By Xabiso Ngqabe17 March 2023
Jeffrey Sekele on his role in Showmax film AboMkhulu
Veteran actor Jeffrey Sekele plays former freedom fighter MaHooks in the new Showmax film AboMkhulu.
Childhood friends Mahooks, Taozen and Shishi spent 30 years in jail for a crime they did not commit during the South African liberation struggle. With the help of a young man, Onke (Khojane Morai), they are finally free again. Together, they set out to find home and make up for lost time.
With a career spanning over two decades, Jeffrey Sekele has received critical acclaim in Mzansi’s television and film industry. He is known for roles in series like Isibaya, Jacobs Cross, The Lab, Isidingo and, most recently House of Zwide. He has starred in hit films like the iconic Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema, and the SAFTA-winning movie Freedom, an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic novel Crime and Punishment, which Jafta Mamabolo co-directed with Ralph Ziman.
Watch the trailer for AboMkhulu
In AboMkhulu, Jeffrey stars alongside Sello Sebotsane and John Lata (iNkaba) as MaHooks, Taozen and Shishi respectively. Khojane Morai (Isithembiso), Simphiwe Ngema and multi-award winner Lettie Lebogang (DiepCity) co-star. AboMkhulu is directed by Star Mphahlele and produced by Pula Bakgaga Media (Love Heist).
We spoke to the veteran actor about his preparation for this role.
You play the lead role of MaHooks in the Showmax film AboMkhulu. What was the most challenging thing about this role?
I think it was the idea of telling a comedic story for the first time. If you look at the work I’ve done, I’ve played similar characters for nearly 10 years.
So when we got to table read, they said the movie is a comedy. I was like ‘guys, you should know that Jeffrey doesn’t have a funny bone in him’. I was basically saying, if you didn’t know, then recast right now. But the director said, ‘I know.’ So the challenging part was figuring out how to approach a comedic role after playing hardcore roles for so long.
The movie is set during the SA liberation struggle. What sort of research went into figuring out how to play your character?
I had an advantage because I have played liberation struggle heroes before. The roles I played in Isibaya and on House of Zwide, for example, were all from uMkhonto we Sizwe. So I basically had an archive to reference from having played roles with a liberation element such as the character of MaHooks.
We’ve seen various movies in SA that explore themes of freedom – how is this different from any you’ve worked on?
The fact that it was a comedy as well as the family aspect of it. The other characters I played, family was never mentioned much but this one is a family guy. He’s a man searching for his family.
Looking back at those roles, I was more like what we call ‘inkomo edla yodwa’, in isiZulu. I think that’s what makes it different. MaHooks is yearning for love and the only love he knew for a long time is the one from his cellmates.
How important is it to tell our homegrown stories as South Africans?
We need more of it and we need to tell those stories ourselves as South Africans. For instance, if the script requires a character to say “Amandla”, the word has a lot of meaning and thus is easy to believe when an actor understands it.
So we need to tell more of our untold stories. Some are sensitive, but at the same time they need to be told.
Any moment that stood out for you during the shoot of AboMkhulu?
There were a lot of great moments but there’s this one in particular, where MaHooks is sitting on top of his chair and singing. Because of time constraints, the scene had to be made short. Half of it is there, I so wish they played the whole thing because it was such a great scene.
Another scene I looked forward to seeing on screen was MaHooks’ reunion with his son, Onke (played by Khojane Morai). We even made a request to the director to start shooting close-ups right away. We knew that it was going to be an emotional scene and you can only be emotional once. We were both determined to get it right the first time.
What was it like to work with other veteran actors like Sello Sebotsane and John Lata?
Working with both of them felt like a reunion because I had previously worked with them at industrial theatres.
I’ve worked with John on countless industrial theatre productions, and I’ve worked with Sello, and most recently on House of Zwide. He was also my senior at TUT, which was then known as Pretoria Tech. So it was a pleasure to work with the guys, they are very talented, professional and extremely funny. It was hard not to laugh during a take because they are funny.
Without giving anything away, what’s your favourite line from the film?
It has to be one word: because he has been in prison for 30 years, when he orders coffee, instead of saying ‘Latte’, he goes ‘ngilate’.
What sort of person is going to love this movie?
Everyone should see this movie. It’s a family story. My daughter has been watching it since it came out, rewinding, and pausing it. It appeals to everyone from youth to the elderly, especially aboMkhulu, they will love it. It’s for everyone.
AboMkhulu is now streaming on Showmax
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