Hakeem Kae-Kazim, alongside breakout stars Charles Mnene. Picture: Supplied
Hakeem Kae-Kazim, alongside breakout stars Charles Mnene. Picture: Supplied

Actor takes role of refugee to challenge his acting chops

By Mpiletso Motumi Time of article published Dec 2, 2020

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Johannesburg - Charles Mnene decided to take a role in the coming-of-age film Riding Sugar to challenge himself.

Mnene plays the role of refugee Joshua in the young adult drama that is now available on Netflix. The show follows Joshua as he struggles to find his place while chasing his dreams.

“What attracted me the most to Joshua is the challenges of playing the role. I wanted to find out in myself if I could rise to the occasion. It is a story about a refugee boy who had dreams about being a BMX champion, then having to flee his own country and look for safety in another country and look for belonging.”

In the film, Joshua uses his riding talent to navigate life.

“He tries to win a championship, having to work on the skills involved, the political situation from his country to another country. Learning to ride BMX’s, stunt co-ordinations, working on the accent. I wanted to tuck in and challenge myself.”

Mnene said getting into the complex character of Joshua was a process until the very end of production.

“Through the research, I built the character. Working on it by speaking on the character’s background with the director, Sunu Gonera. So once filming began there was already a lot of preparation. Physically I was in the body of the character and through the process of filming every day, I would find new things. I just had to tap into it and we had enough shots to take. Throughout the whole process the character just peeled layer by layer.”

Mnene is a British film, television and stage actor having had roles in international shows like The Bill and Holby City.

For his role as Joshua, Mnene appreciated the character’s perseverance the most.

“The fact is that he keeps getting knocked back, but keeps finding another way. If a dream seems like it has been snatched away and someone finds a way to find another dream and continue to achieve, I think that is the mark of somebody who deserves a chance in life. Joshua has every right to complain about how he has been hard done by life, but for some reason you don’t get that from him. It’s the love he has in his heart, the genuine nature, and sometimes, the naivety that he has. He doesn’t lose the love he has for humanity – wanting to have friendships and family and seeing the good in other people.”

The film also stars Hakeem Kae-Kazim, who plays the role of Mambo, an informal educator and foreigner himself, who offers shelter to young refugees from all over the African continent. Mambo and Joshua build a relationship through their shared status and so begins the story.

“I have always wanted to work with Hakeem, and it was a fascinating experience. I felt relaxed because I knew I was with an elite performer who has so much experience. He was willing to give and to guide.

“I used to watch him as a young man and I found his relaxed nature and skill level had me trying to keep up. He gave me real jewels. I hope I get a chance to work with him again. Working with him was an unrealised dream fulfilled.

The Star

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