Thapelo Mokoena. Picture: Supplied
Thapelo Mokoena. Picture: Supplied

Thapelo Mokoena is relishing his biggest role yet in 'Trackers'

By Buhle Mbonambi Time of article published Nov 3, 2019

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“Abort”, came the call over Quinn’s ear. He ignores it, drilling into the wall. 

“Quinn, I said abort,” the order, now even louder over his earpiece. 

He drilled even harder, while the handyman below kept his eye on the road. Beads of sweat build up as the unrelenting Cape Town sun bores onto him.

A few kilometres away, a red Toyota Tazz is making its way back to where Quinn is drilling. Until there’s a diversion. 

The driver, furious, doesn’t understand why the VW Tiguan won’t reverse and move for him to go through. And as he finally makes his way through and drives behind a panel van, little does he know that members of the President Bureau of Intelligence (PBI), of which Quinn is a part of, had just planted a spy camera into his house… 

That suspenseful scene had me on the edge of my seat at the premiere of Trackers and weirdly enough, so was Thapelo Mokoena, who plays Quinn.

“I was so on edge man, like I don’t even know why because I knew what was going to happen. But I think, as an audience member, it was new to me too because I hadn’t watched the episode. Shooting that particular scene was rough, thanks to the Cape Town weather, plus all the dynamics of that scene. It took us two days to shoot what is such a simple, but also complex scene. I relished it.”

It’s a few days after the premiere and the day after Thapelo’s 37th birthday. He’s driving to the pharmacy to get meds for his five-year-old son, while having a conversation with me. It’s one of the things he has in common with his character. Fatherhood. 

“That’s his main driving force. Sure, his job requires him to protect the country and also the president, but he also has something even more important to him and that’s his family.” 

Quinn is the deputy director of the PBI, which is like the CIA. They work for the presidency and are responsible for sussing out and acting on any threat to terrorism the country is facing. 

But that’s just one story in the multi-layered thriller that is Trackers, which airs Sundays on M-Net at 8.05pm. 

Based on Deon Meyer’s "Trackers", the five-episode series is one of the biggest productions in recent years and sees M-Net going back into scripted content and the prized 8.05pm time slot for the first time in more than a decade. 
Thapelo Mokoena stars in "Trackers". Picture: Supplied
Why do you think there has been so much importance placed on the show?
Because of the scale of the show. It’s very rare for us to produce a show of this magnitude, budget and just how wide ranging it really is. It’s a major investment by the channel and you could see it on set. The attention to detail, even the smallest detail, was important. I hope it shows in the end product and that our viewers get to see just how much work we put in. 

Do you get used to being on screen or do you just critique yourself?
It has taken time for me to be kind to myself. You know when you have done well and when you haven’t. It’s like being a football player – you need to watch yourself play so you can see where your strong and weak points are. It can get awkward, but it’s easier now. I’ve become comfortable. 

So I take it Quinn is a guy who doesn’t really like taking no for an answer. Is it him being difficult or just a guy wanting to do the job properly?
Eish. I don’t want to spoil the show for your readers, but yeah. A bit of both. But again he has a mission and that mission needs to be accomplished, right? There are decisions that are taken which may seem right (or wrong) at the time, but if he feels like it’s the right thing at the time, he will push on. 

What was it about Quinn that piqued your interest?
So I really wanted to play Nkunzi, who is a gangster and is a dream role. I loved my audition for Nkunzi and so did the production. But if you know the business side of show business, to be a cop you need to look a certain way – people need to like you and I guess Quinn was a better fit for me. And I understood because I don’t look like a villain.

What was your favourite thing about shooting Trackers?
The precision. The excellence and how everything was world-class. The cast, which was a mix of the best South African talent, from both the Afrikaans scene, the English scene and vernacular scenes. That’s very rare for a South African TV show, so it was great being in a production that we could all be a major part of. 

That’s currently the topic on everyone’s tongue right now – actors rights. What do you think will take for the industry to get things right?
It’s so simple. A signature from the president is all it will take. It’s an important conversation because for the longest time we have been asking for this. We should also reap the rewards for the success of productions that we have been a part of. It’s only fair. 

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