Surviving Shucks

2010-05-08 00:00

SOUTH African comedy legend Leon Schuster has lost count of the number of times he’s been slapped across the face, punched and pummelled by people — but that doesn’t mean he wants them to stop.

“I hope they will klap me because that’s what the public wants,” he said after a screening of his latest film, Schuks Tshabalala’s Survival Guide to South Africa, at Ster-Kinekor Gateway on Wednesday.

The film is a combination of traditional candid camera sketches, scripted skits and Bollywood-inspired musical numbers — all of which, if the preview audience is anything to go by, will have fans rolling in the aisles.

Schuster’s gags are unleashed on a host of unsuspecting football fans, fishermen, drivers, traffic policemen, golfers … and Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille.

To pull of his various cons, the 59-year-old actor spent between four and five hours in a make-up artist’s chair, having prosthetics attached to his face.

“It’s a schlep,” Schuster says, “but when I’m in the chair I plan my gags, how I’m going to approach them. I fear doing a gag before I do one, but when I see myself in the mirror [in the make-up] I can do it.”

He also endures the epic make-up sessions because he can no longer rely on glasses, wigs and Naas Botha teeth to disguise his distinctive features.

Shot on location in Cape Town and surrounding areas, Schuster plays characters as varied as a football journalist from Holland, who interviews the completely unsuspecting Zille and Alan Boesak, to a tribal leader from the Transkei who lays claim to his ancestral lands in posh Sea Point, to the horror of the locals.

The main character is, however, the Schuks Tshabalala of the title, a tour guide whose aim is to assist tourists visiting the country ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Helping him in his endeavours is his trusty sidekick, Shorty, played by Alfred Ntombela. Shorty also has great fun doing the film’s musical sequences, one of which pokes fun at ANC youth leader Julius Malema.

Asked what the biggest challenge is when making a candid camera film, Schuster said it is being prepared for the unexpected. “You have to be able to think on your feet,” he added, “… it’s difficult to know exactly how people will react.

“In the scene with the squatter camp [in Sea Point], people didn’t want to confront me … they just stood there and watched. I had to go and confront them to get a reaction. It was one of the hardest working days of my life.”

For director Gray Hofmeyr, working on his first candid camera film left him with new respect for the film’s star. “I never realised what Leon goes through. He’s on his own out there making it work,” he said.

The director, who has previously worked with Schuster on Sweet & Short, There’s a Zulu on My Stoep, Mamma Jack and Mr Bones, also found it a challenge learning where to put cameras and sound equipment for the various gags. In one skit, Hofmeyr placed cameramen in specially made hides around the top tee of a golf course, only for Schuster to decide he would get a better reaction from some women golfers on the lower tee.

The problem was how to film it — there were no cameras around the bottom tee, so Hofmeyr had to get his camera team to turn their hides around to focus on the action. “It’s amazing what people accept, because they are trying to cope with the situation they’re in,” he said. “If they had looked they would have seen the camera hides move, but they didn’t.”

So, does Schuster feel any compassion for his victims? “I do pity them and sometimes I feel I should stop it … and at the end of the gags I do my best to pacify them and say I’m sorry,” he said, adding that most people are relieved and delighted to learn they will be seeing themselves up on the big screen.

As for whether or not he’ll be collaborating with Hofmeyer on another candid camera film, Schuster says it will depend largely on how Schuks Shabalala is received by moviegoers, adding: “[But] if we do another one, I’d prefer it to be before I turn 60 because I’m getting to old to run away.”

• Schuks Shabalala’s Survival Guide to South Africa is released nationwide on May 28.

Ster-Kinekor cinemas have arranged a special premiere screening of Schuks Shabalala’s Survival Guide to South Africa at Musgrave Centre in Durban on May 27, where fans will be able to see the film before its nationwide release and meet stars Leon Schuster and Alfred Ntombela. To book your seats log on to www.ster­kinekor.com or phone 082 16789.

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