In the same way that Hollywood has given birth to some of the most iconic female characters with How to Get Away with Murder, The Good Wife and The Catch, Ferguson Films are doing the same with their first telenovela, The Queen.
Who better than Connie Ferguson, one of South Africa’s most respected actresses, to helm this series?
She steps into the power-wielding role of Harriet Khoza.
In an EXCLUSIVE chat with Tonight, she said: “The Queen is our (Ferguson Films) first telenovela. So far we have only done drama – Rockville, Igazi and two movies. As an actress, it is my first telenovela, too.”
Shedding light on her character, she notes: “In essence, it is about this woman who is married to this super-rich guy, who is a drug lord. She is a kept wife. But she knows exactly what her husband does and is involved from out of sight.”
Her status quo as a sort-of silent partner changes when her husband dies and she has to step up to the plate.
Ferguson reveals: “She has to step into an environment that is testosterone-fuelled. So it’s basically a story about this woman’s rise to power.”
On the show contributing to the transformation of South Africa’s TV landscape, she shares: “For the longest time, the leading characters in the TV world have been men. You would have strong females as a by-the-way lead, supporting them. Women are becoming more recognised as leading ladies as well. I see it happening a lot more in South Africa and that is what The Queen is about.”
Now aside from slipping into this role, Ferguson also wears the hats of creator and executive producer with husband, Shona.
She enlightens: “Shona and I developed this story with the writers. We are involved from the brain-storming session to pitching to the channels. Obviously, Shona had a lot more time to do all the meetings as I wasn’t able to. But I’m now done with Generations – The Legacy and full-time on The Queen.
“We love what we do and are passionate about it. But it is a tough role to step into. You have people whom you answer to and there are people who answer to you. It kind of feels like you are the middle person.”
What makes this dynamic husband-and-wife filmmaking team a force to be reckoned with is how they balance each other out.
She points out: “I have a maternal leading style. Sometimes, when I have to put my foot down, the mum goes out the window for a little bit. Besides, damage control is what women do better than men (laughs).”
Aside from his work ethic and being a perfectionist when it comes to their production house, Shona also works very well with people.
Although they are still getting used to working on a telenovela – especially with 208 episodes commissioned – she says they are finding their feet in the genre.
Ferguson reveals that Igazi, which trended on social media and had viewers glued to their screens on Sunday nights, was, like most of their undertakings, borne out of their brain- storming sessions.
She explains: “When we start with one show, we end up coming up with so many ideas that it results in another show. With Igazi, we wanted it to be relatable, not historical. So we fictionalised a lot of things. It had a lot of mystery and witchcraft.”
The veteran actress points out that her and her husband’s fascination with shows and movies around King Arthur and Merlin also informed the show and the entertainment value they wanted it to have.
When it comes to the casting, Shona is very hands-on. She reveals that “chemistry” is always crucial.
For The Queen, they have the country’s crème de la crème on board: Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, Mara Louw, Slindile Nodangala, Dineo Moeketsi and Loyiso MacDonald. Ferguson says: “Mara plays a has-been singer. She is a big personality and Mara brings it across so well. Shona plays a cop, but in a way he’s never done before. He’s not a rich guy. He has a tainted relationship with his son and his daughter tries to be the peace keeper. How that works is another story…”
An actress to look out for is Natasha Thahane, previously seen on Skeem Saam.
Besides Connie currently starring as Karabo Moroka and Mavis Mabaso on TV, she is excited about the introduction of Harriet.
She laughs: “I will be the first to admit she intimidates the crap out of me. She is a lot more hard-core. She doesn’t mince her words. And when she is upset, being polite is the last thing on her mind.”
In the meantime, her Rockville character is also in for a rude awakening with the arrival of her estranged sister, Olga.
Ferguson hints: “Oh my God, it’s not even a twist. She is the catalyst for a lot of things!”
While she has proved herself most adept behind the scenes, Ferguson rules the roost in her mobster role.
The Queen airs on Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 161) on Monday, August 1 at 9pm.