Hlomla Dandala. Picture: Erick Forster
Depending on your age, you may see Hlomla Dandala and think Derek Nyathi from Isidingo, or you may think the title character in Jacob’s Cross.

You may even frown a little when you remember he was also in Rockville as the seedy Gomorrah. But now the veteran actor is playing a character that was a real person: Govan Mbeki.

Dandala portrays Mbeki in Discovery Channel’s Madiba miniseries that also stars Terry Pheto and Laurence Fishburne. At a screening at Liliesleaf Farm, Dandala spoke about how he worked to bring Mbeki back to life in the six-part miniseries. 

“What you can do is capture the spirit of a person - what was he or she about? And what can I do to honour that,” he told us.

One of the revelations he had while shooting was sobering. He said: “One of the most revealing things for me was shooting the Robben Island scenes.”

A scene from 'Madiba'. Picture: Erik Forster.

Dandala then described how the stalwarts who were portrayed in these scenes were men - lawyers and other professionals - who weren’t necessarily used to working with their hands in this manner.

He said manual labour was certainly no joke. At least, added Dandala, he and his fellow actors got to take the chains off their hands and feet in between scenes, and they had a whole crew who were there to ensure it looked more painful that it actually was. 

The Mbekis, Sisulus and others did not.

In the film, Dandala portrays Accused Number4. It was interesting to find out what he deemed to be the funniest thing he had been tried for in the court of public opinion.

He told Saturday Live: “This week? I get tried so many times I lose track,” he chuckled.

“But the funniest moment? I can tell you this week’s because I work exceptionally hard at forgetting them.”

“This week I took a picture of Alexandra, the township, and I had framed it where you could see roofs and satellite dishes and you could see flats behind and such. And I said: ‘What do you see? What does that tell you?’ And people lost their minds.” And how does he react? “Ag, it’s water off a duck’s back.”

Dandala says he enjoys the process of acting more than just playing a specific character, but we take him back to a time before he was all the characters listed at the beginning of this article. 

Hlomla Dandala. Picture: Erik Forster

Because he’s managed to keep his looks in an industry where some people age like milk, it may be hard to believe that Dandala has been on the small screen for more than two decades.

Channel O, the music TV channel on which Dandala was a VJ once upon a time, turns 20 years old this year. He seems surprised how time has flown.

“Oh my God, it is,” he exclaims. “I am so old! I have plenty fond memories of that time. I did a special - we used to do a lot of those - where I went to Jamaica for the Sumfest.

“And I got to hang out with an exceptionally high Snoop Dogg. That was one of the fun times. Yeah, I enjoyed that trip a lot.”

Whether you remember him as a presenter or a pivotal character, Dandala is on a acting trip that he’s still thoroughly enjoying.

* Madiba is on Discovery Channel (DStv Channel 121) every Monday at 9pm.