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When going gangsta is an act

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to Farakhan (Brendon Daniels)

Kenneth Klemens

Actor Brendon Daniels, soon to be seen in locally shot prison gang feature film, Four Corners, recently won a Fleur du Cap award for best actor in a drama for theatre production Rooiland and will also be in Donovan Marsh's film, Number Number.

WHEN we meet, actor Brendon Daniels dives right in and starts to talk about how Four Corners has been pirated, and probably watched by more people than those who saw him on stage in Rooiland or Balbesit or all the tv work he has ever done.

It is both flattering and demoralising knowing so many people have seen him in the lead role of Farakhan, the 28 gangster trying to get out of the gang life in Ian Gabriels’s Four Corners, yet the film only releases on circuit tomorrow.

“I cannot complain because of the exposure I’ve got so far, but it hurts the business,” he said.

Last week the 41-year-old picked up the Fleur du Cap Award for Best Actor in a Drama for his geharde gangster charac- ter in Jaco Bouwer’s Rooiland. In Four Corners he plays a gangster again and in Donovan Marsh’s forthcoming iNumber Number, he also plays a fish-out- of-water Cape Town gangster.

“I don’t know why my interest is piqued by these characters, I’m very interested in the psychology behind it all,” Daniels said.

They are all born, supposedly loved and grow up as kids, not hating, but, equipping themselves with the ability to conduct themselves in a violent fashion if need be.

“What I’ve discovered when I speak to them is they don’t deal well with emotional stuff, instead they’d rather go there physically, violence is easier.”

While he grew up in Elsies Rivier and went to school in Kleinvlei, sharing a classroom with children from exactly the broken environment littered with absent fathers described in the film, his reality was slightly different.

Surrounded by positive role models in the form of uncles, a stepfather and grandfather, he ended up making very different choices to his peers.

Matriculating in 1991, “it just seemed like doors opened and suddenly it was no longer the standard policeman or army or nurse”.

It also helped that he realised he could make a living from performing, something he had been interested in courtesy of poetry performances, eisteddfods and church productions.

His first paying gig was as an extra with karate experience on an Angelo Gobatto-directed version of Il Trovatore in 1992: “You were either the seventh soldier from the right and or/a rebel, and a prisoner, but it was quite awesome.

“Also, what struck me most in that production were Virginia Davids and Sidwell Hartman.

“I didn’t know who they were, I’d never been exposed to opera, but I was more fascinated by these two cats singing in Italian en hulle was van Kensington.”

Next he found out about casting agencies, landed advertising work, and a first theatre gig was Ladies’ Night (a Full Monty type story). More plays led to meeting Marthinus Basson, then Jaco Bouwer, and eventually Rooiland.

Daniels was happy about the Cape Town Baxter Theatre run, because it felt like they hit the target audience, but has reservations about repeating it.

“It was just a dark place to go to and the timing of the Market Theatre (in Joburg) run made it easy to turn it down because there was so much happening, but I don’t think I ever want to play that character again. I think it will be by far the most intense thing I will ever play.”

Taking part in Woordfees earlier this month, he was blown away by the rapturous response he received at a stadium gig, until he realised the people were seeing him as Farakhan the gangster, rather than Brendon Daniels, the actor.

“It was awesome”, but also somewhat intimidating for how people found his life’s path to be inspiring, as they see him as a rehabilitated prisoner.

He rates Four Corners as important for showing the coloured experience without descending into stereotype or ignoring context: “In the heightened reality of a film it is important to show the challenges these kids face.”

While Daniels doesn’t feel the need to know where his ancestors come from to give him a sense of identity or make him com- fortable with what he wants to achieve in life, he has come to understand the value of ritual.

He references Johnny Steinberg talking about various South African cultural rituals for the passage to manhood in The Number to highlight how coloured people do not engage in specific rituals: “Jou pa vat jou nie om te gaan jag nie.”

“There is no rite of passage, but somehow you need to grow up and in a lot of cases the Numbers gangs provide just that on the Cape Flats. Or at least, that’s how it’s built up.

“Is it so different from… when the government called up white males to do their duty and fight a war? The mythological build-up around that indoctrination, it came down to the same thing, it’s just our wars are waged within our communities.”

He agrees the movie shows a high degree of violence, but was more fascinated by the Sabela language used in prison scenes.

“That first scene in prison, do you really need to understand, or can you just look at the visuals?

“There’s some sort of ritual going on and that was interesting because I don’t think that ritual has been captured in any way… So, it was quite something, going there. But at no stage are we, me too, any wiser about the goings on in the Number (prison gang culture) gang.”

 

• Four Corners opens tomorrow. iNumber Number opens on April 25.

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