Over the last 30 years, we’ve seen Dumisani Dlamini in iconic roles like Dlakadla in The Wife, Showmax’s most popular series ever; Chester in the classic series Yizo Yizo; Crocodile in Sarafina!; Mbodla in the long-running telenovela Isibaya; and Celemba in the hit drama series eHostela, a performance which earned him a SAFTA nomination.
In his new film Mkhonto, premiering on Showmax on Friday, 26 May 2023, Dumisani stars as Chief Siviko ka Vaka, ruler of the fictional, mystical kingdom of Eziqwaqweni. The tyrant is threatened by Celani (Bahle Hadebe from Black Tax, The Letter Reader, and young Shaka in the upcoming Shaka: King of the Zulu Nation), a herder boy possessed by the spirit of an 18th century king, who is determined to reform his once-great kingdom and right the wrongs of Chief Siviko.
Dumisani Dlamini discusses ‘Mkhonto’ role
We sat down with Dumisani to discuss his role in Mkhonto (watch the movie’s trailer on YouTube here), his acting career and his daughter Doja Cat:
You’ve had a long and successful career. What convinced you to take on this role?
I was so interested in it from the word go. The story is so deep and spiritual, and I liked how it’s attached to Zulu history.
What do you most want people to get out of this movie?
I want people to remember that indlovu iyabulawa intuthwane (an elephant can be killed by an ant). This movie takes us back to where we come from. It shows us our way of living in the past and who we are, in case we have forgotten. In this movie, people must watch very closely and learn how our culture goes deep.
This is not the first time you’ve played an antagonist. Do you prefer being the villain?
Look, personally I know I’m a good person; you can ask anyone and my family. But I don’t think I can play a priest and still be honest. I can play a priest in a church and steal money. I can play a role where I am a sweet person but playing a villain is where my strength lies. This is where I believe I nail it the most.
What was it like working with rising star Bahle Hadebe?
Damn! What a powerful young man. I hope that boy doesn’t put fame in his head. Most of the artistes his age put stardom in their heads, and they get finished in a short space of time. I sat with him on set and told him how talented he is and spoke to him about how to stay consistent in this industry. I remember telling him that he will never master a take until he dies, because if you keep searching for the best acting in your life, you become powerful.
Three-time SAFTA winner Linda Sebezo also co-stars as the village’s traditional healer. What was it like working with her?
You see, when two bulls meet, the grass suffers. When she looks at me and I look at her, there’s fire in between. Then from there you know it’s not acting, it’s spiritual. When you work with professional actors, there’s magic that happens. We’re not competing; there’s lightning that just happens in those moments.
After three decades in the industry, how do you keep making each character unique?
When I got this role I had just wrapped another show where I also played a king, so when I got a call for this role, I asked myself how do I now separate this from the character I just finished portraying.
I went through prayer and meditation. On the first day of the shoot, I said to myself, “Let’s give Chief Siviko a chance.” I ask myself to step out, so that the character can take over. I don’t act; I simply become honest to the role. There are so many things that happen spiritually when I step on the scene; I am always surprised with where I take these roles.
At this point in your career, do you still scrutinize and criticize your performances? Are you able to even watch yourself perform?
I don’t look at playback while we shoot; some actors do. I wait until we are done and then watch it when it airs on television. I sit in a room, switch off my phone and watch myself. When a show is on TV – my wife and kids know this – I don’t want noise. I sit alone, close the doors and watch myself. I become so amazed at what I am able to do on screen. I become so emotionally attached to the things I do and surprise myself, each and every day.
You were in Sarafina! back in 1992. How do you feel about the state of the industry right now?
Back then, we were in a protest era, so Sarafina! was more of a protest film. The stories of the past were about trying to break through out of apartheid and make people’s lives better. But I think we have up-marketed our productions and we should just continue to stay on good concepts. Just like this movie Mkhonto: it’s a great story. We are doing well.
What role have you been most honoured to play?
I think it will be Celemba in eHostela. I have been a supporting actor and then become a lead in most of the things I’ve played. The way in which I play the role in eHostela ends up as an important part of the story.
When I was given a role in eHostela, I found myself getting to another level of acting. It got to a point where I received my first SAFTA nomination. I said, “Thank God that I’m not gonna die without being nominated for an award.” Though I didn’t win the award, I still pray that one day I will hold that award. I want no one to give me an award when I’m gone.
After a wonderful 30-year career, what role do you still want to play?
I would love it if a producer would give me a lead role that goes until the end of the story. Because most times I get a role, and when viewers are still enjoying my part, it then gets cut short based on the storyline or how busy I am. If I could get a role that I will portray until the end, I believe prime time television will never be the same.
Last question! What’s it like being the father of a global superstar, Doja Cat?
I’m so proud of her for what she has achieved. I’m not surprised, because it’s in the blood. In fact, all my kids are very talented. I think South Africa as a whole should be proud of such a great talent coming from us.
Produced by M’Darkie Revolution Productions (Induku, Isifiso), Mkhonto is the feature film debut of Pheelo “PJ” Makosholo (The Estate, Keeping Score). Look out for the likes of Andy Mnguni (Sindi in The Republic) and Andile Mbatha (Bra Carter in House of Zwide) as Celani’s parents, as well as Bheki Vilakazi (Yizo Yizo) as a royal advisor to Chief Siviko.