An electric room full of love. Bubbly chats and laughter all around. This is the feel of the atmosphere when Dineo Langa, Vuyo Dabula and Gail Mabalane get together.
It’s off the set of Netflix’s Unseen but their chemistry is almost tangible. Gail, who plays starring Zenzi, and Dineo - who plays Naledi in the upcoming series - have a great relationship off screen. Similarly, Vuyo who plays Max, Zenzi’s husband who goes missing, shares a bond with them that clearly shows.
Vuyo attributes it to the preparation work that they had to do together, which set the tone of their relationship. More than anything, he says that they were honouring the story that takes one through the trenches of a die-hard lover.
For him, “Gail made it easy for the connection” to flourish because she was amicable and very nice. He was not only able to be himself around her but there also no walls in allowing the love story to unfold."
“Zenzi has a deep deep, deep love for Max because that’s the only way you can explain the stuff she goes through for [him],” Gail admits.
Between the two, there was a trust that made space for their vulnerability as actors and that’s why for her, “you are able to be vulnerable, you are able to play, you are able to bring the character to life and be authentic”.
Like any other on-screen love story, “[There are] a lot of the scenes that people would not be comfortable to do in front of other people, we’ve got kissing scenes, we’ve got intimate scenes but when there’s respect and a comfortability with the actor, it gives you the opportunity to play the character with a lot of truthfulness because there are no walls, you don’t feel like you have to protect yourself,” Gail adds.
With this love story though, there are more lows than there are highs and with how they delivered it, they wouldn’t have had it any other way, especially because it poured out of their characters.
There are elements of the same comfortability in the sisterhood between Gail and Dineo.
Different as they are in their characters as Zenzi and Naledi, Dineo tells Drum that “the love network was always there”.
Whenever she walked in on the set, she gave Gail the “warmest greetings, biggest hugs and massages”. Recalling how this would be routine, they both break out in smiles.
More than anything, “It was my little way of understanding what was happening in the character’s (Zenzi) life”.
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In the crime thriller, Zenzi, a cleaner, desperately searches for her husband who was released from prison but never made it home. During the search, she finds herself mixed up in a dreaded criminal syndicate that digs up past tragedies and ultimately drives her to violence.
Throughout the process, her relationship with her sister Naledi is mended and as Dineo notes, they proverbially sit closer and closer to each other as the series progresses and they finally come to the realization that “they haven’t been this close in forever”.
“She’d die for her sister, her sister is her world,” she says.
Gail and Dineo actually were able to be there for each other between takes on set. Even without saying it to each other, she’d sit in silence with Gail when she needed it the most.
Laughing about it all, Dineo says Gail actually still owes her a date in Cape Town that they weren’t able to go to because of how hectic Gail’s shooting schedule was.
On her return back to Johannesburg from Cape Town where the series was shot, Dineo even flew back with a Father’s Day gift for Gail’s husband, Kabelo Mabalane.
For Gail, who is at the centre of this show, Zenzi’s love is not all foreign.
Zenzi goes to deep lengths for love. Gail says she would do the same for her husband, Kabelo, even though the relationship dynamics aren’t as hectic.
“[When] you know that he would never do what they said he did, that’s all you’re fighting for because you’re all he has, you’re the only person who can actually vouch for him. As much as it’s crazy to think that any woman would go through that, but when I think about it, if someone came tomorrow and said he shot so and so and now he’s in prison, I’d say ‘no, that is not the person I married’.”
To a degree, Gail is then the die-hard lover she portrays even though Zenzi “doesn’t wake up and decide to do these things, she finds herself in situations and defends herself”.
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From their first days which for Dineo were “wild”, for Vuyo not so memorable and for Gail involved a lot of walking around the set, trying to find Zenzi’s groove, the lead trio learned a thing or two from their characters.
“Naledi is on the run from herself and her past and she took it for granted that her grounding point is her sister. She thought she could live with [a] certain existence and she’d later come back to it to deal with it and life flipped for her in the blink of an eye. You then see that the most important thing in her entire universe is her sister and you see it in so many choices and moments where she doesn’t want to deal but sometimes dealing is the only way that she can make sense of home because Zenzi will not allow her to forget,” Dineo says.
In this way, Naledi tells the root of Zenzi’s journey.
Jokingly, Gail says that her character has brought the realization that, “You see what can happen when you marry the wrong husband”.
Vuyo has been in the trenches, he has been in war sets and has done long hours so the most enjoyable thing for him in playing Max was experiencing the “calm and chilled” shoots.
With a guy like Max though who “doesn’t have much power or force to control the things that are happening around him”, unlike the other characters he has played previously, he had to “tap into the vulnerable sides of me and embrace a certain kind of vulnerability. That’s a weakness that’s not easy to embrace as a guy.”
Vuyo adds that he “found that it [was] kind of easier to hide behind a villain. There is so much about them that is permissible that you can do.”
Unseen will be premiering on 29 March 2023 on Netflix.