Q&A: Ezra Mabengeza
You spoke to James about the challenging physical aspects and transformative nature of this role, which readers can listen to in the podcast. Did you prepare for it emotionally/mentally, as well as physically?
I spoke to the Mpinga clan in spirit and thanked them for the honour since there’s virtually no record of John Kepe’s existence. This is what I felt I needed to do and once contact was made, I asked them what they required of me. They said: ‘just be clean, your vessel must be clean and then we will guide you from within to the man and our nature as oSenzwa’. This meant two years of no sex, no alcohol, and seclusion in Eastern Cape and Cape Town where training began. I ran to my home beach, New Brighton beach. The intensely beautiful thing about this beach is that it was a designated beach for blacks during the apartheid years. Nothing at all has changed. It used to have this incredible smell there and still does due to carbon black factory on one side, which has covered all the vegetation in a sticky black goo, and sewerage works on the other side. This smell instantaneously put me into an apartheid frame of mind. I did beach sprints and lots of stretching and cardio and calisthenics on the metal bars, as well as the ones in Sea Point in Cape Town where the promenade has the exact opposite aesthetic – fresh air and beauty – and that contrast, between New Brighton beach and Sea Point promenade gave me an inner ‘boiling of my blood’ naturally.
In terms of your portrayal, can you give us insight into the psyche of John Kepe as a ‘wild man’?
He is a fun guy who always had a smile on his face, he’s mischievous, but ‘akaqelwa ikaka’… I don’t really know how to translate that in English. If you double cross him, he’ll never forget – there will be spiritual retribution. He’s not at all concerned about the physical… his ancestors will get you plain and simple. He’s also very focused, so once his mind was made up, he did it. Like he did, I ran on that mountain with sharp-edged rocks and thorns, spiky vegetation and a whole sheep on my back. He never felt pain, his body was made of steel. His spirit lives on and the mere fact that we did this film confirms his spirit is still alive and I embodied it, and now it has returned to that mountain kwaNojoli. We shared way too much in common me and him… I guess that’s why I was chosen to play the role.
It’s hard to describe the film or pin it down to a genre… if you had to describe it succinctly, how would you describe it?
A Western epic for the ages.
Any special new projects on the go?
The contractual nature of film doesn’t permit me to talk about that, but I’m working on films shooting in Australia, Helsinki and Nairobi. And I’m busy learning French, German and Swahili.
Where can people see Sew the Winter to My Skin, locally or internationally?
It will be on DSTV locally and it’s still doing well on the festival circuit overseas.