Nothing keeps a good actor down
|Nyaniso Dzedze, Zenande Mfenyana, Patrick Shai, Nambitha Mpulwana and Chumani Pan on e.tv's Ashes to Ashes|
Patrick Shai is back on on our screens with e.tv’s Ashes to Ashes, tomorrow at 8pm. He spoke to Buhle Mbonambi
Ashes to Ashes star Patrick Shai, a legendary actor with roles in some of the country’s best shows, plays patriarch Selo Namane who owns a funeral home business. This is his first role after being fired from Generations last year, with the rest of the cast of the show. We spoke about industry politics, the state of local TV and Ashes to Ashes, which may be South Africa’s response to hit HBO series, Six Feet Under.
It’s been a hectic few months for you – from the drama at Generations, where you staged a strike about your salaries and residual fees and getting this role. What has kept you going?
What happened is not new. It happens a lot behind the scenes. All the time. It just received traction because it was a group of people. There were so many factors with our strike. And even though it wasn’t resolved, we believed that we opened up the eyes of other actors and soon they can ask for what they deserve.
The support you got from many – including industry professionals – was great. What is the way forward for actors now? Are you banding together to make sure your rights are respected?
We are not there yet. But I think it is time for actors to wake up. Many are blinded by celebrity and bright lights. They need to rise up on the things that matter and speak up. I don’t know when the industry will band together and make sure we have each others’ backs.
With Ashes to Ashes, were you as artists, able to commit the channel and Clive Morris Productions for residuals, in case it gets shown in other territories?
Contracts are personal and I can’t reveal matters about salaries. It’s confidential. But I’m happy.
Let’s talk about your character, Selogilwe Namane. What’s he like?
He is the chief executive of a funeral home. A very ambitious man. He’s from a poor background and his ambition drives him to never be poor again. He met his wonderful wife (fellow Generations cast mate, Nambitha Mpulwana) and they inherited the business from her family. They have built it to be what it is now. But he has his vices, which are his Achilles heel.
As a self made man, what is the most important thing for him?
I think it's his family. The support he gets from them, even with his issues and problems, he keeps them close. His wife protects him and hides all his nonsense from the children. Image is important to him, so as much as he’s messed up, he always tries to hide it so as to not mess up the family name.
What do you think of the character and the way he has been written?
I loved the story, otherwise I wouldn’t have signed up. I sat and spoke with the producers and the creative team and they fleshed out the character and the storyline for me. It has so much depth and flesh, I couldn’t say no. And to play a character so conflicted and complex, a very unpredictable man, is a blessing. The narrative of the storyline got me hooked.
What attracted you to Selo?
He’s real. He is not perfect, though he thinks he is. He trusts himself too much, which is why he is a bit messed up. Yet even though his world may sometimes be crumbling, he’’ll find a way to make it work.
We have seen you on comedy, drama and soaps. The telenovella has a different feel. Which format do you prefer?
I fit in well in all of them. The telenovella is like a longer made-for-TV movie. The writing has to be edgier, the production crisper and the story and acting has to be better than a soap. The telenovella is the current popular format for storytelling in South Africa. Will it replace the soap?
I don’t think so. I think channels will have to make those decisions. There are some soapies who are moving towards a more dramatic feel, so there is a feeling that our soapies must be more dramatic and with substance. I think that’s the way to go.
Any similarities to Six Feet Under?
(Laughs) Both are good?
The 8pm time slot has been historically a difficult one to compete with SABC 1’s Generations. Will Ashes to Ashes finally be the show to give it some needed competition?
It’s healthy for the industry. Competition is always good, instead of a monopoly. At the end of the day, the viewers win. They get to make a choice on which show they want to watch. Commercially, it allows more product placement which increases revenue and gives production companies the money to make quality TV. But the most important thing is that the content needs to be better and we need to keep viewers happy.
*This article first appeared in the 01 March 2015 issue of the Sunday Tribune SM Magazine*