it. They don’t have one camera man to take a shot and you have to do reversals, they have got 8 cameramen working at the same time taking the shot. Not that it their first job, but they start to mention big films like The Da Vinci code and you draw a conclusion that they are the best in the business. It was luxurious filmmaking. You know about the stature of the movie by looking at the craft services table; any colour of M & M’s you wanted, any pastry, anything you wanted to nibble on was there. You pretty much had men fanning you when you sat down after a take, I had my own trailer it was ridiculous (laughs), luxurious filmmaking!

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Has it always been your dream to tap into the Hollywood crowd? “No, I don’t have “the dream” to go overseas and crack it big; I’ve never had that dream. I’m happy with anyone on set and working and grateful every time someone approaches me and I will never change that attitude because I was brought up in an old school, Naspers/Mnet background which is: humility first before anything. I remember we weren’t even allowed to wear sunglasses in public because it would “cut us off from the fan base”.
There was a time when you were silent; it was after Scandal and before Rhythm city, recently. Why the decision to go silent? “I was approached by a number of TV shows to do a lifestyle TV show, I turned it down to pursue my articles and finish with my law degree, tough decision but I don’t regret it at all. Because I’ve been in the business so long I think it’s okay for me to step back sometimes and go reinvent myself. This is what I do from time, to time. I did it between the ages of 17 and 21 and I did it again between the ages of 25 and 27.

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Going back to New York, Wasn’t it dangerous going to travel alone at such an age? Leaving everything behind and going to the big apple?  “When you’re at that age you have to do it because you think you’re that invincible. I moved to New York at 18. My mother came and flew with me, when we got there, she came back then I explored the city and I was all alone. I handled it, because I had to and anyone else would. What else are you going to do? (laughs)
I figured out the subway system within a day, I shared apartments with people that were crazy. It was one of the most fundamental times of my life because it was growth, away from the limelight and it was a struggle; the city kicked my butt. But I’m forever in love with it. It is the only place, without a beach, that when you go to you come back refreshed. New York happens to you.

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Would you say New York is exactly what you think it is? “Yes, if you go there hoping to learn you will, it is the only place without the beach, that leaves you refreshed – New York happens to you.”
Going back to your KTV days for a second, you worked with Roxy Burger and PabiMoloi, how is it like when you meet them, do you talk about the old days? – of course we do, and we’ve grown so much, Roxy is married, I can’t even believe it we were kids and now she’s walked down the aisle. Pabi, for me is a Goddess, she is relaxed, capable and confident in what she offers and I know Previdar loves her a lot. For me she is a gift and the future. I’m really proud of those women because I’ve been with them every step of the way.
Jena is a bit of a feminist, working on a collaborative project with her Cape Town friend; a series of interviews to empower women she goes on to say “I feel women are lost, like we don’t know what we’re allowed to think. For example, yes you want to be independent but are you allowed to want marriage? Is that something you’re supposed to want? Are you bad because you want marriage? Are you bad because you want to be independent? So I would want to interview women who have sort of walked the road to find out how they handle their personal lives.”

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