WATCH: We speak to Shona Ferguson about Kings of Jo’burg and his titanic rise as a producer
Johannesburg - Several years back when I was proving my mettle as an entertainment writer, I remember requesting several interviews with Shona Ferguson.
At the time, he was gaining his foothold in the industry.
And I remember him agreeing to a chat, even though his schedule sometimes left him with scant time to do so.
Nothing much has changed.
Ferguson is as gracious and unassuming as he was back then when he was still making a name for himself.
Like most success stories in showbiz, Ferguson had a humble albeit impactful start as Ace on SABC1’s pioneering soapie, “Generations”.
Interestingly, wife Connie Ferguson almost made her claim to fame on the same show as the inimitable Karabo Moroka.
Not long after, he expanded his fan base with meaty roles in other popular soapies like SABC3’s “Isidingo” and e.tv’s “Scandal” and more.
Why am I telling you stuff that can be easily Googled? Well, it’s the best way to contextualise his meteoric rise in this industry as well as shed light on the person behind the fame.
Today, Ferguson, along with wife Connie, is celebrated as one of the country’s eminent producers.
Through Ferguson Films, which was established in 2010, they have produced award-winning and critically-claimed offering like “Rockville”, “iGazi”, “The Gift”, “The Throne”, “The Herd”, “The Queen” the season of “The Imposter”.
Their latest undertaking is the 6-part Netflix series, “Kings of Jo’burg”.
Of course, with fame comes controversy. And Ferguson Films have weathered its fair share of storms.
But, at the end of the day, actors want to be cast in their projects.
In a recent virtual chat with Ferguson to gain a better understanding of what influenced the making of “Kings of Jo’burg”, he tells me, “You know I was telling Connie, you are probably the only journalist out there that says I want an interview and I go, ‘Okay’.”
I’m not going to lie, that meant a lot.
Since we were only given 10-minutes, which I pushed by a few more minutes and Ferguson indulged me, he expanded on why he made the conscious shift from female-centric offerings to a more testosterone-charged one.
Up until recently, the series, which launched in December, was one of the Top 10 watched offerings in South Africa.
He said: “It started about 4 years ago. At that point, we were getting into the second season of ‘The Queen’.
“We had done, as a company, so much female-centric kind of shows and, well since the beginning of Ferguson films, most of our shows have been predominately female-centric.
“Even a show like ‘Rockville’, which had a lot of male cast.
“We felt like the wave in SA television has everyone going the female-centric kind of way.
“We starting thinking in the next year or two, we must make something that’s pretty much a male-dominated kind of show. That was how the initial idea started.
“Fast forward a couple of years later, immediate I knew that show was going to be called ‘Kings of Joburg’, there was no question.
“So the name was the first thing that popped into my head.”
If there’s one thing he, along with Connie, is celebrated for, it is delivering content that resonates with audiences.
Looking at their track record, they do have the Midas touch.
Although one part of the creative process was done and dusted, he still had to develop a storyline and etch the characters that reside in this world.
And so Ferguson deflected to his childhood.
“It was the beginning of last year when I really started penning the whole thing down.
“The key thing, always, was, even as much as it is male-centric, we wanted to give the characters something above and beyond the testosterone or the action if you know what I mean.
“So to give the strong men on the show, a strong family dynamic, which we feel the audience will relate to.”
Although he didn’t plan on playing Simon Masire, by casting Zolisa Xaluva as Mo Masire (Simon’s blood brother), it made sense for him to do just that.
Anyone who has seen the series will agree, Ferguson and Xaluva are a tour de force in their respective roles.
Ferguson strayed a little further from the storylines they are known for.
He delves into the supernatural world and introduces a superhero element with his dark lead character, Simon.
He admitted: “It goes back to our childhood, where we had our parents tell us these stories.
“My dad used to tell us very scary stories.
“So it is going back to how he used to tell these stories of the demons and how certain influential people had supernatural powers.
“The way the stories were told was not necessarily how we are portraying it on screen; I took the essence of those deep, dark secrets and stories and turned it into a more fictional, relatable world and set it in Johannesburg.”
“Kings of Jo’burg” ushers in a new era for Ferguson and his production house, too.
“We’ve done so much content, locally.
“We, as a company, this is our first 100% owned show. It is the first show we own.
“None of the shows on TV belongs to us. In all honesty, I don’t think any platform could have given us this.
“It almost feels like the first time of getting into production.”
On the series, he also works with US executive producer, Samad Davis.
Ferguson added: “We idolise America so much that we fail to realise that Hollywood is looking at us.
“Hollywood is coming here. And that is what we are not understanding.
“Here, we have Hollywood, Nollywood and South Africa.
“We have developed this whole America and Africa connect. This project had to signify and, sort of represent these massive industries.
“This is the first undertaking of Netflix with Ferguson Films. The first of many, hopefully.”
I do feel that “Kings of Jo’burg” is also a metaphor for Ferguson’s rise in the industry.
More so, as he spreads his wings and evolves with the changing times.