South African actor Jerry Mofokeng continues his badass reign on the small screen – this time as Bra Solly (aka Solomon Makhuba) in e.tv’s hugely popular daily drama Rhythm City. Debashine Thangevelo had an audience with him and found out why Denzel Washington didn’t impress him when they briefly worked together on Safe House, why he is so afraid of comedy and what else he has in the kitty…
THE sight of Jerry Mofokeng conjures up that “a-ha” moment for viewers. Having made an indelible impression in the shows 90 Plein Street, Justice for All, Yizo Yizo, Soul City, The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and Isidingo, to mention a few, and not forgetting his big screen impact in Cry, the Beloved Country and Tsotsi, Mofokeng has become a beloved face.
With several decades of experience, Mofokeng, who has a Master’s degree in theatre directing from Columbia University in the US, has cultivated a solid reputation for playing dodgy characters.
He laughs: “Those roles are the opposite of me. Listen, I have never been drunk in my life. I have not finished one cigarette. In my other life, I also do marriage counselling. To then get to play these characters is a feast for me.”
Before shooting his Rhythm City scenes in September and October, Mofokeng’s schedule was crammed with movie work.
He shares: “There is a film I shot in Cape Town called Four Corners, it’s a local one. Then there was another I shot with Denzel Washington [Safe House], but I was edited out.”
Why, I ask.
“Actually, I went down and shot two scenes with them,” the actor explains. “And then I was supposed to go back, but I couldn’t. So the story was incomplete and they just edited it out.”
As for his impressions of working with the Hollywood actor, Mofokeng shrugs: “Look, I have worked with other guys. He wasn’t the best, unfortunately.”
Four Corners is a coming-of-age thriller and he plays a father-figure type of character.
“Overall, the story is about gangsters in prison and outside. It is a real eye-opener without romanticising what goes on in that world. My little back story happens within that world.”
Getting back to his Rhythm City role as Bra Solly, Mofokeng reveals: “He is a survivor, simple and straightforward. Even saying he is conning people is an outside view of him. He finds ways of surviving, living and putting bread on the table. And if he can do it without killing or injuring anybody, he will do it.”
Most of Mofokeng’s storyline is with Siphiwe Mtshali (Bash) and Nolo Phiri (Nikki) – they play his “kids”. Basically, Bra Solly took them in when they were teenagers and raised them in a tsotsi lifestyle.
Now he is back in their lives – much older and weaker, suffering from lupus.
On his character throwing a spanner in the works for Bash and Nikki, he says: “Solly doesn’t want to give up authority over them. They are still my kids. I made them. When they want to stand up as young adults, I think I struggle with that. I will use my ways to get away with getting them to do what I want.
“I will do everything to hold Nikki to emotional ransom. When it comes to Bash, he wants to arm-wrestle with me. I will find my smart ways to continue to get him to not interfere with my ways.”
As for working with a new generation of actors, he says: “There is an actor I respect a lot – Sydney Poitier. He taught me that whenever you are on set and are the senior and most experienced, you must be generous with what you bring. And if the younger actors receive that, that is when magic happens. That is what happened with Nolo. Fortunately, I didn’t work with anyone who thinks they are a star. I have no time for people like that. People must learn to be artists before they are stars. It was great working with these two young people.”
While the writers wait to see how viewers take to Mofokeng’s character before deciding on Solly’s lifespan, he has been filming an SABC3-commissioned sitcom called Heaven Can Wait.
He laughs: “People have said: ‘You sound like Bill Cosby.’ I thought: ‘Here is an opportunity to test that.’ While I have found the sincerity of drama and have that nailed down, I’m afraid of comedy.”
With so much experience under his belt, Mofokeng only has to worry about clearing his schedule for more such roles. After all, he is a natural in front of the camera – and that’s no joke!
• Mofokeng is on Rhythm City, which airs on e.tv at 6.30pm on weekdays.