FILM: MAD BUDDIES
Interview by Peter Tromp
“Leon Schuster has an instinct for what everyone finds funny.”
So said Gray Hofmeyr, director of the comedian’s latest picture, ‘Mad Buddies’ at a recent press junket for the film at Canal Walk.
When I speak to Schuster over the phone a few days later and ask him how he feels about Hofmeyr’s quote, the performer sounds a little touched, before composing himself and addressing my question. “I go with my gut feeling, it’s true,” he says.
“With ‘Mad Buddies’, I felt a very strong desire to write this kind of script right now. This story of a white guy and a black guy not getting along is very timely for South Africa because, let’s face it, things are never perfect in this country.”
Alfred Ntombela, who has been Schuster’s constant collaborator and co-star over the years, went even further than Grey and declares that Schuster has been an intrinsic part of the fabric of the New South Africa and the journey we have travelled as a country. From the sounds of it, it is in his nature for the comedian to take high praise like this from his peers in his stride.
“My movies are just for normal people. It is for the people, by the people, because I am one of the people,” he says. “All my story movies move with the times.
They have been different, but they were all essentially sending up the political situation in this country.”
In Schuster’s latest foray onto the silver screen, sworn enemies, Boetie (Schuster) and Beast, played by Kenneth Nkosi (‘Jerusalema’, ‘Tsotsi’, ‘White Wedding’), are forced to embark on a road trip as unwitting subjects of a new TV reality show, devised by a gorgeous TV Producer, Kelsey, played by Tanit Phoenix (‘Spud’, ‘Straight Outta Benoni’). On camera, with the whole of South Africa in on the joke, the pair comes unstuck at every stage of this hilarious journey until they discover that they have been conned and join forces to exact revenge.
‘Mad Buddies’ also stars Ntombela as Mr Mda, the Minister of Tourism.
How do you feel about the movie? You must be excited for audiences to finally see it.
I am. We just came back from a press junket, visiting five cities in five days and the reaction was very good, but after all that, I must say I’m pretty knackered.
My hope is that the timing is right for this. We always strive to deliver a story that appeals to as wide a demographic as possible.
(I bring up that his movies almost always succeed at the box office, so he must be expecting more of the same with ‘Mad Buddies’.)
Despite most of my movies being successful, I don’t expect that much. I’m hoping for the best. I’d rather modify my expectations so it is a pleasant surprise when it does do well. If it fails, then I’m not that disappointed. The rest of the guys are very optimistic, but I’ve been telling them to back their enthusiasm up a bit.
This film turns the table on your usual candid camera format where you are the one who doesn’t know that you are being filmed. Was this deliberate?
It was deliberate. It allowed us to not shy away from anything, because our characters are oblivious that there are cameras on them at all times. Kenneth is a wonderfully spontaneous, funny human being, and his improvisational skills really blended well with what we tried to achieve. I think my candid camera instincts are still applicable, because the whole pranking game is still a part of this film. I don’t want to be over-exposed as the hidden camera man. If I do another candid camera, it would have to be something the audience has never seen before. Maybe I’ll make an SA western next.
Despite cultural and societal changes, your comedy still resonates with audiences. How do you do it?
I don’t make movies for my fellow moviemakers; I make movies for the people. I want to get as many bums on the seats as possible. I’m very thankful to God that it actually works. I don’t elevate myself above the audience. I am one with them. Not everyone loves Leon Schuster, and I’m used to it, but I want to get to my people. As long as I stick to that principal, I feel like I am doing something right.
I also like to have a little controversy in my movies. We take chances, but they are calculated chances. We don’t shy away from corruption and things like that and I think the audience appreciates that because those things are on their minds.
Your movies are among the only ones produced in this country that actually do well at the box office. How do you feel about the state of the SA movie industry?
Rugby, soccer, those are all unifying things. One thing I think the government doesn’t understand is that movies are a unifying thing. I wish they would put more money into our business. With the screenings I saw different cultures laughing at the same stuff. We need to make more of these types of comedies to get this racism thing out of the way. Laughter unifies people.
If we could get five million out of the 48 million people in this country going to the movies instead of the 1.5 million who currently go it would make this country a better place.
CAST: Leon Schuster, Kenneth Nkosi, Tanit Phoenix, Alfred Ntombela, Josette Eales, Elize Cawood, Anthony Bishop
Director: Gray Hofmeyr