17 July 2018
Why Lockdown looks, feels and sounds so real
“The story is based on real women and we wanted to tell their stories as truthfully as possible,” executive producer Annelie van Rooyen tells TVPlus magazine.
“We spent time with women on parole, we spent time with ex-convicts and we engaged with them to better understand what goes on in prison,” says Annelie. “You won’t believe the stories that we heard – some are even too crazy for a TV show. It’s truly eye-opening.”
The real deal
The show is the brainchild of Mandla N and it follows the theme of women in prison that we’ve seen before in shows like Orange Is The New Black (2013-current) in the US, and Australia’s Wentworth (2013-current) – just with a local flavour. Lockdown is set in the fictional Thabazimbi Women’s Correctional Facility, and Mandla and his team made sure that their research was on-point for the production. “We spent time with women on parole, we spent time with ex-convicts and we engaged with them to better understand what goes on in prison,” says Annelie. “You won’t believe the stories that we heard – some are even too crazy for a TV show. It’s truly eye-opening.”
Research isn’t all that the production team did to make sure their actors behaved like prisoners – they’ve stripped them down to their basics to get the look right, laughs Lorcia Cooper as troublemaker convict Tyson: “For the first time in my career, I didn’t have to rely on my looks or hours in the make-up chair to be dolled up. There’s no make-up. There are no fancy outfits. It’s bare. It’s stripped down. And it’s honest. And I think that makes this almost more challenging in a sense – because you can’t hide behind your looks and wardrobe. You’re out there.”
While Lockdown does have a couple of purpose-built sets, their main set is possibly their biggest star – the 30-minute episodes are mostly filmed at the original apartheid-era prison at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. And being on location inspired the actresses, led by Dawn Thandeka King as prisoner “overlord” Ma’Z, who’s coming to the end of her 25-year sentence. “Playing Ma’Z is emotionally demanding,” Dawn tells tvplus. “Before shooting scenes, I would sit in the prison cell and get in tune with my emotions. This woman is trapped behind bars. She’s had to fight for her life to stay alive in this prison. It’s been a long time… it’s been a very long time and it’s taken its toll on her. But the light at the end of the tunnel is almost here – she can almost taste her freedom!”
Like many other shows in various genres, Lockdown has its own on-set “consultants”, explains Annelie. “We hired ex-prisoners to work on the show as extras in scenes. They know how to act behind bars because they’ve actually lived it, they’ve been there and know the environment. It means that our cast are getting first-hand help from people who can say, ‘No, this would never happen’, ‘These people would never be together in a cell’, ‘That isn’t the language being used’. That adds authenticity to the show and it tells real stories.” Hiring ex-convicts has a two-fold purpose – it also allows them to earn a living that might not have been possible in society and they gain insight into the industry that could open other doors for them.
Don’t be shocked by the scenes that play out in the series though – it’s what really happens in prisons… and not just in South Africa but also around the world. From Ma’Z, who is manipulative but motherly, to heartless boxing champ Tyson, nothing is too far-fetched for the prisoners. There’s the “innocent” and naive drug mule Monde (Zola Nombona), the “social butterfly” Vix (Lauren Vankeirsblick) who thought that money could buy her freedom, as well as the shady wardens who use their power to control the prisoners for their benefit – but keep an eye on corrupt warden Beauty (Slindile Nodangala), who willingly accepts bribes from the prisoners and their families to turn a blind eye to certain goings-on in the Correctional Facility.
If you’re locking yourself down during the cold snap around SA, you might as well keep yourself entertained with one of the best prison-themed shows around – LOCKDOWN!