Gail Mabalane on her first lead role in Netflix's Unseen - 'It's something that I don’t take for granted'

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Gail Mabalane as Zenzi Mwale on Netflix's Unseen.
Gail Mabalane as Zenzi Mwale on Netflix's Unseen.
Photo: Supplied

She is no stranger to the small screen. With her talent and experience, she's been bagging roles left, right and centre. 

But even she's in awe of her new role. It's her first lead in a new crime thriller, Unseen, on Netflix.

In it, actor Gail Mabalane tells the story of Zenzi Mwale, a housekeeper who takes matters into her own hands while desperately searching for her missing husband.

She excited when she chats to TRUELOVE about her first time playing a lead character in a TV show. She says she is taking it all in and it came with challenges that brought out the best in her craft.

“It is such a surreal moment. This is my first lead role, it is something that I don’t take for granted for one second and for Netflix to trust me with such a strong and intense character, it is an honour. I have done a lot of shows, I am excited because it is something I have never done before and the audience will get to see me in a way that they have never seen before,” the actor shares.

“And for me, personally, I was challenged in ways that I have never been challenged before as an actor, so I am extremely proud of it. I mean any actor would probably tell you that at this point we’re nervous, you know you are excited for the audience to see it but at the same time you like ‘oh’ we have put so much into as the cast and crew that we hope it will be received accordingly.”

With plenty of successful credits to her name, she tells us that she still gets goosebumps when she bags new roles on TV shows.

This is a feeling that never goes away, she says.

“We filmed for about 70 days, and I think I was on set for about 65 days and every single day, I’d have goosebumps every time I stepped on set. It has never been ‘oh no this one go easy about it’ no, there is always that ‘I need to bring this character to life, I need to be true to her, be believable and tell the story authentically'.”

Gail Mabalane
Photo: Supplied

She says that is why it was a nerve-wrecking moment for her when she first walked into the show, because, “we are so critical with our work, we just want to make sure that the work is authentic, and you are more truthful to the story”.

When we asked for a glimpse of her character on Unseen, she tells us that Zenzi was caught up in her husband’s past, which later found her fighting for herself.

“She is a very unseen character, she is a domestic worker and forced into circumstances to try to make ends meet. We follow her story on Unseen as she embarks on a journey to find her husband who has gone missing. Unfortunately, in the process, she gets entangled in uncomfortable situations. She got drawn into the world of crime after discovering her husband’s criminal background and ends up being forced to fight for her life.”

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She says what makes the series even more exciting is that it is filmed in the other side of the Mother City, which a lot of people doesn’t really know.

“It is set in [the] not so pretty part of Cape Town, an impoverish part of the city and I think a lot of us are going to relate to that, even me; Zenzi is a mother, wife, and she is faced with situations where she has to stand up for herself, her child, and husband. There are also undertones of gender-based violence which is something we know as a country that it continues to be an issue we are facing. So, a lot of women are going to see themselves in a way.”

She is having the best time of her life playing Zenzi, as she gets to do stuff she wouldn’t normally do, she says.

“She is very similar to Gail, but she is also very different. Zenzi does a lot of stuff and gets away with things that Gail wouldn’t dream of doing or ever get away with, and that is the most fun part of acting because you step out of the world and lives someone else's reality.”

She adds that Zenzi is also a heavy character to play. She had to constantly remind herself that she is on set doing what she loves the most after every take, and that’s the fun part of the job.

“She is such an emotionally challenged character that it was important for me to remind myself that every time I put on her wardrobe to step into that character and every time, I took off her wardrobe and stepped into my personal clothes, I make a conscious decision that it was that intentional for me to switch roles because it is very easy to get caught up in her world, her emotions and what she is feeling.”

Unseen features stars such as Dineo Langa, Lehasa Moloi as well as Vuyo Dabula, among others.

Gail Mabalane
Photo: Supplied

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“All of the cast members brought their A-game, there isn’t anyone that I worked with who didn’t give a 110 per cent to the role and in the process helped me bring out the best in Zenzi, so I had a lot of fun working with everyone. My favourite scenes are with my son [as a character] and my husband Max, at the time when things are happy.

“The show takes you on a crime thriller journey where you are literally on the edge of your seat and always waiting for what's going to happen next, there's lots of drama and action. Zenzi carried a lot of attention throughout the show but in the lighter moments, I enjoyed her when she’d get flashbacks of her life before the crimes.”

The show will premiere on the streaming platform from the 29 March 2023.

“This is just a day before my child’s birthday. This month [March] has been so incredible in a way that everything has just made a room for me to take in this huge experience for me because it is big. I know we are so quick to work and move on to the next thing especially as performers because we are very critical about ourselves, we’re always about ‘what’s next what’s next’ so I got very intentional when I got the date, [of the release of Unseen] everything just aligned. I am taking it in, I am present in everything, I am enjoying that this is very first lead role on a platform like Netflix,” Gail says.

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