He blows hot and cold. Seemingly aggressive and angry, but when it comes to his daughter Ncumisa, he would move heaven and earth for her comfort.
Whether he is the troubled Eric on Adulting or the entitled Ndumiso on The River, actor Nhlanhla Kunene says it takes a lot to get in and out of character.
Drum sits down with the man of the moment, and he says getting into character means inviting the character’s spirit.
“Acting is spiritual. I think once you understand that as a performer, then you are able to bring characters to life. Writers write because they have the ideas, but bringing those characters to life is a different story.
“I research each character, study as much as I can about them. But I also invite their spirit to come into me so that I can make the character believable when you watch me on screen. I embody the character and I become one with the character. Then when I am done shooting the show, I tell him that I am done and he needs to leave.”
He says he even switches on a candle to invite the character to take over.
“Like once I was done shooting Eric, and I told him to leave while I was at ehlane (open field) I felt a weight lifted off me. I am not an angry or aggressive person but I had to be that for Eric. I am right handed and Eric is left handed and I had to learn to use my left hand so that it looks believable. It was exhausting being that angry.
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“But Eric is not a gangster. He is just a guy from the township who wants to work hard to provide for his little girl. He never knew his father and he wanted to do everything in his power to do right by his daughter. To be the dad that he never had”
Nhlanhla is the last of four siblings raised by their domestic worker single mom. She wanted him to be a doctor, but his passion was in the arts.
“She did not flat out say no to acting, but I could see she wanted me to do something else. I was somewhat of a whizz or a genius in maths and physics in high school, but I realized that I was more of an artist than I was an academic. My mother did everything she could to ensure we did well.
“I went to Wits to study drama, but I had to drop out after two years because of fees. But after that, I was able to do other things like joining the Duma Ndlovu Academy which helped a great deal.”
His character on The River is behaving like a spoilt brat. Raised by a widower (Siyabonga Twala) who worked to provide for his kids, Ndumiso, who has just come out of jail, has a chip on his shoulder and behaves like life owes him something.
Nhlanhla (28) says even though Ndumiso has criminal traits just like Eric, he wants to play the roles differently.
“I got my big break on Lavish where I played a character who was a gangster that didn’t take anything seriously, but he loved his girl. Then Eric also has criminal tendencies and Ndumiso came out of jail in his first scene. I am scared of being typecast. I wanna play a soldier, a gay guy or a lawyer. Anything except a gun savvy criminal.”
He describes Ndumiso as someone who has childhood traumas that he never dealt with.
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His TV dad, Siyabonga Twala, does not like him but in real life, they get along like a house on fire.
“He is such a great mentor in terms of the work and I just sit and absorb from him. And he has, off screen, become ubaba (a father) to me. I can go to him and talk.
“Being in the first scene with Bab’ Twala and Sis’ Sindi was nothing short of amazing. I almost lost myself in that scene because I looked and them and I looked at me and I could not believe that it was me there. But I quickly had to snap out of it and bring my A-Game.”
While he basking in his newly found fame, he is uncomfortable with the other side of it, the attention.
“It is really overwhelming for me. I just wanna act but at lot is happening. I appreciate the love I’m getting from people who are applauding my work, but there is also weird attention that I am not liking. Some ladies slide into my DM’s sending nudes, wanting to take me out to lunch or saying they want to buy me things.
“It makes me feel uncomfortable and I want to make sure that I do not lose focus. I want to build myself and I know exactly where I want to be. I am even considering deleting my Instagram because all of that also brings with it spirits that I do not want to be associated with.”