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Robert Mpisi speaks six languages – his mother-tongue Xhosa, as well as Afrikaans, English, Sotho, Tswana and Zulu. That skill is coming in handy on Isidingo (1998-current), where the Eastern Cape actor is playing the multi-lingual role of Sibeko Gold’s senior shift boss Matlala.
This is your first soap role, right? Yes, I’d always wanted to be on a soapie and had worked on dramas like Mamello (2015-2016, as dodgy Ferrari). I needed to break out of the drama genre and went for a more laid-back option [Laughs]. I auditioned here and Matlala was only supposed to be around for a month but my stay has been extended.
So is Matlala a good guy or a baddie? He’s complicated [Laughs]. He can be seen in two ways: he’s a bit of a rebel, always in trouble, and as a Robin Hood figure who is in favour of helping the poor. He doesn’t seem to be getting on too well with Hendrik, another newcomer (see p19).
There’s a big storyline coming up right now about land compensation. Matlala is in the middle of it… and there’s his feud with new hostel manager Hendrik (Gérard Rudolf) and it creates tension. Was being fluent in so many languages a requirement for your role? Not that it mattered, but no – it is an asset in any industry though. Matlala speaks Zulu and switches between Afrikaans and Tswana so that he comes across as engaging with the miners. And was it daunting joining a show with established actors and characters? It’s a job and that’s always “interesting”, joining a new team. They welcomed me, the cast and crew, and it felt like a homecoming, so I’m happy to stay as long as Matlala is needed on the Horizon Deep mines.
NB! See more on p19.