Editor: Felicia Naiwa Sithebe, Writer: Phindile Mngadi, Photographer: Katlego Mokubyane, Creative Direction: Modise Motaung and Lihle Ngubo, Makeup: Phumzile Mhlongo, Hair: TumeloMj’s Afroboutique Production Team: John-Otto Phike, Karabo Mokoena, Rainy Nthangeni and Tshepo Marema
Who is Aphiwe Mkefe?
Aphiwe Mkefe is soon to be a twenty-nine-year-old, who is originally from Cape Town, South Africa. I grew up in a house full of women. I grew up Kwa-Langa, a small township in Cape Town. I was surrounded by Music, Arts and Culture at church. I was exposed from a very young age. My aunt worked at the SABC. She was also a journalist for The Sunday Times and Sowetan. During the holidays, I would always visit my aunt in Johannesburg and she would take me to work with her. I always thought that was weird like I’m on holiday, why am I going to work with you? but the cool thing was, and I’m so sad that it doesn’t happen anymore, back in the day, SABC used to have tours at the SABC Studio while everything was operating. They would take you everywhere and show you everything. So every holiday, I used to get so excited to go on those tours. What did I get to see? The most amazing things as a ten-year-old! Television shooting live, I saw the set of Generations. I went to the studios. I saw Jam Alley. I won’t even lie, that changed everything for me because after I went there for the first time, I could never watch television the same anymore. It opened up a whole new world for me. So, I think that exposure from a young age did a lot because I mean look at where I am today.
Film and Television, two distinct mediums. Which one do you lean more towards and why?
I prefer film because when shooting it you have more time and this is crucial for an actor. Imagine shooting two scenes for the whole day. All the options you could explore, all the emotions you could explore, and all sorts of things to make it extremely perfect, whereas for television, we are chasing time. We are shooting thirty to forty scenes a day. It’s crazy. So, you don’t have time to sit, think and get into your character. It’s a more rushed process and I have found that is not actually how I work because I don’t get to be my best. So, I’d rather do films because I am given more time.
With Film, you have created a niche for yourself. Was this intentional? How has it shaped your career?
Yes, most certainly! Even me doing films is a decision that also affects my greater goal, which is to work abroad and export our local content because what I’ve seen overseas is that we can never compete with them by trying to be them. We will annihilate them every time by just being ourselves. They can never be South African. They can never be us. They don’t have our roots. They don’t have our rhythm. They don’t have our spirit. So, what I want to do is to shoot local films here with local filmmakers in our beautiful locations using our languages and take them abroad. I believe that I can shoot locally and make money internationally. I can even get the money internationally and shoot locally and spread it across locally.
Surviving Gaza has a powerful and what’s said violent storyline, how did you approach the script to better understand this story and connect with the character that you portrayed?
As someone who grew up in South Africa, I’ve seen violence, gruesome things and poverty. It has sadly become second nature. I don’t think much scares us, you know. We have a very violent history in South Africa. So, Surviving Gaza is just one of those films that represent our country in a way. I love doing films, Man! I got to go back. I got to play a kid from a different era who was trying to escape a situation by going to school. He was seeking education. South Africa was also becoming a democratic country. It was just hope. The character comes from an isolated place in South Africa and there was no hope there. Only gangsters and killers were thriving, so the character was trying to get out of the place, and that’s something I think I can resonate with because as someone who grew up in Cape Town, I always felt stifled, always felt like there were no references of excellence and success for me in the city. Especially for the stuff that I want to do like film. I felt like I was so shut out everywhere, and I’m very active. Like, I will go knock on doors. I will actively go around and try to get inside but I felt like there were no avenues for me on that side and Joburg, everything was just so fluid. Everything just happened naturally. I know how to overcome things. I have overcome things and I just parallel between the two; my life and my character.
Letters of Hope is set in 1976 apartheid South Africa, as someone who did not experience those times, what research was done to understand the apartheid era to master the character of Jeremiah?
