Dann-Jacques Mouton plays AB Lonzi, the lead character in Daryne Joshua’s directorial debut film, Noem My Skollie. Set in the 1960s and based on the true life story of the scriptwriter John W. Fredericks, it tells the story of one man’s experience growing up in the Cape Flats and his determination to avoid gangsterism.
In order to protect themselves, AB and his four friends form their own gang, which ultimately has the opposite effect they intended and leads them to a life of violence. Years later, AB is arrested with his friend Gimba and sentenced to two years in prison. It’s during this time that he uses his penchant for storytelling to survive prison and find redemption.
We caught up with Dann-Jacques to find out more about his break-out film role and how the work is less about gangsterism and more about how the stories we tell come to define our lives.
What were your thoughts after reading the script for the first time?
That this was the real thing, an important film and I wanted to be in it.
Noem my Skollie is based on the life story of Mr. John W. Fredericks, who is also the screenwriter. Can you tell us a bit about your creative process? How did you go about preparing for the role and making sure that your portrayal of the character did his story justice?
I listened to the many stories Boeta John shared with me. I listened to various kinds of music from the days of the 60s and I used the costumes to assist me to build the character – from the shoes to get the walk and the movement, and the look and feel of the man I needed to become for the role.
I grew up in in different areas within Cape Town, so I was exposed to gang life, but was never forced to become part of one, although I knew the life. I grew up in poverty but not at the Level Boeta John experienced. My mother raised me as a single parent and the challenges I faced, I overcame through prayer and a positive attitude to life. I continue to do so.
What’s the most important thing you wanted to bring across making this film?
Finding your calling in life is the important thing and deciding what you want to do with it, it’s all about the choices one makes in life. To always believe in your dream. And never give up.
Gangsterism is often romanticised and misrepresented on film and TV. What were some the complexities that came with making the film?
This film is not about gangs, it’s about the people, the characters in those spaces and how they move and live and breath there. We didn’t want to make a film about gangs, no.
What was the toughest scene to shoot and why?
All the scenes are tough in different ways, some because they are emotional some because of the action or violence and you know as you are filming that Boeta John is there and lived the real thing
What resonated with you most about your character?
My character is a storyteller at heart and so we are similar in that regard. Family is important to him, for me as well.
In her review on IOL, Theresa Smith said, “The English subtitles are almost too polite and even dramatically inert, straightforward when compared to the emotionally charged original repartee”. What are your thoughts on this?
You cannot translate a culture and the people with words only. You need to see them in the space and in their movement. The characters come alive on screen and the English subtitles are only a part of the experience. The rest is the performance and so audiences will get all of that when they watch the film, even if they don’t understand Afrikaans. Watch the film, don’t read it.
The film is also Daryne Joshua’s directorial debut. What did you learn from working with him?
That you judge a person from their actions not by their age or their experience. Daryne understood the characters and the spaces they were in and what we needed as actors to make the best of the role and the scene. He gave us all confidence because he knew the script so well and had authority and we gave him respect but also he gave everyone else respect.
Noem my Skollie made history and premiered at Pollsmoor before it’s nationwide release. Did you have any reservations about how it might have been received by prisoners and South African audiences in general?
Not really, because I knew that the research was thorough. I knew that prisoners would react well to seeing themselves. Even though the film is set in the 1960s, so much is still the same and though the film has a hardness to it and some scenes are tough to experience, there is a softness to it also. I’ve always known it would find a wide audience.
What’s next after this?
Perhaps a play by Christo Davids, maybe another movie… nothing is planned yet. I would like to direct for stage and film, create and perform my own work and empower young aspiring actors through workshops facilitated by myself. I can’t really see myself as anything else but an Actor…I have made peace with my reality.
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Noem my Skollie is showing at Ster Kinekor cinemas until 29 September.