Johannesburg – I've always been intrigued by special effects makeup, and now, for the first time, I am getting my chance to get an up-close glimpse of it.
I'm sitting just outside a restaurant on the Constitution Hill premises in Johannesburg. Moments prior I had wrapped up my interview with Lockdown star Dawn Thandeka King, who takes on the role of MaZet on the show, and now I'm about to meet with two more of the prison drama's cast members.
The wind is starting to pick up now, but with the sun beating down, it's a welcome breeze.
With my notes on hand, I patiently wait for Zola Nombona to make her way to my table from the set. Most of the actors are still enjoying their lunch, but I'm able to slip in a few minutes with her before her call time.
She's bubbly and greets me with a smile as she sits down. As with the other actors on set, Zola is already in costume. Transforming into her character, Monde, is one of her favourite parts of this show, she tells me.
"I feel like Monde is a dream character for me. I'm a fan of transformation. I always say transformation is my superpower; it's something that I pride myself in, and this character is one that offered me the opportunity to go through that."
She describes her character's life perfectly with a simple phrase – Monde went from "glory to gory". Once a celebrity, living the good life, Monde now finds herself behind bars having to fight for survival each day.
But while she may enjoy the taking on the struggles of this character, Zola admits that the show, which takes on difficult subjects like rape, can be a little challenging for her family to watch.
"It's so weird because some people can't grasp the idea that I'm just acting. People are absolutely proud of me, especially the family. But when it comes to family it's very difficult for them to separate me from my work. To that extent, they don't really like watching Lockdown because of the traumatic things that Monde goes through. They see their daughter going through that."
She jokes about how this must mean that she is a great actress, and I quickly chime in to assure her that she's right.
It's not just Zola who delivers an outstanding performance though. She praises the entire cast for the work they put in and gives credit to producer, Mandla Ngcongwane, for putting the ensemble together.
"I keep on saying Mandla is like a casting whisperer who is able to put together amazing, like-minded thespians who are here with the same direction. We're all here wanting to tell the story the best way we can, so there are no egos, there's a sisterhood," she says.
Zola and I go back-and-forth for a bit, laughing and drawing attention from the tables next to us. I'm trying my best to get some juicy details about the upcoming fifth season of Lockdown. My efforts are futile. But she does tell me that in the new season she spends a lot more time with Lauren Jenae who plays Vicky.
"It's been such an amazing experience. We grew closer as friends, and she just taught me so much. Having that give and take with another actor has been absolutely amazing."
It's time to say goodbye to Zola. "No, I want more," she laughs. We could probably spend a few hours chatting, but she has to get back to work, and I have one more interview to do.
I'm waiting for Lauren now. The team says she's in makeup but will be out at any minute. Lauren spends a little more time in the makeup chair than her other cast members. That's because her character, Vicky, has a massive burn scar on her face which she got in the first season after having scorching hot porridge spilled on her.
I'm excited to see the results of the special effects makeup in person. She can tell I'm a little giddy when she walks up to my table.
Of course, we spend the first few minutes just talking about the artificial mark.
"It takes about an hour, so I get called about an hour before everyone else, and then it takes about an hour to take off as well, so I also wrap an hour later," Lauren explains.
I'm fascinated by the entire process. She tells me that it's actually quite technical. "You have to be very specific about where you place the porridge, because as you can see, where you place the porridge, that's where we have to put the mask and the scarring on, and it's been going on since season one. Obviously season two it was a lot more intense, but then we've tried to decrease it over the years to show that I've healed a bit."
How do they ensure that the scar is always placed in the same spot? By keeping a record of pictures and video, I'm told.
Now that I'm all caught up on the intricacies of special effects, we chat about Vicky and how she has developed throughout the seasons.
"From the beginning, Vicky was always kind of seen as the comic-relief character; she was always like the sidekick and almost like a fly on the wall – she would listen to what others would say and cause drama within the series. But now she has developed so much, and she has this newly formed relationship with Monde."
Season five will give viewers an in-depth look into Vicky's life. "She is out for revenge this time around, so there's a lot more to her, and we also touch a bit on her history," Lauren adds.
Just like Zola, Lauren too attributes the success of the show to the stellar cast. But she also believes it's the extras, some of whom are former inmates, who help take the show to the next level. "I think that's why Lockdown has been such a success, it's because these are real issues that actually happen," she says, adding: "Not only that, we also touch in universal issues. We also deal with things that people who are sitting at home can relate to."
Season five of Lockdown premieres on 30 January on Showmax, with two new episodes airing each Thursday.
Before I leave Lauren, I'm curious to know which other character on the show she would play, if she had the chance.
"I think I'd like to play Tyson," she says as I cheer her on in agreement. That's the role I want to play too, and I'm not even an actor. "She's just so gangster, and so strong and powerful it's quite nice. I would love to play a character like that. Also, what I like about Tyson is, even though she is strong, she has these vulnerable moments, and Lorcia plays them incredibly well."
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
Binge season 1 – 4 on Showmax now.