Actor Spaces In conversation with the cast of Jiva!

Article by : John-Otto Phike

On the 24th of June 2021, Netflix released their anticipated series Jiva! which follows the story of a young and ambitious dancer Ntombi from Umlazi, Durban, who works at a dead-end job to support her family but desperately wants to pursue her dreams of dancing. In her pursuit for her dreams, she learns of a dance competition with a cash prize and starts a dance crew “The Trollies” in hopes of making it big. We had the opportunity to be in conversation with the amazing cast, Noxolo Dlamini (Ntombi), Candice Modiselle (Vuyiswa), Zamani Mbatha (Bheki), Gift Stuurman (Samu) and Prince Grootboom (Makhekhe) about their journey in the making of Jiva!

Firstly, well done and congratulations everyone, Jiva, is finally here! We all know Covid-19 put a halt on many productions and reshooting and rescheduling had to take place. Jiva! was no exception, how does it feel to finally see the show coming out?

CANDICE: It is a huge relief. It’s a relief in the best possible way. Firstly we got to watch the work and it is so effervescent, it is colourful, it is bold, it is courageous, IT IS PRESENT, it is such a PRESENT, honourable body of work, it’s been a long time coming and I think there is a patience that we had to exercise in it being offered to the world. It was a huge test but a testimony. I think the timing has always been perfect because it’s not our timing, it’s divine timing and the world is certainly ready for it. From a social context, it’s the right season and I just know that it’s not only what the country needs but what the world needs. It’s that heart, it’s that beat and it’s beautifully upbeat in that. So, it’s right on time, it’s right on time.

NOXOLO: I feel like finally, finally we are here and this is the timing it was supposed to come out. I think we thought it would be earlier or what not, we have been waiting and NOW feels right. I think we are ready for it and the world is ready for it. So, I am very grateful that it’s happening and very grateful that it’s happening right now. Especially how I feel about myself and how much I’ve grown. I feel like this is perfect. This is perfect. I have no idea what it will be like once it’s out. I don’t know what’s gonna happen with it or how people are going to receive it. All I know is that we’re giving love and all we can receive back is love. So it really is an honour to be a part of it and to be telling a South African story told by South Africans and I am really excited about it. I can’t wait to share this gift with the entire world.

What makes Jiva! special and different from the likes of Stomp The Yard, Step Up or Honey?

GIVEN: I feel like the only, one important difference is that it’s African. That is enough, it’s black and it’s African. I mean the origin of dancing comes from Africa anyway, you know what I am saying. So all those movies have been so great because they’re the building blocks, they are the foundations for Jiva!. And Jiva! is here and we are showing the world that “Hey, hey, hey, we’ve been watching you and this is what we do.”

Candice, we know that you naturally know how to dance and you did movement at Wits, you are a majivani, how was it in rehearsals, were you allowed to express yourself or was there pressure to learn the moves in a set way?

CANDICE: In the beginning, I was extremely hard on myself and I set myself on trying to be as perfect as possible and to represent the style as strongly and just genuinely dance. To do right and just with the medium of dance because I know I live in a country of extraordinary dancers and I think I kind of set with the pressure of “Oh my gosh, you have all of these eyes looking at you and you have to represent them well, and these eyes are also going to be international eyes that want to see the very best and the pinnacle of South African dance and you need to represent that well and who we are well.” So I don’t think I always gave myself the freedom to fully enjoy it in the beginning, but the beautiful thing is in the moment when we got to take some time off away from the work, obviously because of the circumstances which were unfortunate at the time, was also a major blessing. I was able to come back with a renewed, refreshed outlook on the work and to give myself permission to learn but also to bring nuances of who I am to the work without being worried about, “Yoh bathong, they’re gonna compare you to Bontle, yoh – It’s like, listen, Vee is Vuyiswa, Vuyiswa is Vuyiswa, and that’s that on that, Vuyiswa is poised, Vuyiswa is fiery, she’s fierce.” So how do we bring the character into the dance and that takes a strong sense of discipline but being highly intentional in narrowing both of those worlds and bringing that through the character.

