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Ty Keogh: homeward bound

For Ty Keogh, 2013 is a year of change. He’s seen the sun set on M-Net series ‘The Wild’. He’s said goodbye to Jack van Reenen, the character he played for two years. He’s moved back to Cape Town. He’s returned to the world of film production. He’s cleansed his life.

“When I finished ‘The Wild’ and left Johannesburg, I went through a purge period where I got rid of everything that wasn’t completely necessary in my life – a lot of clothes, magazines and books, and stuff I didn’t really need,” the 31-year-old reveals.

“I decided that I need to live a simpler, more manageable life because I felt as if my life was out of control. And I managed to succeed mostly.”

Even if he’s working harder now.

“It’s been an interesting adjustment, because I think I got very comfortable in front of the camera and suddenly I was back behind it, doing some hard work,” he chuckles from his office at a boutique film production company, a four-day ad shoot looming. “But I’m enjoying it, I really am. I’m learning a lot.

“Unfortunately in this country, if you’re not on a daily soapie, it’s near impossible to make a decent living as an actor. So this is a fantastic opportunity for me to make a living and still carry on working in the industry I enjoy working in.”

It’s an industry he’s worked in since the age of 13.

“I was pretty much born on a set – I’m not even joking,” laughs the son of actor Danny Keogh and producer Debbie Cornell. “My mother was heavily pregnant with a film shoot with my father and I think I was born within days of wrapping on the feature.”

As a teenager, he started out as a runner on one of his mother’s commercial sets during the school holidays, before moving on to other production jobs – scenic set painter, set builder, animal wrangler – and eventually art director.

“It didn’t ever cross my mind that I wouldn’t be in the film industry – not once,” he says. “I’ve always felt more comfortable on set than I’ve felt at any party, or any office environment, or anything of the like. Those are my people, that’s my natural state of being is on set.”

By 16, he’d stepped in front of the camera too, appearing in local and international TV commercials, and within five years landed his first major movie spot – in the Vinnie Jones vehicle ‘Blast’. Roles in short films and TV series (including the harrowing HBO war drama ‘Generation Kill’) were interspersed with parts in Hollywood productions like Leonardo DiCaprio’s gritty ‘Blood Diamond’, and a stint in London.

But he’s most often recognised as Jack, the tough head ranger of ‘The Wild’. Initially a six-month supporting part that blossomed into a lead, it helped Ty hone his on-camera skills. “I learnt a lot about acting,” he confesses, “because I went in very green, as they say, and was thrown in the deep end.

“And I learnt a lot about myself – how far I can push myself, what may seem impossible at first, what I actually can accomplish.”

What he’s also accomplished is carve out a successful modelling career, despite an initial reluctance.

“It’s something that I’ve never felt completely comfortable doing,” he says with his typically disarming honesty. “I’ve got respect for the guys who do it well, because it requires a lot of patience and I’m not necessarily the most patient person, having control and poise and all that. Put me in front of a camera that moves and I can actually bring some personality to it with my voice, my posture, and body language. I’m much better playing a character than playing myself – I’m a lot more comfortable in character than out of character.”

And comfort definitely comes into play when picking his personal wardrobe.

“I don’t really follow trends – I’ve never been much of a trend-setter or -follower. My everyday style is predominantly casual. I work in a casual environment – if you wear a suit to set, it’s completely impractical and incredibly uncomfortable – so I wear clothing that’s functional,” he explains. “I do have a couple of staples: I love denim, I’ve always had a thing  for good denim, so I’ve got way too many pairs of jeans and I love sneakers so I’ve got a collection of slightly crazy sneakers,” he grins.

His preferred formal look is more classic – think a black, blue, or grey suit paired with a white shirt.

“I keep it really simple and I think that way your style remains timeless. The second you start mixing crazy patterns and insane colours, you’ll end up looking at your photographs in three years’ time and going: ‘What was I thinking?’

“Give me clean lines and a sleek, clean cut and I’m happy,” he adds – which explains why he loved his wardrobe for the cover shoot, especially the Fabiani suit (“the fit was perfect”) and blue Markhams jacket (“it’s great because it can be dressed up or down”).

That appreciation of aesthetics extends beyond fashion – to art and furniture – thanks to his art director stepfather (“our house was almost like a museum collectibles shop”) and his own work in set art departments.

“I just got into it because it was my job and it all just made sense – and I’ve never really been able to shake that appreciation for colour and form. Furniture is practical and beautiful – it’s practical art that we live with every single day, so why shouldn’t it be attractive?” asks the avid woodworker – yet another skill developed on film sets.

His prized possession is an antique haberdashery counter from the 1940s – all brass and wood and glass – even though it’s now in storage, too big for the new apartment he shares with long-term girlfriend, presenter/model/former Miss SA, Nicole Flint. (His secret to their successful relationship: “If you’re wrong, admit it, and always bring chocolate.”)

With his diverse skills and interests – also a keen cook who makes mean ribeye steak – Ty admits he’s occasionally thought of leaving the film world behind – albeit briefly.

“I’ve had some pretty low moments over the years where I’ve become despondent or discouraged by the industry, but soon I felt the inkling to head back. In fact, it was more than an inkling, it was like an urge,” he explains.

That urge is strongest for acting – despite the career’s uncertainty and his father’s continued suggestions that he find a more secure job.

“I get the biggest thrill out of acting, more so than any other job or position I’ve ever held in the industry,” he reasons. “Acting is the one thing that really just clicked for me. I never felt like I was working – I was having fun and getting paid to do it, which was phenomenal.”

Despite his good times on ‘The Wild’ (“I met and worked with some great cast and crew on an incredibly beautiful piece of land”), he’d prefer to stay away from soaps. “I’d love to do a great feature and some strong TV work, but for the time being I’m more than busy enough behind the scenes.”

Looking ahead he hopes to be running a successful production company, being able to choose the acting parts he wants to do, and ultimately directing.

So, based on how much he’s already achieved, 2013 clearly won’t be Ty Keogh’s last year of change.

  • This article originally appeared in Man, the men’s lifestyle magazine of the Foschini group. (Image: Morne van Zyl)

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