Love, death, and the mess in-between - that's the tagline for M-Net's new local drama Still Breathing.
The 13-episode series which premieres on Thursday, 27 February at 20:00 on M-Net (DStv 101) centres on a group of former friends who are drawn together again after tragedy strikes.
SAFTA award-winning director Johnny Barbuzano (The River) helmed the series. His wife, Tiffany, wrote the script and also stars in the show. Their children Jamie and Jesse make their acting debuts.
Kate Liquorish, Lorcia Kumalo, Shannon Esra, Ty Keogh, Siv Ngesi Fulu Mugovhani, Brandon Auret and Brendan Pollecutt make up the all-star cast.
We spoke to Johnny and Tiffany ahead of the premiere who shared six things about the show with us.
1. ON WHAT INSPIRED THE SHOW
"Tiffany and I have always wanted to do a show with strong characters, a show which isn't necessarily about high concept things happening but every day 'normal' stuff which has a significant impact on the characters involved. A show that showcases living as 30/40 year olds in Johannesburg and what that means. We wanted to show 'us'," says Johnny.
Tiffany adds: "The theme of the show, or one of them at least, is about loss. Johnny and I have lost some very important people in our lives. From car accidents to suicide and each time, our lives were changed. Then I lost my sister, Derryth two years ago. She had breast cancer. It was a huge reason for writing this show. A very cathartic experience for me. Being able to write about grief was a healing process."
2. ON THE TITLE
"We were discussing this the other day, and both of us remember sitting on our patio, brainstorming the characters, and we discussed the one thing that is a constant in life - breathing.
"When you're born, it's the first thing you do and when you leave, to start the next part of your soul's journey - it's the last thing. As long as you're 'Still Breathing' - you're the lucky one. You still have hope, no matter the circumstances," says Tiffany.
(SUPER MOM: Tiffany with her children Jamie and Jesse and her TV husband Brandon Auret. Photo: M-Net)
3. ON THE SHOW BEING A FAMILY PROJECT
"There was never any doubt about our roles in the show. We wrote it with these things in mind. I'm an actress and writer, and sometimes roles for me aren't as readily available as I'd like. So, I wrote my own. And I couldn't imagine ten weeks without my children, so I wrote with them in mind too. It was a way to showcase their incredible talents and get to still spend time with them. It wasn't always easy - juggling the various roles of actress, producer, writer and mom - but it was worth it," says Tiffany.
Johnny adds: "I knew I wanted to direct all of the episodes. Usually, you have a few directors who work in "blocks" - say four episodes each, to give each other a break, on a show like this. Shooting is incredibly hard work. And I have to admit, I was exhausted, but it is our story - I took up the challenge because of this. And I knew I had support. And I knew exactly how I wanted the show to look."
4. ON CASTING FOR THE SERIES
"I wrote with them [the actors] in mind. I knew who we wanted. So, when I'd write, their voices would be in my head. And at our first read through, I had goosebumps as they each read! The voices in my head were the voices I heard in the room. It was amazing. But I don't think I could have wished for more dedicated, invested cast members. I keep saying that the Universe conspired to bring the people who made this show together and I mean it. From our cast to the incredible crew - everyone invested 100 per cent in this show. And because of that, we made magic," says Tiffany.
"The people who were on our "wish list" are the people who were cast. We're so fortunate that after twenty-plus years in the industry, we have had the opportunity to work with the best of the best. And we have long standing relationships with most of our cast. We wanted to give them the platform to showcase their incredible talents. I'm very proud of what they brought to the screen. There hasn't been a lot of work for English speaking actors for a while, and this is an amazing time for us, industry-wise. The first English drama on M-Net in over ten years," adds Johnny.
(A DREAM CAST: Tiffany with Ty Keogh and Kate Liquorish. Photo: M-Net)
5. ON WHAT THE MAIN THEME FRIENDSHIP MEANS TO THEM
"Stay close to people who feel like sunshine - that epitomises friendship for us."
6. ON WHAT THEY HOPE VIEWERS TAKE AWAY FROM THE SHOW
"I hope they see that South Africa has the talent and ability to stand alongside international shows. This show is unlike anything we've made before. It's a new wave. I hope that people see the hard work and dedication from everyone who had a hand in making Still Breathing," says Johnny.
"I hope that viewers connect to the characters. When they watch, they identify with different elements of each character. I hope they walk away from each episode feeling that no matter what happens in life - if you're Still Breathing - you're the lucky ones. And that especially now, in the world at the moment - people are essentially just trying their best - that Good people make bad decisions, but love will always win," adds Tiffany.
WATCH THE CAST TALK ABOUT THE SHOW HERE: