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Director Tebogo Malope adds his Midas touch to 'Queen Sono'

Lead actor Pearl Thusi at the premiere for the Netflix Queen Sono at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein.Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Lead actor Pearl Thusi at the premiere for the Netflix Queen Sono at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein.Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Mar 7, 2020


Months of anticipation ended recently when fans and critics got to see Pearl Thusi and the star-studded cast of "Queen Sono" in action. 

And I’m not talking about the red carpet buzz. I’m talking about showrunner Kagiso Lediga and Tamsin Anderson bringing to life a character that Thusi has been yearning for and discussed with Lediga post "Catching Feelings". 

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Having flown in from Los Angeles on the morning of the press junket, Malope’s uncontainable excitement for Queen Sono masked his jetlagged state. 

He shared: “Where it all began was getting that phone call from Kagiso and him pitching the idea to me by first saying, this is who the lead is, this is what the genre is and this is what the stories are. And, for me, then going into the writers’ room and seeing and hearing what the overall vision is, my game plan was to make it my own.”

And by that, he meant personalising it so the show becomes relatable to audiences. 

“What’s critical for me is how do I become open to the process? How do I become more myself and sincere because if I’m myself and sincere, I’m sure it will resonate with a lot of Africans,” he added.

Of course, the casting was another crucial aspect. 

“The casting process is always fun for me because when you are writing and putting characters in black and white, you kind of imagine who could embody that. Sometimes you don’t have a face. Sometimes you do.

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"But most often than not, it is almost like you play God and you go, ‘Hmm, I want to create this human that exists. But this human likes these things, this human is moved by these things, this human is passionate’. This person exists somewhere in the world. I think most people view casting as directors finding the actors. I think often, it is the actors finding us. 

"Sometimes it could be a fresh face and sometimes it can be someone who has been in the game a long time. You never know. You let the magic play its course and you let the magic play out.”

The one role, he didn’t have to concern casting for was that of Queen Sono, which was written for Thusi. 

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He added: “But filling out all those other positions with the benefit of having the number one in place is to go with who complements number one really well. The chemistry was crucial.”

Malope directed three of the six episodes. The other three were directed by Lediga. 

But the two appear to share the same sentiments when it comes to their heroine. 

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Malope praised: “With Pearl, what’s so amazing is that she is also so open to the process. Once you have someone who is open to the internal stuff and lets themself be vulnerable on the screen, the physical stuff becomes easier. I absolutely respect her after seeing how many hours she put in on not just the physical work but also the internal work, just making sure she is connected and plugged into this character. She is an incredible human being and I have mad respect for her. She worked super hard and it will reflect on the screen.”

Aside from the series boasting an empowering female cast, Malope feels audiences will easily connect to many of the characters because their journey is so relatable. 

“I never view characters through the lens of protagonist and antagonist. I just do characters as humans on their own mission wanting something. Somebody like Shandu (Vuyo Dabula), he is one of the most complex characters in the show. I think when people see it, they will relate. 

"He comes from a background similar to a lot of us South Africans; a background from a disadvantaged point of view, deep political issues but also of deep socio-economic challenges. He manages to somehow pull himself by these bootstraps and starts working and he gets to a point where he is a successful guy.

"His living experience of swimming against the tide, socio-economic injustice, it will resonate with a lot of Africans at large. At some point, things twist. You will have to see the show, to see what I am talking about,” he shared.

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