From playing feisty musangwe fighter Rendani in Mzansi Magic’s boxing-themed telenovela Ring of Lies to portraying equally driven and well-put-together Noli, who struggles with motherhood in M-Net drama series Still Breathing, local actress Fulu Mugovhani is versatile as they come.
There’s no doubt that Fulu steals the spotlight in whichever role she takes on, and she got a South African Film and Television Award (SAFTA), African Movie Academy Award (AMAA), and an African International Film Festival Award for her role in the coming-of-age movie Ayanda.
We spoke to the Thohoyandou-born star on her role in movie Umakoti Wethu, coming to Showmax on 23 September 2021.
How did you get the role in Umakoti Wethu? Did you have to audition or the role was offered to you?
I was suggested to do the role and after reading the script, it seemed very good.
So the name of the character had to change to accommodate me because I don’t speak Zulu at all. They had to make a few adjustments to the culture and the story, but not too much. So, yes, the role was offered to me.
For someone who hasn’t seen Umakoti Wethu, what would you say the movie is about?
The movie is about family matters. It follows a couple, Khathu and her husband, who are going through a transformation in their relationship. They want to grow their family in every way but with that comes challenges.
They get to be challenged by family, for instance, the in-laws, and you think that’s the only challenge they have but there’s more. Without giving away too much of the movie, It introduces the idea of polygamy within their marriage.
What was your preparation process when you first received your script?
Given the time we had, we shot the film for about two weeks and we did a script read, which allowed us to get the chemistry between us as the cast.
So my preparation was more about translating the script to Venda and how my character would react to a Zulu mother-in-law. Already the script was written that the mother disapproves of Khathu, based on her culture and the language she speaks. Now I had to add a layer on top of it.
She might disapprove of her because she’s Venda and there are cultural clashes involved. For me, it was more about adding those nuances, the cultural differences we see nowadays because it is real life. They play a big role in how a family can be dysfunctional.
There was also preparation in trying to understand what my on-screen husband is saying because he is Zulu and I’m sure he was also trying to hear and grasp the words I speak in Venda. I mean, being married we’re supposed to hear each other when we speak. So it was very important for us to rehearse our lines so that we both grasp the words between each other.
Any lessons you’ve learned from playing this character?
That’s an interesting question. I think I’ve appreciated her ability to follow her heart and to have the courage to do that. I appreciate that she allowed love to just be love and break down the confines of what society says love is.
I mean, she was married and it was difficult for her to have the baby she wanted. So now she had to adjust and I appreciate her ability to find contingency plans in her life and to be adaptable. To adapt … because you wrote it down as your five or 10-year plan, sometimes it changes for the better.
I wouldn’t consider her a failure as a daughter-in-law. She just had to adjust to what life gave her and became adaptable. That’s a good quality to have.
Why should South Africans watch Umakoti Wethu?
I think people should watch the movie because it’s a good microscopic look into their household. It will basically reflect their own family in many ways. Some might find it unrelatable and some might find it funny but I think all of us in one way or another know somebody who is in that position or we’re close to somebody who goes through those family dynamics of the one in-law being unaccepted by the family.
So it gives it a different twist. It’s not just “I hate you”, but rather what I do with that. It’s what I do after I’ve realised that I’m never going to be good enough.
Another thing is, South Africa will welcome it because right now many stories are incorporated in different languages, Venda and Tsonga being minority languages. So I think it’s a great way to introduce TshiVenda as a lead character. I’ve played many Venda characters, including the role in a Showmax film, One Night KwaMxolisi, but it was not a lead, it was an ensemble piece. Without taking away from the fact that this movie isn’t an ensemble piece, but it’s so great to see a minority language represented on a bigger scale.
What was the atmosphere like on set during the filming of this movie?
We shot the movie in two weeks and it was great, just going there and doing what we love. Luckily, I had a lot of scenes with Melusi, who is just a joy to work with, and also Kwanele.
It was just great to work with everyone. Even before our director, Nozipho, joined us, we were directed by Christopher, who is a producer of the film. The first week we shot with him and you couldn’t tell there’s a missing puzzle or he’s not the director because he knows the story well and it’s true and dear to him as a producer so I guess it gave it a different feel.
More than anything I just appreciate the crew, producers, and directors in making this possible in a short amount of time. I also appreciate the fact that they actually trusted me with my character. It’s an actual joy when your director trusts you with the character they have given you.
Umakoti Wethu will start streaming on Showmax on 23 September 2021.