From acting fame to humble taxi cab, Frank Rautenbach shares why life’s disappointments puts things into perspective
As a lead actor in The Bang Bang Club and Faith Like Potatoes, Frank Rautenbach appears every bit the wealthy artisan of his Hollywood fraternity, but a conversation with him will instead reveal a man who now feels no shame in being a humble taxi driver.
"It's amazing", the 42-year-old screen veteran says about his new workplace, which he fondly names "the counsel cab".
"Do you know how many broken-hearted people live in Los Angeles? I've had people in my car who are multi-millionaires, and they have so much shame that they can't see straight."
Movie success was more happy accident than intentional for Frank but this did not stop him from feeling worthless when it ended.
"I was a slave to my career and I didn't even know it," he honestly confesses.
"I thought that because I was good – keeping God's rules – I was doing well in my career." What he had not realised, he says, was "I wanted heaven a lot, but not God".
Frank's accidental fame in South Africa began while modelling and filming commercials to pay off his economics degree. A global Mentos TV commercial in 1994 that ran for four years thrust him into the spotlight and paid for his degree and wedding to Leigh in 1996.
Upon scoring a lead role in an Afrikaans TV drama Swende Iaan in 2000 and a record with Sony BMG, Frank explains, "[The fame] got so silly that I would be paid more than one TV episode to appear at birthday parties."
He then starred in a Sony-backed biopic Faith Like Potatoes about South African potato farmer and Christian evangelist Angus Buchan, which was viewed by over 120 million people.
“I was a slave to my career and I didn’t even know it”
Following this dramatic success and a move from Johannesburg to Los Angeles, the storms of life would pierce Frank's 'be good to do good' formula.
The makers of Faith Like Potatoes cast him as South African cricketer Hansie Cronje in another biopic with a million dollar budget. A series of budget and cinema release mistakes resulted in a single pay-cheque three years later, just a third of what he expected.
Another promising role came in 2010 when he was cast in a big-budget Hollywood film The Bang Bang Club as one of four South African photographers during the 1994 South African Apartheid riots. Again, his pay-check was barely enough to pay living expenses.
When a top Hollywood agency offered to represent Frank, he drove 10,000km to auditions and invested in further acting training, but did not find a single gig.
Instead tragedy seemed to surround him with multiple deaths in the family, and he and his wife were childless after 12 years and four miscarriages.
By this time Faith like Potatoes was so successful that Sony floated a follow-up but, when this did not eventuate, Frank was crushed.
Early one morning in November 2011, he felt a severe dread that his career was at its natural end in his 40s.
Frank began praying to the God he had first trusted in at age 18, saying, "I have loved you and obeyed you, but after 20 years I have no evidence you have been here."
"I had very conveniently forgot that I was still breathing, had a healthy body and had food and running water," Frank adds.
"I then read from the Bible, 'If God did not spare His own Son (Jesus) in whom He was well pleased from the wilderness, why do you think He will spare you?'"
As he kept reading and praying, weeks later it became clear that God was teaching him that he worshipped his career above all. He quotes from a book by Tim Keller, "An idol is whatever you look at and say 'If I have that...then I'll know I have value and I'll feel significant."
"I started realising," Frank says, "that when we want anything more than we want God, that thing becomes your god and you will be controlled by that thing like you cannot believe."
He still felt angry that Angus Buchan's life was taking off while the movie had "done nothing" for his career but his mindset changed when a bank teller shared that many people had been drawn to God after they screened the film at church.
"I realised God was speaking to me, saying, 'You have so much value. I can use you even when you're not there. It's not what you've done that's given you value – I am giving you value.' It was incredible!"
Frank says he then realised how God can work any circumstance for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
His final conclusion is that chasing things, work or relationships apart from God "will not satisfy you."
"Even when you get it, that thing will only reveal the size of the thirst you've had all along," Frank explains.
Quoting from 15th Century theologian Thomas Cranmer, Frank says: "God's love takes us on journeys we do not wish to go, makes us travel by roads we do not wish to use, to take us to places we never wish to leave."
"God loves you and He is willing to wrestle and fight for your heart like you cannot believe!" •