By BRUCE DENNILL
Didintle Khunou stars as Esther Ndlovu in BET Africa telenovela Isono. Esther is the only daughter of protagonist Mary Ndlovu (Nthati Moshesh), growing up sheltered and away from her family as she attended boarding school. She is beautiful and talented child, but her mother’s shadow weighs heavily on her.
Can you distil what it is that you love about film or television acting particularly – over other types of performance such as theatre?
Well, film and TV aren’t really the actor’s medium – only because there are so many factors that influence the outcome of your performance. What I do appreciate is that I know how to use all the other elements of filmmaking to enhance my performances.
Are there aspects of the craft of acting that are different in front of a camera than when performing for a live audience?
Many. I mean, the mode of storytelling is essentially the same, but there are many other things to factor in when you’re performing for the camera. Unlike the stage, the camera really picks up detail. So the focus is more on communicating and telling story with your eyes. On stage, the whole body is in clear sight, so you focus more on using your entire body to convey your message.
Film and television can involve an enormously lengthy creative process, with months or even years passing between coming on board via auditions and the premiere of the piece. What’s that like emotionally as a performer – investing heavily in something and then having to wait?
When you’re done working on a long form project, you’re usually left feeling depleted – physically, emotionally and mentally. Actors are people too! It’s important for us to take a break. Get back to having a life outside of work, having hobbies, reconnecting with loved ones, strengthening the body before we jump back into the next project…
How important is a message for you in terms of the types of stories you prefer to get involved with? Are you part activist (and if so, for what causes), do you want something that primarily presses artistic buttons, or is it a matter of simply working first and foremost? (Perhaps it’s a mixture of all three…).
It used to be a mixture of all three, but the more I’ve worked and matured as an actor, the more I’ve developed a true sense of purpose when it comes to my work as an artist. My intention is to use my gifts and skill sets to empower and enlighten mankind through art. It is also to expand myself by getting out of my comfort zone as an artist. I join projects I believe will break the mould in some kind of way. Or those that excite me. Any story that’s offered to me that doesn’t align with my value system and that won’t challenge me I won’t do.
What do you need from a director? Conversely, what won’t you put up with from a director?
I like working with directors who know exactly what they want but who leave room and space for the actors to invent and play; directors who take the time to get to know their actors, their acting styles, their strengths and weaknesses and who work to help them give the best performances they can. Directors who can communicate clearly and with respect are key. What I will never tolerate is a director who belittles, asserts their power over others, who doesn’t acknowledge the contributions of everyone around them, who doesn’t give feedback and who isn’t collaborative.
Does the way a film or show is distributed make a difference to you – the impact of the big screen and epic sound in a cinema versus a film or series being watched on a laptop or phone? Please answer as both a performer and a fan.
As a performer, it does make a difference. If I know the format in which the show will be watched, then it also indicates the style and choices I will make. As a fan, it really depends on the show itself. If it’s a web series, I absolutely don’t mind watching on a laptop or smartphone – smart phones are the future! I will always appreciate the cinema experience, but unfortunately, that seems to be a dying business. The world is moving into a time where we will be entertained in isolation, in the “convenience” of our homes. There’s nothing we can do about that. I’m definitely going to build a mini cinema room for myself, just to try and preserve the cinema ambience and experience. I worry about theatre. I hope we can invent ways to preserve our theatres in this future of advancing technologies, pandemics and the advace of the internet.
Tell me about Isono – who is Esther and why is she satisfying to play?
Esther is the biological daughter of the evil matriarch of the story, Mary Ndlhovu. Unlike her mother, she has a pure heart. The creator of the show often refers to her as the light of the show. She’s like a candle in the midst of darkness. She’s terribly naive and impressionable, so she is often abused, betrayed and lied to by her narcissistic mother and other characters around her. She is oblivious of the evil that surrounds her. She’s satisfying to play because she made me step into the world of trauma bonds, a world I’ve never experienced in my own personal life. Her attachment to her abusive mother and drugs intrigues me. It was through playing Esther that I understood, in depth, why people stay in abusive situations, and how people self-sabotage and abuse themselves in attempts to gain some kind of control over their lives. It’s a difficult thing to comprehend if you’re a fairly healthy, empowered and spiritually strong person. She is in a deep spiritual crisis and I find playing this crisis fascinating.