Light side of playing an icon
Inhabiting the role of struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada was a long shot for doctor, comedian and now movie star Riaad Moosa
opens on Friday and is an emotioninducing film.
It is by no means historically accurate but the film builds a good tension over its two-hour, 26-minute length, sweeping from swanky scenes of 1940s Joburg to the township bloodshed of the early 1990s.
The costumes and sets are intricate and lavish. Naomi Harris’s Winnie Mandela is portrayed superstylishly on Joburg streets.
Most of the dialogue and action is between Mandela and Winnie, who are portrayed as characters with flaws, denting Mandela’s halo of the common imagination.
South African actors are a little lower on the bill.
Comedian, doctor and now TV show host Riaad Moosa is fourth on the bill, playing the role of freedom fighter Ahmed Kathrada, a role Moosa sees as a great responsibility.
This is his second screen acting gig following his success with Material last year as family fabric shop worker Cassim Kaif.
“I got this role based on my work in Material. I did not say no to playing Kathy, I just delayed giving Anant a ‘yes’.
“I wasn’t planning on doing movies. The role has a lot of pressure. I was a comedian,” he says.
The shoot took place over three months starting in May last year. In preparation for the role, Moosa met Kathrada. “I spent a lot of time with him and it changed my perspective. Everyone knows the story but up until that point it was just words on a page.
“I began to understand the sacrifice. Freedom is like air, you don’t
NELSON Mandela’s story finally comes to the South African big screen, aiming to draw large audiences with its international castings.
Anant Singh has done it before with Whoopi Goldberg in Sarafina! Now we have Brit Idris Elba as Mandela, a role that requires some accent modification, ageing makeup and a young Madiba swagger.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom notice it until it starts thinning.”
Moosa reflected on his time with Kathrada, as the older man described his political detention as an “unnatural society”, a place that left him without seeing a child for 22 years.
Moosa provides much comic relief in the film. Although he doesn’t have too many lines, the Kathrada character feels shaped by Moosa’s comedic wit.
“Kathy is soft spoken. When he heard that I was playing him, he asked, ‘Why Riaad? He’s a comedian. What is funny about The Long Walk?’ He was witty and he did ease the tension,” said Moosa.
He also watched videos of Kathrada and thought about how to portray him as a young man and then an old man.
Playing old Kathrada took five and a half hours of heavy make-up.
“I felt more comfortable with the character as an older man because that is how I know him. The makeup adds size, whereas people normally get frailer and thinner.”
Of Elba he says, “He is great. He is really generous. He will detach sometimes but people respect that.”
Moosa had a brief Mandela magic moment in 2010 at a 46664 It’s No Joke show.
“He has a presence. He was frail. He did not interact much but he did smile. It’s that intangible quality of his, when everything stops.” ● You can see Riaad Moosa next Sunday at the fundraiser show Keeping You in Stitches 2 at the CTICC at 5pm.
NOW AND THEN: Riaad Moosa donned heavy make-up to play Ahmed Kathrada as an older man