Taking comedy very seriously

2012-06-25 00:00

LEON Schuster’s long-time dream of creating a buddy comedy road movie has been realised with the release last Friday of Mad Buddies.

He plays Boetie, a former game ranger who had one of his big toes shot off by a man he believed to be a poacher. That man was in fact, a policeman named Beast (Kenneth Nkosi — White Wedding, Paradise Stop), who believed Boetie was the criminal. Instead of arresting him, however, Beast finds himself chased by a lion into a pit.

The sworn enemies meet again when Boetie, now a landscape gardener, is working in the park where Beast’s new boss, Mr Mda, the Minister of Tourism — played by Schuster’s long-time collaborator Alfred Ntombela — is attending a wedding. A fight soon ensues which leaves several people sporting new haircuts, the bride half naked and the minister wearing a pig’s head.

Reality show producer Kelsey (Tanit Phoenix — Spud), however sees in the pair the potential for a reality television show hit.

She manipulates the minister into offering Boetie and Beast a choice — jail time or walk from Durban to Gauteng. The minister hopes they’ll find common ground and learn to like and respect each other. Kelsey, who is broadcasting the unsuspecting pair’s trip to the nation, wants the complete opposite: plenty of animosity.

Schuster, who was in Durban for the Mad Buddies premiere at Suncoast last week, said he’d been walking around with the idea of a buddy comedy involving two guys who hate each other, but are forced to work together, for many years.

The inspiration, he added, came from Hans en die Rooinek, an early comedy by South African film-maker Jamie Uys (The Gods Must be Crazy).

“I’ve been a great fan of Jamie Uys my whole life and started following his films when I was six years old, and Hans en die Rooinek made a particular impact on me.” recalls Schuster. “It is about an Englishman and a ‘Boertjie’ who couldn’t get along and as punishment they had to walk from Johannesburg to Cape Town and were forced to bond, but no way could they. “It was a fantastically funny movie with brilliant moments and I can remember the scenes to this day. With Mad Buddies I brought that idea into the new South Africa and a rainbow nation where a ‘whitey’ and a ‘black oke’ cannot get along because of an incident that took place many years ago.”

Mad Buddies, like all Schuster films, is packed with slapstick gags, as well as some Jackass-style gross-out comedy moments. “I like a film that is thick with gags and thin on plots because that’s what people go to see — they see a comedy because they want to laugh,” he added.

Nkosi, who is new to the Schuster-brand of comedy, said he had really enjoyed being part of the team. “We have been throwing each other the ball, which is very satisfying for an actor. And I never felt that I was made to do things that I didn’t want to do,” he added. The actor admitted, however, that when he was first approached to play Beast he wasn’t sure he’d be able to crack Schuster’s brand of visual and physical comedy.

“But how could I even think twice about working with one of the greatest, most bankable stars in South Africa — no one puts bums on seats like Schuster does!” he added.

The fact that Schuster has broken just about every box office record in South African history with his candid camera and slapstick comedies, was also one of the many reasons that former Durban actress Josette Eales (Think Theatre’s Othello, The Wild on M-Net), who plays the minister’s PA in Mad Buddies, wanted to get involved.

“Being part of a Schuster film exposes you to the biggest audience you can have as an actor in South Africa,” she said, adding that she had been extremely nervous about auditioning for Schuster and director, Grey Hofmeyr. The feeling didn’t last too long though.

“They are both really down to earth. It’s all about the craft, about the work. They take making comedy very seriously,” she said.

Asked to choose their favourite scenes in the film, both Schuster and Nkosi plumped for a rare tender moment in Mad Buddies where Boetie and Beast are trapped in a car which is jammed between two rocks.

In the scene the two men sing songs lamenting the trials of their journey. They are dirty and hungry and fed up with fighting, so they cry their hearts out and start confessing. You think they’re going to shake hands and be buddies, but then there is another twist and it doesn’t happen.

“I love this scene because they have nothing to hide. They don’t realise they are being filmed, so they feel they can do and say whatever they like,” Schuster said.

Eales and Ntombela both love the comic moments involving the diminutive actor, especially the scene of the minister sitting on a bench and then being flung into a lake and another in which he has a close encounter with a porcupine. Asked what plans he had for the future, Schuster said he might do another candid camera film, but would concentrate on targeting celebrities and politicians.

He may also head to America to do something in the style of Sacha Baren Cohen’s Borat and is toying with the idea of a South African western in which Ntombela would be seated on a massive horse, Nkosi on a tiny pony and the American Indians would be played by members of Durban’s Indian community.

I like a film that is thick with gags and thin on plots because that’s what people go to see. Leon Schuster

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