Vuyo Dabula playing Shandu, an ex-spy who has taken a different path. Picture: Supplied
Vuyo Dabula playing Shandu, an ex-spy who has taken a different path. Picture: Supplied

Vuyo Dabula defends his villainous role in 'Queen Sono'

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Feb 28, 2020

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For months now, viewers have been hearing about "Queen Sono", which is helmed by Pearl Thusi. 

She plays an unconventional spy working for an undercover South African agency devoted to protecting the people of Africa. 

Her character is also haunted by the death of her mother, who was assassinated. While on the job, she learns something that sets her off on a truth-finding mission - and she’s taking no prisoners.

As much as Thusi is the anchor, though. The eagerly awaited Netflix African Original series is blessed with some of South Africa’s finest actors like Vuyo Dabula, who plays Shandu. He is a former spy on a mission of his own. 

No stranger to playing characters with a villainous streak, Dabula says, “The thing with him, he’s not like your complete villain. There’s no parts of him where you could wonder if he is not good. It is written that way. 

"This guy is a bit complex. He has that pure desire and it comes from a very painful past as well; just seeing the way his people have been left behind and nobody really cares, it comes from that. He wants to save. He wants to fight. He has those leadership talents. 

"On his journey to effect change in the lives of other people, he comes across elements that force him (you can’t stay pure in a political world, it’s difficult) to do things he doesn’t agree with. There is a part of him where he accepts, ‘I have become this and I know why’.

“His intentions are good in the beginning. It is what it is. He has to do what he has to do.”

While redemption is a reach for his character, there is a context for him going rogue.

Vuyo Dabula playing Shandu, an ex-spy who has taken a different path. Picture: Supplied

On being a part of such a pioneering venture for Netflix, he shares, “Their scale is big. I’ve seen their shows. They have a particular quality. Their stories are quite exciting and fresh. It was no surprise when I read the material for Queen Sono. It had that freshness about it. It is different in the way it is told, too.”

Of the cast, he has worked with two of them.

He offers, “I’ve worked with Mama Abigail Kubekha and Chi Mhende on the regular gig ("Generations: The Legacy").”

Mhende is cast as Miri, the second in command at SOG, and Kubhekha plays Queen’s beloved Gogo, Mazet.

Meanwhile, showrunner and co-executive producer Kagiso Ledigo provides context to the genesis of this show, which was planted after "Catching Feelings". 

“Pearl had this video of her fights she was doing for her training in "The Scorpion King". She said, ‘Whatever it is let's do something physical. She wanted to do a Tomb Raider kinda thing. Myself and Tamsin (Anderson)  have been developing a spy satire movie kinda thing and we went, ‘Hey, why not make a spy female lead. We pitched it and here we are.

“For me, it is quite political. It goes into political ideas. The genre, for us, the team, I worked on a lot of political satire, "Late Night with Loyiso Gola" and "Chester Missing", It is always something that comes up. I thought the spy drama is, in essence, a political space, so it allowed us to go into those spaces, touch on history and touch on current Africa. At the very base of it, it is still fantasy. It was a kind of hybrid.”

As for Thusi’s role, he adds, “I think she is great. There’s a certain kind of naughtiness that Pearl has and what kind of imbued into "Queen Sono". I think that energy, that twinkle in the eye that Pearl naturally has is something we wanted to have.”

He also went on to praise her for her she handled the demands of the physical aspect of the role with the emotional one.

He ends by saying, “When we started working, there was a certain anger around the #menarethrash campaign. It was about men murdering women and burning them. Vuyo was raised by a single mother, I have my sister. These are strong characters in our lives. I thought it would be great to create a character where women and girls would see and feel empowered. They don’t have to be under the yoke of men, physically. One of the big threads was Queen Sono f*****g up a lot of taxi drivers. That was important for me.”

"Queen Sono" is clearly made with the two-fold intention to entertain and empower. South Africans can catch it on Netflix.

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