I’ve done my fair share of celebrity interviews over the years.
And you never know what kind of feedback you are going to get as some artists can be monosyllabic while others are so engaging that they leave an indelible impression. Buyile Mdladla is of the latter ilk.
Aside from being such a consummate professional, the passion with which he spoke about his role as Duke in eVOD’s 6th local series, “Mother of All’, was impressive.
He also revealed an innate understanding of how the technical aspects feed into the storytelling process.
The series centres on a faceoff between Nolwazi "Nono" Mathebula (Zenande Mfenyana), an ex-cop who has spent time behind bars. She returns to her daughter and mother and tries to assimilate to some kind of normalcy.
But it is easier said than done when her path crosses with that of the local gangster, Duke, and, to protect her loved ones, she raises hell with her all-women army of ex-convicts.
Mdladla was head-hunted for the role by director Zuko Ndada. In relaying the events that led to him agreeing to be part of the series.
He said: “This is one of the very few projects that I’ve ever been headhunted for. I normally audition and go for callbacks, chemistry tests and screen tests before I land a role.
“For this one, I got a call from the director, Zuko Ndada. I had done one episode of ‘Housekeepers’, which he directed a few months earlier.
“And he gave me a call out of the blue and said, my next project in September is in Durban and there is a role in it that you would be perfect for.
“And then he explained to me what the role was and what he expected from me and the conversation didn’t take more than five minutes and I was already jumping up and down…”
The seasoned actor pointed out that he wasn’t swayed at the start of the conversation. But then the director pointed out that he wasn’t your garden-variety criminal but an erudite gangster, it sealed the deal for him.
He added: “He (Duke) is smooth. He’s a cool cat and every bit the Renaissance man. He reads poetry, listens to classical music, collects art, is a connoisseur of whisky and expensive cigars and that kind of stuff.
“And that really made me think he is different from the other gangsters, hoodlums, thieves, killers and molesters that I have played.”
That being said, Mdladla expressed a yearning for a more altruistic role.
He laughed: “Please do me a favour, I get typecast a lot in these types of roles. So I’m always the villain who ends up going to jail or I’m dead. So in this article, tell the productions and directors I would like to, just once, play a character that helps a lady across the street.”
I joked that it is the cross he has to bear for being so convincing in such menacing roles and he agreed.
Interestingly, this is the first time he is working with Mfenyana but they met years before on the set of SABC1’s flagship soapie, “Generations”. He was shooting his exit scenes and she was just joining the show.
He admitted: “So this collaboration was a lot of fun and some journey. We both pushed each other in interesting ways and I believe I inspired her as much as she did me.
“It was actually fantastic and I don’t know if you know this but she was the last person to be cast in this because the person who had originally been cast could not make it.
“When I heard that she had been cast, I was so excited because I know that kind of actor she is and that she would grasp what the character is about and what she needs to do to deliver. And she did exactly that.”
His high praise of his co-star continued when he spoke of the plethora of fight scenes.
“It is something she had never done before and, without giving too much away, there are some scenes where she and I have a go at each other and it is quite hectic. And she really holds her own.
“We have stunt coordinators on set and they would take us through training and I was very much impressed by how she would apply herself; how she would just go all out. Sometimes you think, I should hold back because this is a lady after all.
“But she was like, ‘No come let’s go. We have to make it realistic as well’.”
With the series shot in Durban, a lot of actors from the city were cast in supporting roles. And Mdladla was blown away by some of them.
He shared: “The young man who plays my son, Irvine, he’s just amazing. The first time I met him, we had been asked to come for a photo shoot and he was sitting there and looking shy. I got a little bit concerned, considering how big his storyline is, that he might struggle to be this flamboyant, good-for-nothing spoilt brat.
“As soon as the camera started rolling, he just came alive, I was like wow, amazing. That is one person who really impressed me. His name is Linda Brian Khumalo.”
The actor continued: “I was also impressed with Lynn Nelisa Willem, who plays Fufu. I had never seen any of her work before. Also, just like Brian, she seemed very introverted but as soon as somebody called ‘action’, she just came alive. And I loved their sense of professionalism as well.”
For someone who has been in the industry for some time, it is clear that Mdladla takes his craft seriously. Not only that, he appreciates others who do the same.
And that is why he loved working with Ndada as well.
He explained: “Zuko is a lovely director. I love directors who let you, as an actor, express yourself. He would come tell you how he’s going to frame the scene.
“Before I even flew to Durban, he sent me a PowerPoint presentation of how he had conceptualised the whole thing and how he was going to frame his shots, the angles he was going to use for every single character and how he would like us to approach my character in terms of camera angles and framing, lighting, which I really appreciated as it gave me a chance to give my input.
“So it became a collaborative process that I really loved.”
Mdladla added: “Another thing I really liked is the storyline itself. It’s not just a narrative about a gangster who goes around killing people. It’s a very interesting story about crime and consequences, about people who punch above their weight and beat their odds.
“This group of female ex-convicts who have nowhere to go and get adopted by this middle-aged woman; she gives them the opportunity to reintegrate into society and, through that, they cross paths with Duke and that is where the story is.”
Before our chat ended, Mdladla revealed he was in Durban once again to film a Netflix offering. But that remained conversation for another time as he had to return to set.