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#Uzalo is a ratings hit. We interview the stars, Kay Sibiya and Naymaps Maphalala.

Packed with new faces and an interesting story-line, SABC1’s Uzalo is a ratings hit. Buhle Mbonambi spoke to the two leads, Kay Sibiya and Naymaps Maphalala

Switched at Birth: Kay Sibiya and Naymaps Maphalala on SABC 1's hit drama series, Uzalo. 
Imagine being switched at birth and not knowing you've grown up in the wrong family. Imagine if your real father was a priest and you were raised by a thug, while the thug raised the priest’s son.

That’s the basic premise of SABC1 telenovella Uzalo, created by Muvhango’s Duma Ndlovu, with Gugu Zuma Ncube and Pepsi Pokane executive producers. Phathu Makwarela is the head writer. In its ninth episode, the show airs Mondays to Wednesdays at 8.30pm. 

Sibiya and Maphalala are relative newcomers. Sibiya previously hosted SABC1’s love music show on Sundays. This is  their big break in the industry.
“It’s weird that we had to leave Joburg to have a breakthrough in the industry,” says Maphalala. He plays Mxolisi Xulu, the do-good son of a gangster. Of course his real father is actually a priest.

Describing his character, he says Mxo is a clean cut guy. “He is proper. He is his real father’s son. Everything must always be proper, with nothing out of place. He’s also ambitious, but a bit of a snob. Very entitled.
“He believes he is man enough to take over the family business, even though he doesn’t know what that business is. When he finds out his dad runs a hijacking ring, he can’t cope with the news.” 

Sibiya plays Ayanda, the gangster’s real son who was raised by a priest. His dream is to be a DJ. His parents want him to pursue a “real career”.
“Ayanda is as complex as Mxo, but he craves approval and needs to feel assured at all times. He’s at odds with his family, which worries him. He is under pressure to be what he doesn’t want to be; so he acts out, being rude and embarrassing his family.” 

There is no denying the two actors have a lot of responsibility to the show as protagonists, which is sometimes hard to handle as newcomers.
“I was nervous at first. This role could make or break me, so the pressure was there from the start,” says Sibiya. “But as the story developed and more characters shared screen time, it got easier. There is more confidence on set with all of us and that’s a good feeling.” 

Maphalala says working with respected actors like Bheki Mkhwane, Don Mlangeni and Leleti Khumalo was stressful at first. “It was so scary that at times I felt like I needed to pull up my socks with every scene. But they were so welcoming and encouraged us to give truthful, genuine performances. Their reassurance made it so much easier.” 

Both characters feel like they should be allowed to follow their dreams, says Sibiya. “Ayanda wants to be a DJ. His dad wants him to inherit the church. He’s not about that life. Viewers saw it in last week’s episode where the choir was twerking the service. And that’s the main beef he has with his parents.”
“I agree with Kay, but there’s also that feeling and questioning why our parents never understand us. I think Ayanda would get on well with Mxo’s dad and Mxo with Ayanda’s dad. It’s a complex thing.” 

Sibiya adds: “When you are young and you think you know best and your parents have a different view, you rebel. You even start feeling like they don’t love you, like you are not their child. So, in a sense, it’s just reflecting what happens in society.” 
The show picked up more than 5 million viewers in its second week, which even Generations: The Legacy is struggling to achieve. This makes Uzalo the most watched show in the country.

It’s a coup for the producers, who risked everything with a cast of mainly new faces. That belief is what drives Sibiya and Maphalala. “They could have gone with any established actor with a young face. But they didn’t and it’s a great thing,” says Sibiya.
“Our industry might be small, but there is room for everyone and I think all young actors appreciate the producers searching for a new crop,” says Maphalala. “There have been some great performances on the show, with some of the characters translating well on TV and getting great feedback. It’s great for us young actors and in the long run it will be great for the industry.”

And their thoughts on the plot? 
“Love it! Bab Duma knows what he is doing and Sis Gugu and Pepsi are great producers,” says Sibiya. 
“Phathu is a great writer. The twists he and the writing team have come up with shocked even us. It’s a fun ride and we are lucky to be going along,” says Maphalala.

As they are called away to shoot more episodes, and as I leave, I bump into Bheki Mkhwane, who smiles and tells me how awesome these boys are. “They are good, no?” He asks.  If that’s not affirmation of your talent from a noted thespian, I don’t know what is. 

*This article first appeared in the 01 March 2015 issue of the Sunday Tribune SM Magazine*

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