Noxi, we have seen your work in musical theatre. How did you prepare to take on this role living in dance and what elements of musical theatre did you bring into this character and production?

NOXI: Definitely technique and precision because musical theatre is very set and is very jazzy and choreography needs to be spot on. So that is definitely what I brought and I think a flare, a flare that I never used to be able to show because in musical theatre you have a set script, a set choreography and with Jiva! and gqom, that’s more of who you are, and that is a type of freedom I never really ever got to experience on stage, doing musicals that are already set. I mean Lion King has been set, Sarafina has been set. The choreography is what it is, but with Jiva! I was really allowed to find my inner fire and to enjoy being me.

Zamani, it was exciting seeing you in this role, how was the transition between daily dramas in the studio and then shifting to location. What did you learn?

ZAMANI: Funny story, when I shot Jiva! I had just finished Isthembiso, so I hadn’t gotten uPule. I hadn’t gotten the other shows. When I shot Jiva!, it was right after Isthembiso and for me it was like, I am going into this thing and it’s a whole Netflix thing. It was always a thing of “It’s Netflix”, so I have to make sure that I am going to bring in my A-game. Then when I got here, I saw the character and the character is almost similar to uZamani (Isthembiso) and to me, I was like, let me not do exactly the same thing that I was doing there, in fact let me add and subtract ‘certain things’ just to build. Just to have this one character that is like a hole ‘that I moulded well’ in my perfect way and then say, “ok this is the character that I am gonna portray” and it was very tricky and I learnt how to differentiate between a telenovela and a series, a tv series, a tv drama. Then I got a soap, which was Rhythm City, so for me, I am actually grateful that so far I’ve done quite a few things to safely say, “ok I’ve ticked some of the things on my list ‘that I have to do.’”

Why would you say it’s important to take on the different lessons from all of those productions and apply them as you go along in your career?

ZAMANI: I’m a research person, so it’s always important, no job is ever a job of learning lines only and going on set, so I think that’s the one thing I will always put “forward”.

Given, South Africa has watched you since you were a child. What new thing did you bring in playing Samu?

GIVEN: Dancing moves, literally that’s one of them. Something that is also light, personally I feel like besides the soapie characters, all the other characters I have done outside of television work have always been sad work, like sad characters that are going through stuff and whatnot, I just feel like Samu was a little bit happier and it was a great experience because I was given a chance to make a lot of choices that you don’t usually get a chance to make as an actor. The choice of what clothing would he wear, the choice of – Samu is a designer – what designs would he make, the choice of who does he look up to, the choice of what things would he say and I am lucky to work with two brilliant dancers as co-stars, uSphesihle no Smiso. That made it better because they were first time actors, so that made it even more informal, we broke things down and said, actually, would he say this? What does he want to say? Is this the music we would dance to? Are these the clothes we’d wear? Whereas other characters and all the other work that I have done, it’s always very fixed, that ok, this is the character, this is where we’re going, you just need to come in with your skills. Jiva! was much more inclusive, even with the routines, even with the dancing styles, it was very inclusive, they would ask us, like “ok, what do you think would be cool?” and I appreciated that because I am not a dancer by profession as well, this is my first time doing it ‘professionally’ and I appreciated professional choreographers coming to me and asking for my input, so that was the one difference with this character for me.

Candice, in an interview, you mentioned that you wanted to keep your image PG 13 and we can agree that Vee is definitely not PG 13. How did you navigate that space of staying true to your personal values while also portraying Vee with as much truth as possible?

