Brian Temba

WHEN viewers become invested in a lead character, it becomes difficult to get rid of him or her.

SABC3’s Isidingo took quite a bit of flak for replacing Jay Anstey, who played Charlie, with Michaella Russell. Let me put it this way, if South Africa had an awards ceremony akin to the Razzies, Russell would be a strong contender.

However, Muvhango’s replace- ment of a suave and easy-on-the-eye Themba Nofemele, who played Ranthumeng Mokoena, with Brian Temba, won’t garner the same kind of hullabaloo as the Anstey situation or Nofemele’s scandalous exit for that matter.

After all, the role was tailor-made for Temba.

The actor laughs: “He (Ndlovu) wrote it for me. I was still new as a solo artist and was just launching myself when he came to me. Me and my management team at the time thought if I went for the role, people would only know me as Ranthumeng and not Brian Temba. Now I can’t live it down – he reminds me of it.

“Obviously, I had left (the country) when they started with the character. When I came back in 2009, I watched some of it. I left again in 2010 to do The Lion King stage production in Las Vegas for a year.”

Just to put soap buffs in the picture, Temba was always passionate about music and has been singing since 1998. He got the fabulous opportunity to work on The Lion King, grabbed it, and between 2000 and 2003 was part of the ensemble cast in Los Angeles. And then he bagged the lead role of Simba until 2008.

Of the experience, he says: “Oh gosh, it was the most exciting thing I have done. I was young and still starting out. Having the lead role in a West End production has been one of my greatest experiences in life. That was the perfect launch pad for the singer and actor I am right now.”

He is fortunate in that he has been given a second chance to take on the role he passed up.

“Ranthumeng is Brian. It is who I am – the only difference is I never married. But the mannerisms are all me. Duma wrote the character from my life and who I am. It has been quite eye-opening and fulfilling owning the role.”

He has been shooting his scenes since October. Of course, taking over from an actor who left his stamp on the character required finesse on his part.

Temba concedes: “Taking over from somebody else is obviously going to be hard. The actors and viewers are obviously used to that person. You have to transition with the role. At first, though, you have to be the Ranthumeng who is known and build it up to finally owning the character. Also, you have to, at the same time, be sensitive and take it slowly. Obviously, it is done with the understanding that there will be a lot of criticism. Luckily, the actors were wonderful in welcoming and working with me.”

But the writing team didn’t make it easy. Not only did they give him a love triangle with two beautiful women – one being his wife Thandaza (played by Sindi Dlathu) and the other his fiancée Matshidiso Mofokeng (played by newcomer Buhle Samuels ) – just for good measure they gave Ranthumeng amnesia.

He praises: “Sindi is wonderful. She has been there for a long time and is so professional. Even if you fluff 100 times, she doesn’t make it feel like you are wasting her time. With Buhle, we came in at the same time. Working with her has been great. We would read the scripts together and help each other. We became friends as well.”

Given the intimacy of the characters, getting to a level of comfort had its awkward moments, but they have all found their rhythm.

Taking into account his long stints in the US and UK, Temba has residency in Britain, and a distinctly foreign accent. However, the Soshanguve-born actor hasn’t forgotten his home languages.

He says: “For me, it is easy to catch on with languages. I grew up surrounded by many. Venda I don’t know at all. But it is one language I’m dedicated to learning. Overall, my accent doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m Xhosa with a Tshwane mother. I speak Sotho, a bit of Pedi, Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana…”

And in case you are wondering – his musical career hasn’t been put on the back burner.

“I’m constantly working on new songs and projects,” he declares.

“It is easier when you have your own studio and record company. I just want to grow as an artist and actor as well.”

Right now, there isn’t any reason why he can’t do both. And sometimes, just sometimes, you are lucky enough to have your cake and eat it, hey, Temba?