I can’t say this without mentioning that the director, Vusi Africa, did extensive research with the ANC traveling around Mpumalanga, collecting all sorts of stories from MK Veterans and he got files of documents and interviews. The research that he did helped me a lot. The film is based on the research that he did. So, he also brought the materials for me to prepare for the character of Jeremiah, and then beyond that I also referenced some of our great heroes of the struggle, especially the young guys like Tsietsi Mashinini. To me, those were the guys that embodied the kids of that era. So, you know, I always took a bit from them and took a bit from Biko’s ideals and took a bit from all of my favorite heroes to then build this character that is Jeremiah, who is extremely conflicted.
To the aspiring young Actor, what are important elements to start engaging through to pursue Acting?
Watch as many movies and performances as you can. Read as many scripts as you can. Watch script breakdowns, watch people break down scenes, watch how actors break down scenes. Understand what a script is. Understand intention. If you just listen and learn. You see, this is now the education side of acting. Listen and learn. Love what you do most importantly.
Lakutshon’ Ilanga, Surviving Gaza and Letters of Hope are all such emotional stories, what methods do you engage in to characterize and de-roll each character?
Before every project, I go on a vision quest. I pray. I speak to God, I cry. I mourn whatever I might have been going through. It’s my time to purge, because before every project I need to go in as an empty slate. I can’t be carrying inhibitions. Coming into something, I have to be in a certain zone, spiritually and mentally, and that comes with knowing yourself. To get myself there, I’d always have to isolate, maybe just for like a couple of hours before we shoot the scene to get myself into the right frame of mind. I’d listen to some of my favorite sad songs. On the day where I’ll be shooting, the materials that I have for myself will always be leading towards what I’m going to be delivering that day. All the emotions on it and whatever that I’ll be cooking within, it’ll all be towards that moment.
What have you learnt from the vast characters that you’ve portrayed?
I’ve learned something and taken away things from every character that I’ve played. The first character that I played uNkululeko, that character had a very good relationship with his dad. He had a single dad, which is very strange to see in black South Africa, but it does happen. At the time, my relationship with my father was terrible. So, I didn’t feel too great about what was happening, so it kind of forced me to repair my relationship with my dad and that released me from a lot of things that I didn’t know were holding me back. The next character that I’ve played, uJeremiah. Jeremiah made me more political than what I was. He made me more pro-black. To be more pro-youth. To be more educated and getting opportunities. The next character that I played wasn’t too far off from uJeremiah. That character u-Anele affected my real life in terms of business and how I move because that film traveled the world and opened so many doors for me that I thought were impossible. I was speaking to people from the Academy at the Oscars. I was in. Well, it happened during COVID so we couldn’t travel more. We were with these international actors, connecting. That was crazy. It showed me how I should carry myself because I am planning to go on to the world stages, so I need to carry myself now the way that I will be carrying myself then. The most recent character that I played igama lakhe bingu-Major and he was an artist with an addiction problem. After that, I had to clean up my life. I was a heavy smoker. I was a heavy drinker. I started working out. I’m a very active person today because of that character and I haven’t stopped since. It has been like a year.
As The NEXT, what do you hope to imprint in our acting industry?
I hope to imprint a culture of lead actors specifically in film. How we carry ourselves, how we are treated, and how our deals are structured. That’s the sort of impact I would like to leave when I die. One day, I want kids to look back at my career and be like, I want to blueprint my career like he did. I want to walk and do the type of things that he did, but obviously, they have to do it better because I’m sure by then they’ll have better resources and better opportunities, and I will have done my part to allow them to be able to do this. That’s the kind of culture I’m trying to change, to be paid better as actors, how deals are structured as actors and how voice contracts are structured as a voice artist. We are kind of living in the wilderness with all these things. I hope I’m able to make an impact in giving back to my society, which is the TV and film industry.