CANDICE: What a joyful transition, I’ve been very intentional about the characters that I’ve taken over the years and I am grateful that I’ve been able to say yes and no where it mattered and I very deliberately wanted to play youthful characters because I wanted to maintain the youthful element of who I am as a storyteller, also because I felt like far to often, women shoot for the characters that are gonna make them popular or famous. I just wanted to maintain the integrity of an innocent character and sometimes it’s not about the stardom that it comes from, sometimes people don’t gravitate towards the youthful character as the star of a show. A lot of the characters that I’ve played were extremely youthful and finally I was able and I still am able to immerse myself in the fullness of a fierce woman, which I am but Vuyiswa takes it to a completely new level and the fact that I gave myself the room to play with her as much as I did, was also just very reassuring that I can play those characters. I don’t think I ever doubted as much that I had it, I was kinda storing her away for the right opportunity and this is exactly that, to bring out the sexy, to bring out the vivacious, to bring out the spicy, to bring out the mature, and I mean, yes, even earlier this year, I was able to do a telenovela where I did play a mature character but I think I have earned my right and now I am owning the space in that right, and now people can say, “it’s a talent”, it’s not my looks, it’s not my appearance, it has nothing to do with that and because I haven’t taken those characters back that spoke to my appearance, which I intentionally did, I can say, “all these years, it was the talent that brought me this,” now you can focus on the looks, but the talent is not secondary either.

Prince, you are more of a mystery, this is the first big commercial role for you. What do you think you did right to bag this job?

PRINCE: I put in a lot of work as a dancer. I would say, putting in so many years in the dance industry and always putting in so much work in my talent landed me this gig. As a first time actor, I would say it was challenging and it was very exciting. For me, it took a lot of acting workshops, I won’t lie, it took me a lot of sleepless nights trying to remember lines and all of those things. That’s why when you asked that question of “Who would sneak in their sides to see what’s going on,” that definitely would be me, but I wanna say, if it wasn’t for the cast members that I had and for the directors and for sis Busi actually believing in me, I would have never been able to kill this character. Their patience, their energy, I feel like that helped me a lot.

We noticed the theme of the show was Fetch Your Life. What does “fetch your life” mean to you and what advice would you give to up-and-coming actors on how to fetch their lives?

NOXI: At the end of, I think episode 5, she (Ntombi) writes a letter to her mother, where she says, “I only have one life and I am going to live it the way I wanna live it” and that’s what it is. You only have one life and it is your life, at the end of the day you don’t want to wake up one morning and you’re not on earth anymore and you just scream and say, “I wanted to do this, I really wanted to do this, now that I am outside of it, I kind of realize I could do it.” I know, it’s difficult while you’re here wanting to do things that seem so far fetched but sometimes you need to just jump on it, you know, jump on it and while you’re in that uncomfortable space, go “oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I’m doing it,” but you are doing it because that’s what life is, in order to achieve things, you need to get uncomfortable, unfortunately, but the most amazing things happen in those spaces. So Fetch Your Life, fetch what you know you deserve, what you want for your life, as long as you’re being honest, you’re not hurting anybody else, fetch it.

GIFT: I feel like Fetch Your Life has been the world’s general attitude in the last 5 years. The rise of Instagram and Twitter and the resurrection of Facebook, is because of Fetch Your Life. I mean Fetch Your Life is the attitude that every young person is at right now. I think if you watch that specific episode of Jiva, “the fetch your life episode”, I think it’s the third or fourth episode, uNtombi goes through challenges where she’s trying to decide on whether to do what has always been done by people before me, which is “oh black child, ‘look for a job”, or are you actually fetching your life.” That is a question the young South African is facing right now 2020/21. I just watched something on Instagram where the legendary Israel, uBab’ Israel was talking about this, that sometimes as a black child, you need to stand up and Fetch Your Life and be like “eff black tax, eff all the expectations, eff everything, I am still in my 20s, I need to fetch my life, I need to create the foundation”. What I always say is don’t rush to be rich right now, the richest people in the world are over 35 but the common thing about all those rich people in the world is that when they were our age, they were literally fetching their life, they were building those foundations for those riches right now. So fetch your life is waking up every morning with a goal, a motivation, with a dream.

About author