Netflix is debuting a six-part local crime thriller series, Unseen.
The show follows the intense story of Zenzi Mwale (played by Gail Mabalane), a timid yet observant cleaner who gets caught up in the underworld of organised crime syndicates, turning her into a killer.
Zenzi is on a mission to uncover the truth about her husband Maxwell Mwale’s (played by Vuyo Dabula) disappearance since his release from prison, which sends her down a treacherous path of murder, deceit and betrayal in her efforts to uncover the truth.
This is Gail’s first leading role on Netflix and she delivers a heart wrenching and impactful performance of Zenzi’s desperation and determination. She is supported by stellar performances from Dineo Langa, Rapulana Seiphemo, Ilse Klink, Hein De Vries, Abduragman Adams, Mothusi Magano and Shimmy Isaacs among others.
TRUELOVE sat down with the show’s main cast members as they shared their creative processes and tell us more about their characters.
Gail Mabalane (as Zenzi Mwale)
Zenzi hides behind her identity as an unremarkable cleaning lady while she desperately searches for answers to her husband’s disappearance.
“She exudes a lot of strength even though she’s very timid and very sort of quiet but I do think that there’s a strength to her that I think a lot of women can relate to. There’s also a lot that she goes through that I think a lot of South African women can relate to. Women in general, you know, we have a problem in South Africa and we know it, and just with where we’re at I think that women can see themselves in this character and hopefully feel like their stories are being told. It’s great to see it within the South African context and especially with it being told globally by Netflix,” Gail explains.
READ MORE | Gail Mabalane on her first lead role in Netflix's Unseen - 'It's something that I don’t take for granted'
Vuyo Dabula (as Max Mwale)
Max is a family man caught up in trouble with the law.
“I think drawing specifically from my own life, I think you know as an actor in South Africa ... we’ve all gone through periods where you’re not working but you cannot be sustained by the last thing that you did work on because, you know, budgets are not really favourable. And I think there have been periods where you’re not working and it’s difficult to make ends meet. But I think also, for a guy, we live in a society where if you don’t step up or if you don’t have this or that then you’re judged. So, what I did was, I just kind of visited those times where things got a little bit difficult and I kind of just embraced and threw myself into those [emotions],” Vuyo says.
Dineo Langa (as Naledi)
In contrast to Zenzi’s economic struggles, Naledi is Zenzi’s headstrong and ambitious sister who lives in the affluent suburbs of Cape Town. As Zenzi continues down her dangerous path to finding her husband, Naledi finds out more and more about the trials and hardships her estranged sister faces.
Speaking on the importance of her character’s portrayal to the audience, Dineo explains that “we forget the people that are toeing the poverty line, we forget the people’s stories – that people are going through real things out there and we have lived different areas in South African television. I think I’m grateful for a platform like Netflix that empowers that level of storytelling without any bias, you know, without any – this is how it should look, [these] are the places it should take place in. You see so much in it that challenges your view and your perception of this country and its functionalities. But then again, it challenges your perception regarding male and female interactions and power dynamics”.
Hein De Vries (as Joseph)
Joseph is introduced as a gangster who battles with the complexities of his loyalty and his own moral compass.
“If I should describe Joseph in maybe three words, I would say he’s impulsive, he’s shrewd but he’s very loyal. Loyalty is a big thing for Joseph, which causes him to be conflicted because he’s got moral values that – he wants to do the right thing, but loyalty comes first. So, he puts his moral values aside and get’s the job done,” says Hein.
Ilse Klink (as Detective Lyners)
Detective Lyners and her partner Detective Morkel (played by Waldemar Schultz) take on the many murder cases that are linked to the Mwales as they work towards uncovering the mysteries behind an underground crime syndicate.
“What I think that [Detective Lyners] does and what I try to portray in that particular character is that when you’re the good guy, you know because I have a relationship with Detective Morkel – a professional relationship – and it is a good cop bad cop situation and I end up being the good cop, you know, and she’s using her motherly instincts I think very much to gain information from Zenzi Mwale, specifically. So, she tries to gain trust [and] she uses her personality and her mothering instincts to gain trust with the various people and she’s able to get what she wants out of it so it’s a little bit manipulative,” Ilse explains.
Rapulana Seiphemo (as Blessing)
Blessing comes as the ruthless and cutthroat crime boss that sparks fear in the hearts of any who dare to cross him.
Rapulana says, “He is a crime boss and he’s outright bad … He assumes that he has control of everything, he owns this world. I mean, he’s the king of all his affairs in this particular world, in this nightclub and, unfortunately, that arrogance leads to his downfall. Because here comes this woman who looks timid and is just a cleaner and is someone that we never pay attention to, you know, and he doesn’t pay attention to this particular person, but this particular person has an agenda and he doesn’t see it coming.”
Mothusi Magano (as Lufuno Ngesi)
Lufuno is an author, journalist and one of Zenzi’s employers who takes an interest in her mysterious yet seemingly unremarkable character.
“I don’t have the experience and stuff of my character but emotionally I do relate to him because, you know it’s been a while since I’ve played a character that I can kind of relate to … It was just a relief to play somebody who’s not kidnapping or killing anyone. The way I see [Lufuno] is, I see him as the voice of the audience in a way. I’m enjoying processing him,” Mothusi shares.
Abduragman Adams (as Enrico Booysen)
Enrico and his wife, Alice, own the house that Zenzi lives in. Enrico comes across as seemingly empathetic to Zenzi’s struggles, however, his nefarious intentions very quickly come to light.
Regarding his character, Aduragman explains: “I think what excited me is that I’ve played many villains but I don’t think any of them were as raw as this particular character and the fact that in some ways – not in some ways, he is a sexual predator. But what really got me was that there’s a stunt in there and I’ve always wanted to do more of those and that really built me that I was going through a mini stunt process.”
Shimmy Isaacs (as Alice Booysen)
Alice is Enrico’s wife and, along with Enrico, is Zenzi’s landlord. Alice’s complexities are shown through her initial sympathies to Zenzi and her fierce loyalty to her husband.
“I think a lot of South African audiences know me as either a comical actress or a stand-up comedian to some extent, you know, with some of the local series that I do, and coming in to play this particular character I think was an opportunity for me as an actress to really kind of break that ceiling and stereotype perspective that I think people might have of me… But I think with a character like Alice I love the silence, and so I had to become really quiet and not get in the way of the actual character,” Shimmy explains.
Unseen will be available for streaming on 29 March 2023 to 190 different countries.