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One on One | Tsotsi at Park Station

by Briain Lethlabane / 18.11.2011

The movie about my life would open with this scene. This still shot, in fact. In a voiceover, I’d talk about how tense I was shooting it and how badly I wanted my mother to see me up there on the silver screen. I’d mention how cold it was that night and how worried I was, like any actor, about getting my next job. I’d talk about how this was my second major motion picture yet I still didn’t have a girlfriend! Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” would have to be on the soundtrack as I told the story of how I got to be in Tsotsi.

Gavin Hood adapted Athol Fugard’s book into a screenplay and they were actually making a movie. Where did the money come from? Only God and a rich number-crunching UK producer knew. Word on set was that he wasn’t real movie people. An investment banker. And me? I was the naïve and ambitious black kid telling everyone on set: “I’m Gavin’s assistant.”

And I was. It’s true. I made him coffee, washed his car and carried his chair from location to location. I translated the script from English to a tsotsi-taal (more like Tswana mostly spoken by people from Mafikeng). I helped the AD and directed extras. And sometimes, as in the scene above, where Presley’s character walks through a crowded Park Station, I had to be an extra.

Nobody told me to appear in the shot. I kind of elected myself and snuck in. But nobody told me not to be in it. Turned out to be one of the biggest scenes in the movie with almost a hundred extras. I’m the third guy from the right in the background, wearing a black hoodie, with my eyes closed. And why were my eyes closed? I was praying: “God, if you’re listening, please let my mother see this. Let her see her own son up there on the silver screen.” He was listening.

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