Friends warned Israel Makoe against playing the role of a villain on television. They told him people would run away from him, if they were ever to meet him in person, because of the characters he portrayed. But the opposite happened.
Instead of running away, fans approached Makoe and told him how much they admired his acting skills.
Makoe plays the role of a gangster, Mugza, in the new local production Hard To Get – a film he describes as an action, drama and comedy movie with “swag”.
Directed by Zee Ntuli, the cast includes Pallance Dladla, Thishiwe Ziqubu, Pakamisa Zwedala and Jerry Mofokeng, in a tale about two lovers who land themselves in sticky and dangerous situations. According to Makoe, Mugza is just a guy who is struggling to find love, and when he finds it he gets screwed over by his love interest.
“Mugza is the bad guy in the film. He is a criminal. When you are hated on screen, then you know you are doing a good job,” he says.
South African audiences were first introduced to Makoe in the SABC1 drama series Yizo Yizo, where he played the role of prison gang leader Nongoloza.
Makoe: Crime was ‘my escape’
Makoe was sitting in jail, serving an eight-year sentence for housebreaking and theft, when Yizo Yizo first aired. He was first arrested for theft when he just 14 years old. “Crime for me at the time, was my plan to escape poverty.”
Makoe was, like many South Africans, captivated by the story that Yizo Yizo told about the townships.
“I remember watching the show in prison, and thinking to myself, I’m the next Yizo Yizo star. I could feel it.”
When he was released from prison in 1999 he joined the Victory Sonqoba Theatre Company in Alexandra, a township he grew up in. Through the company, he was able to audition and land the role of Nongoloza in Yizo Yizo.
Theatre was part of his rehabilitation programme while in prison. “Drama was my way of turning my life around,” he says.
Nongoloza, the villain he played in the series, was not a guy you wanted to mess with. Just looking at him on screen, intimidating the other prisoners, scared even the toughest cookie. Since then, Makoe has played more villainous characters in series and films like, Gaz’lam, Izulu Lami, iNumber Number, Tsotsi, Four Corners and now, Hard To Get.
Check out the trailer for Hard To Get
“I’m ready to play anything. Playing the role of the villain for me is just a way of educating people. I try to show the youth that crime doesn’t play. Just like in Hard To Get,” says Makoe, who doesn’t believe he’s been typecast.
“The producers and writers pick the roles for me. I go looking for work at auditions. The character of a villain is not something I chose. I have auditioned for the good-guy roles before but the producers feel I portray the villain role very well.”
‘Owning’ the bad boy image
Makoe initially auditioned for the role of Chester, who played a criminal in Yizo Yizo. The show needed a replacement for Chester but Makoe was too tall for the role. However, he made such an impression on the writers that they ended up writing a role for him.
Actors such as Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Owen Sejake and Vusi Kunene, who have portrayed villains before, inspire Makoe’s work.
Makoe’s past has helped shape the roles that he has played, which explains why he is so believable on screen. The way he walks, the way he speaks, his dialect, the cold look in his eyes … Makoe owns the bad boy image. But he says the guy you see on-screen and off-screen are two different people.
“I draw a line between acting and real life. I’m a shy, calm and very organised person.”
According to Makoe, if you drive around looking for him on a weekend – when he is not working – you’ll find him sitting in a driveway, somewhere in Alexandra, listening to some Anita Baker and Sade.
Here’s our list of the top five male villains on SA screens:
1.?Vusi Kunene is best known for his role as Jack Mabaso in Generations. Mabaso was the unsmiling, cold gangster that caused misery for a lot of characters on the soapie. Now Kunene has taken on another villainous role on the drama series Isibaya, where he plays the character of Bhekifa Ntshangase, a ruthless businessperson who is out seeking revenge against his enemies.
2.?Brendon Daniels usually plays a criminal. In the international movie, City of Violence, he plays a gangster who wreaks havoc on a beach in Cape Town. Many will remember Daniels as Farakhan in the South African feature film Four Corners, which is the story of a reformed prison general from the 28s who can’t escape gang violence.
3.?Menzi Ngubane: “Pah whoo!” was the famous expression by Ngubane’s character Mazwi in the SABC 1990s drama series Ubambo Lwami, who terrorised the community. Now Ngubane, again, plays Sibusiso Dlomo in Generations, a ruthless and scheming businessperson who doesn’t mind stooping to the lowest level to remain at the top.
4.?Ronnie Nyakale plays the character of Cosmo, a bully and Sibusiso Dlomo’s goon, on Generations. He is best remembered for his role on Yizo Yizo as Papa Action, a bully who terrorised school kids. He was so convincing as Papa Action that fans couldn’t separate the actor and his role.
5.?Robert Whitehead is known for his role as the evil, scheming businessperson, Barker Haines, on the SABC3 soapie Isidingo. Barker gets his thrills from causing misery in the lives of the characters on the soapie. Whitehead also played the role of Zach Devlin, a casino owner who sets out to destroy anyone who crosses him, in the Leon Schuster movie Mr Bones.