SA actor plays Pitt’s point-man

Movies & Theatre

You may have heard the whispers that “the zombie apocalypse is coming,” – and come it does. Watching World War Z will leave you groaning for the monsters to leave your head. The zombies are fast, furious and in 3D. Give me sparkly vampires anyday.

Within minutes, deranged people are slamming themselves into car windows, munching on people with their mangled teeth and spreading a virus that sends the world into chaos.

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GOING VIRAL: Fana Mokoena in his authoritative role as Deputy General-Secretary Thierry Umutoni, shares screen-time with Brad Pitt in World War Z.HIGH ANXIETY: UN deputy secretary-general Mokoena in a scene from the film.

The film is high on tension, scary bogeymen and women who will chew you up at every turn. They run in packs, stopping at nothing.

The film, which opens in South Africa on Friday, stars Brad Pitt, whose long hair remains perfectly flat-ironed throughout the carnage. He stars as Gerry Lane, a former UN investigator who must locate the source of the zombie epidemic.

Lane and his family are rescued by the UN from a crumbling Philadelphia and taken to a naval ship. Enter homegrown star Fana Mokoena, who plays the role of Thierry Umutoni, Lane’s rescuer, ex-boss and friend.

He plays the UN’s deputy secretary-general, and is Lane’s lifeline and point-man during his mission.

The Good Weekend spoke to him this week, before World War Z’s release next Friday.

This is Mokoena’s second film with director Marc Forster, after 2011’s Machine Gun Preacher, which starred Gerard Butler.

“I have always been comfortable working with Marc – that’s why he considered me,” says Mokoena.

He describes World War Z as a “fantastic thriller with horror elements”.

“During talks with Brad and Marc I thought it was only going to be a clever piece with political overtones, but I was pleasantly surprised.”

While highly imaginative, the film realistically shows how countries would respond to a zombie apocalypse. For example, a brutal, yet effective approach by North Korea is described.

Mokoena says he based his character on former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and former president Thabo Mbeki.

“They have a worldly, educated outlook that comes across in their accents. But I also wanted to modernise him.”

Mokoena describes his character as “super-cool, chilled out and head driven”. I’m not sure how it’s possible to be chilled while deranged zombies teem the planet, feasting on human flesh.

Most of his scenes were shot on a naval vessel in the waters around the UK in 2011. Mokoena returned to the set at the end of last year, for a reshoot during which the film was majorly restructured.

Mokoena is well known to TV viewers, having had lead roles in popular series like Yizo Yizo, Generations and The Lab. Working with American actors proved to be a different experience for him.

“I am used to small, intimate productions. For them it’s very much about business and I found that very refreshing.”

He describes Mireille Enos, who play’s Gerry’s wife Karen, as friendly and chatty.

As for Pitt, Mokoena said: “He was interesting; professional but very human. I saw three sides to him: the producer, the actor, the normal guy. It was a real learning curve.”

Twitter: @WendylMartin

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