Richard Lukunku on playing the regal Senator in fantasy epic Blood Psalms

3 October 2022

Richard Lukunku on playing the regal Senator in fantasy epic Blood Psalms

In Blood Psalms, the epic Showmax Original African fantasy now streaming on Showmax, SAFTA and Africa Movie Academy Awards nominee Richard Lukunku stars as Senator Jabari. He is sent to the Akachi citadel from the mighty Great Nziwemabwe to attend King Letsha’s wedding, but also to insist that the King give back the Northern Territories. Great Nziwemabwe has a history of war with the Akachi, and although they are now at peace, they will stop at nothing to take advantage of cracks in the Akachi kingdom.

Local audiences will recognise Lukunku as Detective Phaka on Mzansi Magic’s crime drama Mshika-shika, which earned him a SAFTA Best Actor nomination, and as Leo in Happiness Is A Four Letter Word and its sequel, Happiness Ever After. He’s also a familiar face for international audiences, as Joshua in the Emmy-winning Black Sails, Patrice Lumumba in The Siege of Jadotville, and Robert Sobukwe in the Black Reel-nominated Madiba.

In Blood Psalms, Lukunku stars opposite 2022 DStv Mzansi Viewers’ Choice Award and SAFTA nominee Zikhona Sodlaka (Mandisa in The Wife), who plays his mistress, Sithenjwa, who is returning to the Akachi citadel for revenge.

We caught up with Lukunku to find out more about his role in the biggest and most ambitious series Showmax has ever made:

Tell us about your character, Senator Jabari, and his tribe, Great Nziwemabwe.

As Senator Jabari in Blood Psalms

Great Nziwemabwe is like what Rome was, where Rome is the capital and the rest of the world are provinces of Rome. The southern provinces are at war and Senator Jabari is sent to come and ensure that everything runs well.

It’s an interesting role: you know that you’ve got the power of the kingdom behind you. If you don’t like something, you’re going to say what you’re going to say. If you feel disrespected by the king, you’re going to exercise the power that’s being given to you.

How was the shoot?

It was an amazing experience. Jahmil [XT Qubeka, the director behind South African Oscar entries Knuckle City and Sew The Winter To My Skin) gave me space to perform, to characterise, trying to get things as authentic as possible. How did these people walk? How do they talk? If you’re not walking and talking like they would, you have to ask, ‘Please, can I have another take?’ It’s three o’clock in the morning, but you need to get it right. Getting it right was more important than comfort.

Nobody was shooting during the pandemic. During that time, Layla [Swart, co-creator and executive producer of Blood Psalms) found the budgets that she needed to get to feed families. We were all dying; nobody had worked. But because of Layla’s hard work and tenacity, she really kept us alive. Layla kept 300 families alive, you know what I mean?

What’s different about Blood Psalms?

The representation is insane. A Xhosa character speaks Xhosa; a Zulu person speaks Zulu. The different African cultures are represented. Jahmil knew exactly how to represent Africa when he was writing the script and he got it one hundred per cent right. But it’s not just a history lesson. It’s a living, breathing world that mixes many styles and ideas. Blood Psalms is authentic and also something much more. I can’t wait for people to experience it.

Why should audiences watch Blood Psalms?

With Zikhona Sodlaka as Sithenjwa in Blood Psalms

Everything on Blood Psalms is looking amazing. It looks unbelievable; it feels real. You feel like you are there, at that time. It’s just incredible.

But that’s what I expected from the best production company in South Africa right now, with the best producer and the best director. These guys are on another level, like an insane level of creativity.

More about Blood Psalms

Shot in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and North West provinces, Blood Psalms is a Showmax Original in partnership with CANAL+, the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, the Eastern Cape Economic Development Corporation (ECDC), the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and the MultiChoice Innovation Fund, which supports South Africa’s most exciting entrepreneurs, enabling them to bring their unique, innovative and creative business ideas to life.

The first two episodes of Blood Psalms are now streaming, with new episodes every Wednesday until the end of November 2022.

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