Atandwa Kani

Like the Gugulethu Zuma-Ncubes and Maps Maponyanes of the industry, Atandwa Kani is at pains to make it on the grounds of merit. Debashine Thangevelo asked the energetic actor about his debut on SABC1’s Generations, his stagework and what he takes from his legendary Tony Award-winning father, John Kani…

WHEN you have a celebrity parent or parents, you automatically register on the radar of critics.

While Gugulethu Zuma-Ncube and Maps Maponyane were in a way cosseted from criticism as they chose different professions: she from that of her political parents and he from his soccer star dad’s, Atandwa Kani, as John Kani’s son, has not been so fortunate.

That said, he has not relied on his renowned dad to pave the way for him in his career.

Looking at his résumé to date, every bit of acclaim has been achieved through sheer hard work and perseverance.

Although stage has been his main podium, he played a young Nelson Mandela in Justin Chadwick’s biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and TV has poached him on occasion.

“I had a role on SABC2’s Muvhango – that was my first soapie work. I played this crazy doctor who kidnapped the chief’s wife. It aired earlier this year. I think it was for about three to four months.”

On being approached to play Samora Lembede, a 27-year-old graduate of the New York Hospitality College, the affable actor says: “Gosh, it was a while ago when I was told about the possibility of a role coming up on Generations. I was still doing theatre. They approached me again this year and I was backed up with theatre stuff. I didn’t want to go and waste their time. Finally, I gave in and I slowly started to like this character.

“Eventually, when I did my scenes with Thato Molamu (Nicholas), I knew I couldn’t let a great opportunity like this get away.”

Kani had to negotiate a call sheet around his “rubbish schedule”, but they were more than accommodating.

Coming up, Kani says, “I have Black and Blue, a two-hander with Sylvaine Strike. It’s quite a big one. We are already 98 percent sold out at Grahamstown.

“After that, there is Hayani, an autobiographical piece of theatre. We did a South African tour and this year it is going to Edinbugh. When I return, I will be busy with a play directed by Mr Jerry Mofokeng.”

Then he is in a play directed by his dad, but it is awaiting sign-off, so he couldn’t give details.

Once the stagework frenzy subsides, he will return to Generations.

Of his time on the set, he says: “It was absolutely amazing. I’m used to the spotlight, but it is always with different actors and narratives. I arrive here and people take me as one of their own. You see Menzi (Ngubane) walk in and you go, ‘Oh…’ It is like some sort of event with all these stars walking in.

“I’m not going to lie, initially it was daunting. But now I have the first couple of scenes out of the way and it feels better.

“Samora is written as a charming, good-looking chef. He is a playboy, which is the total opposite of who I am – I am happily married with twin boys.

“He cooks for shelter. He loves food and giving back. But he is also hungry for success.”

It is the latter that Kani is able to tap into in front of the camera.

“He has a laid-back look with washed-out jeans and tank tops. He likes to cycle and gym. There is a potential love interest. I can’t tell you with whom, but I will say she is a good friend of mine and is very attractive. I respect and adore her.”

Turning to what he took from his father when he embarked on this profession, he says:, “First, there are no expectations – so no pressure. He is my father. He is my shield when I need to regroup and recuperate. He is my mentor.

“I would say I have taken his discipline. He is unrelenting and has been going for so many years.

“At his age, he is always on time, knows his lines and never does anything that comprises his artistic integrity. Those are the things I take from him. He exposed me to the artistic world from a young age and introduced me to my playground.”

Kani says he is grateful to his wife, Thembisa Mdoda, for being so supportive.

Atandwa Kani makes his Generations debut on Wednesday, August 20. The SABC1 soap airs on weekdays at 8pm.