After almost a decade touring overseas with The Lion King musical, Andile Gumbi returned to South Africa to bag his first TV role as Zweli Ngubane (Bhekifa’s son) in Mzansi Magic’s telenovela-turned-soapie Isibaya. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with the actor to learn how he is finding his feet opposite a giant like Vusi Kunene…

Andile Gumbi has spent the better part of the last 10 years in far-off countries like the US, the UK and Australia.

The Durban actor honed his craft on the stage in The Lion King musical – starting with a supporting role before moving on to playing Simba – for the better part of his career.

An easy-going person, he raves about what an amazing journey his theatre career has been so far.

Back on home soil, he has shifted his focus to television.

On bagging the role of Zweli Ngubane in Mzansi Magic’s Isibaya, he reveals: “When I got back last year, I spoke to Duma Ndlovu (Muvhango creator and the casting director for The Lion King). We had worked together before and he introduced me to Desiree Markgraaff and Angus Gibson (from The Bomb Shelter). At the time, they were working on creating the second season of Isibaya.”

He clearly made an impression at the audition.

Gumbi says: “I started shooting the scenes towards the end of January this year. I have never done TV before so it was very difficult. But it’s been fun. They have used part of my life story to introduce Zweli, like him coming back from overseas.”

Shedding light on his character’s backstory, he explains: “Zweli is in his mid-20s. He studied at the London School of Economics and is very smart in terms of business.”

Now while Zweli’s skills will be of great use to his businessman father, theirs isn’t a close relationship.

The actor nods: “They don’t have the most solid and beautiful relationship. His mother passed away in a fire when he was six years old. Someone threw a petrol bomb on their house and he carries this sense of guilt. He thinks his father was disappointed that he survived and not his mother.”

Despite Bhekifa’s absence – both physically and emotionally – he showered Zweli, who was raised by his grandmother, with money.

The downside of their fractured relationship, though, is that Zweli has developed serious commitment issues.

Gumbi explains: “He didn’t have the love of his father when he was growing up and now he is kind of commitment-phobic.”

Although Zweli is roped into his father’s business, he is completely ill-prepared for what that entails.

The actor notes: “He loves all the challenges that his father gives him. Then the darker parts of his father’s life start to materialise and he is not sure how to take that.

“Also, he isn’t sure he wants to be part of it.”

At this juncture of the developing storyline, the writers haven’t filled in the canvas with regard to which direction they intend to take the character.

But there is much room to explore the many conflicts in the father-son relationship.

“Right now, Zweli is sitting on the fence and hasn’t made an decisions.”

On working alongside Vusi Kunene, the young actor praises: “I’m still learning from him as I go along. He is an amazing role model and a legend in TV and film.

“Coming from theatre, I have had to adjust and learn a lot of stuff. Every time I do a scene with him, I have to take mental notes. The way he goes about presenting his craft; it’s a huge pleasure and honour to be a part of it.”

Although Gumbi feels very much at home with his fellow cast members, there are those personalities who just stand out. For Gumbi, Celeste Ntuli (Siphokazi) is one such individual.

“She plays one of the wives,” he says. “She is amazing. She is one of those people you meet once or twice and fall in love with. She is so real, too.”

So what’s the game plan?

“I want to use all the talent I have to the best of my ability. My mum used to say: ‘You have to plant a lot of seeds because you never know which one is going to bear you success’.

“I want to sing. I have been told I don’t take bad pictures (laughs), so I might venture into modelling or advertising,” he offers.

With so many avenues to explore, South Africa is undoubtedly his oyster these days!

• Isibaya airs on Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 161) on weekdays at 8.30pm.