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From malice to Mandela

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TO jamie bartlett


POWERFUL THREAT: Jamie Bartlett, left, sheds more light on why Siyabonga Twalas character, DH Radebe, below, is a thorn in his characters side in e.tvs Rhythm City.

It’s been a delightfully busy year for Jamie Bartlett, better known as Rhythm City’s resident badass, David Genaro. Aside from Nothing for Mahala, he played a crucial supporting role in Justin Chadwick’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and was heaped with praise for his stage offering, Death of a Colonialist. In an interview with this inimitable actor, Debashine Thangevelo also learnt that Siyabonga Twala has joined the soap and his character spells serious trouble for Genaro.


JAMIE Bartlett has always been a tour de force in the acting arena. His trail-blazing career includes working with Hollywood heavyweights like director Tom Hooper, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Hilary Swank in Red Dust; Angelina Jolie in Beyond Borders as well as Michael Dudikoff and Steve James in American Ninja 2.

More recently, it was with director Justin Chadwick, Idris Elba and Naomi Harris in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, in which he was cast as Sergeant James Gregory.

We caught up for drinks several hours before the sad news of Nelson Mandela’s passing.

Chatting about his role opposite Elba, who played Madiba, he says: “What I really tried was to follow an arc with my character. When he meets Mandela, he is an enemy of the state. James is assigned to him as an ordinary beige worker of the state. He is an Englishman and a Xhosa-speaking man – that is how he got the assignment. And during the journey of Mandela’s incarceration – from the island (Robben Island) to Pollsmoor to Victor Verster – he never left him.”

TO siyabonga twala

Bartlett says Mandela and James shared a bond, with both having lost a child in a car accident.

“Although he was still in the employ of the state when Mandela left arm-in-arm with Winnie in that famous shot of Victor Verster, he remained and watched as Mandela walked as the most iconic politician that, probably, history will ever see.”

Bartlett continues: “This relationship with Mandela is a small one. I tried to work on an arc of a man indelibly changed by his relationship with Mandela over a long period of time. He is incredibly sympathetic to Mandela’s cause and was more than a little helpful in bending the rules of the state in terms of what Mandela was allowed to hear and see.”

Understanding the enormity of the role and pressures for Elba, Bartlett says: “I was quite impressed. He got some traction. I was very blown away. I think (Naomi) Harris was good and I especially loved watching brilliant South Africans like Lindiwe Matshikiza, who played Mandela’s daughter. The South African speaking parts were so underscored and so real; there was no caricature work.

“If I was a betting man, I would say it (the movie) stands a high chance of bagging a (Oscar) nomination!”

Back to Rhythm City, a soap that he has been starring in for almost seven years. He says: “I try to take some time off. It gives the writers some opportunity to arc me out and then to steep-arc me in and get big traction on a story.”

With much changing for Genaro, especially with him now being a dad, he reveals: “I’m running interesting stories about his absolute paranoia at the moment. There is a lot of comic opportunity between him and the baby. He has waited so long for his heir. Here he is, now, a pathetic, pedantic and over-protective dad. There is a lot of comedy and cuteness.”

While romance and Genaro cannot exactly be used in the same sentence – him wooing someone is really quite laughable, he jokes: “Not that I was influenced by Fifty Shades of Grey.”

But there is someone who captures his eye next year, I’m told.

Now his clout as a villain is diminished without a formidable rival. That’s where Siyabonga Twala’s character, DH Radebe, enters the frame.

Bartlett reveals: “It is evident to me, since last year, that the creative team have wanted to put David under a lot of pressure. He was beaten by the BK group, his life was under threat, he had his company taken away.”

And now he has a new thorn in his side.

“I have never worked with Siyabonga before, either on stage or television. I don’t think he does much film. This character, I think the writers of Rhythm City love to work with that ‘DH’ – I think in their minds, it stood for dark horse. You know what I mean…

“And he (Twala) is an incredibly dark horse that becomes the most dangerous encounter David has ever had. He really pushed David’s buttons and he actually beats him (another one of the writers’ fascinations),” he shares.

In the meantime, Bartlett is also looking forward to his play, Death of a Colonialist, which cleaned up at the Naledi Theatre Awards, enjoying a run at The Baxter Theatre in Cape Town. It has already shown twice at The Market Theatre and the Grahamstown National Arts Festival.

Of his character, he says: “He has this grey hair and a huge, grey beard. As an actor, you are exposing yourself a lot emotionally and physically – it is full on. That last time I did it, I lost 16kg – that is the kind of assault, the emotional accident that the play is.”

And it is this kind of inten- sity that has become Bartlett’s signature. He is an actor with gravitas and, as such, someone who commands respect!


• Rhythm City airs on weekdays on e.tv at 6.30pm.

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