Lights, camera, action! A day on the set of uBettina Wethu

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Farieda Metsileng as Betty in uBettina Wethu
Farieda Metsileng as Betty in uBettina Wethu
Photo: Supplied
  • Channel24 had the chance to visit the set of uBettina Wethu - SA's rendition of the popular American TV series, Ugly Betty.
  • Getting a glimpse of a day on set, we watched the crew film a scene, and then had the chance to catch up with some of the cast members.
  • We also chatted to creative director MQ Ngubane who told us what it's like to work on such a huge production.
  • NOTE: All Covid-19 regulations were followed during this set visit. 


It was in 2020 that we first heard the news - South Africa would be getting its own rendition of the popular American TV series Ugly Betty.

Months later, uBettina Wethu was born.

As the first season of the local show nears its end, I had the chance to step behind the scenes to experience a day on set. While I had been on TV sets before, I never had the opportunity to be there when the director yelled: "Action!"

So, of course, I was excited.

The energy was electric when I arrived, scrambling to find a parking. Filming had already begun, I was told, as I rushed to meet my guide for the day.

A warehouse had been transformed into a posh nightclub. We tip-toed inside, trying our best to remain invisible to the director as he readied his cast.

"Quiet on set!" came the call. I crept further into the tiny corner we shared with the make-up team, hoping that I was not in view of the camera (I wasn't) but still trying to sneak a peek as the actors took their spots. Then, the moment I had been waiting for came: "Action!"

"Yes, behind the scenes is extremely stressful," creative director MQ Ngubane tells me when we find some time to sit down and have a chat.

It's around 18:30 and the actors are on their lunch break, getting ready for a shoot that will take them well into the night.

MQ and I sit perched high above the set, getting a bird's eye view of the crew below.

"The pressure is there, you know," he tells me, adding: "We're shooting more pages [in a day] than most productions."

While things tend to get heated on set sometimes as the adrenalin kicks in, at the end of the day, "we come back as a family, and we say, we need to make it work", MQ says.

Having been there from the beginning - overseeing casting, cinematography, lighting and everything in between - he believes that as much as it's about working hard, it's also about having fun.

"My philosophy that I extend to the guys is work hard and play hard. And that's what he would do. We do that every day; we have fun."

uBettina Wethu
On the set of local series uBettina Wethu.

I get a chance to witness this firsthand when actor Zweli Dube comes rushing into the make-up area between takes, joking around with the team and leaving everyone in stitches before zooming back out.

Later, while sitting outside, the cast joins me one at a time for a quick catch-up as the sun goes down.

"It's just been such a journey of discovery," Zweli says about taking on the role of Dingaan Jiyane.

"You know, I'm learning more and more about the characters as opposed to what I was told from the very beginning. For one, he's a very sensitive fella," he says, elaborating: "Bear in mind that he's obviously lost his twin brother, so he's trying to fill those shoes, but it just seems like there's so much expectation for him to follow in his mom's footsteps, his twin brother's footsteps, the whole family's footsteps, if I can put it that way."

Dingaan is also quite the charmer, and from the onset, it's made clear that, while women swoon around him, he has trouble staying committed to just one partner, which obviously lands him in hot water too.

Zweli laughs as he admits that he may have been similar to Digaan in some ways when he was in his 20s. "I could easily say that when I was 26, 27 years of age, there's a lot of similarities that we would have had. I won't necessarily elaborate and specify what it is," he laughs.

Zweli Dube
Zweli Dube on the set of uBettina Wethu.

Now 38 years old, Zweli says there is one part of his character that the show "nailed" - his relationship with his mother.

In uBettina Wethu, while Digaan and powerhouse mom Linda Jiyane have a troubled relationship, they also care deeply for each other.

"My relationship on the screen with what you see with Linda Jiyane is pretty much spot on with the relationship that I have with my mother," he tells me.

My attention turns to Farieda Metsileng, who takes a seat on the chair to my right.

Taking on the role of South Africa's Betty could not have been an easy task, but Farieda says she did not allow the pressure to get to her.

"I don't like to give in to pressure because then you end up not being authentic. And I want to be an authentic actress all the time, but I also want to be authentic to the character that I'm playing," she says, adding that she does share some of Betty's characteristics. "I'm the most awkward, clumsy person you'll find," she jokes.

Farieda does a great job of embodying Betty, bringing her own unique charm to the role. MQ sings her praises, telling me that the casting team had their eyes on her quite early on.

uBettina Wethu
On the set of local series uBettina Wethu.

"I set up the first episode, so I shot probably the first seven days with all of them, especially her, and she just blew my mind away, man. She's hungry, and she's gone out of the way to research and empower herself with this great acting ability. You'd think that she's been acting for 30 or 40 years; she is just incredible."

The entire cast is incredible, and as I get to wander the set (following Covid-19 regulations, of course), I get a glimpse of the tight bonds that everyone has formed over the last four months of filming.

On my guided tour, I find rapper Reason, who plays AJ; Brighton Ngoma, who takes on the role of T-Bang, and spot Lesego "Coconut Kelz" Thlabi, who plays Zaza, too.

When it comes to the crew, MQ lays down some impressive figures for me. "We've put together a crew compliment of 99% black people, which has never been done before. Seventy percent of them are females under the age of 30, which also has never been done. I'd say probably a good 30% of them are first-timers in the industry."

Get a behind-the-scenes peek into uBettina Wethu below:

uBettina Wethu
On the set of local series uBettina Wethu.
uBettina Wethu
On the set of local series uBettina Wethu.
uBettina Wethu
On the set of local series uBettina Wethu.
uBettina Wethu
On the set of local series uBettina Wethu.
uBettina Wethu
On the set of local series uBettina Wethu.
uBettina Wethu
On the set of local series uBettina Wethu.
uBettina Wethu
On the set of local series uBettina Wethu.
uBettina Wethu
On the set of local series uBettina Wethu.
uBettina Wethu
On the set of local series uBettina Wethu.

uBettina Wethu airs Mondays to Wednesdays at 19:30 on SABC 1 (DStv 191). Viewers can also catch the show on streaming service Viu.com.

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