‘I don’t see myself not acting. That is when I’m most alive’ - Melusi Yeni happy to be on new lead role

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Melusi Yeni joins the cast of Isifiso alongside Zinhle Mabena and Sjava
Melusi Yeni joins the cast of Isifiso alongside Zinhle Mabena and Sjava

Many know him for his role as the hunky and successful businessman, Phenyo on Generations. Even after he left in 2013 to join Imbewu: The Seed, people still called him Phenyo even offscreen.

A few years later he made headlines for over poor health and marital issues, which did not bother him, and he ignored them.

He had a couple of other roles after Imbewu: The Seed, before going on a short hiatus from the small screen.

Actor Melusi Yeni makes a return to the TV screens to play the role of a businessman Sibonelo in the new Mzansi Magic drama, Isifiso, alongside Nelisa Mchunu, Sjava, Zinhle Mabena, and Ntando Mncube, Duduzile Ngcobo, Bandile Maphalala, and Nkosinathi Kheswa. 

Filled with shocking twists, betrayal, and greed, Isifiso is the story of Bazothini, a woman who only wants the approval of her mother and those around her and will stop at almost nothing to get it. After a tragedy, Bazothini can now live her dream life. The new drama explores sibling rivalry, jealousy, and murder. It is about a woman living under her younger sister’s shadow, envying her seemingly-perfect life – but not all is what it seems, as she quickly and tragically learns.

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He is thrilled to be back playing a major role after being away from the small screen for so long.

“Sibonelo comes from a rural background, he was always extremely driven in preserving culture. He is a family guy and worked hard as an entrepreneur. He owns a chain of butcheries. He is a well-to-do business guy,” Melusi says.

For every role he chooses, Melusi does extensive research on the character.

“Sibonelo is married but there is an element of infidelity. He is a prim and proper, alpha Zulu male, but not hardcore, he has been to school. What is popular now is polygamy. I had a look into Mr. Musa Mseleku’s life, who is the face of polygamy. He is a business guy, a farm guy, and not too modern but also not too rural. My character has more than one woman in the story. He is also from KZN. Sibonelo lived in Mzumbe and moved to Potchefstroom and has two kids and a beautiful wife. As we unpack him, he is regal, we get to see layers of his life and things don’t look as prim as they did in the beginning and that is what excites me.”

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He had a short stint on KwaZulu Natal medical show Durban Gen, where he played Andile who went to medical school and went into banking. 

“It was not for long, but I enjoyed the role. He was doing well in his career, confident and extremely well-to-do. Once you start unpacking the layers you see there are flaws and he is not perfect. I enjoyed that,’ he says.

Before Durban Gen, he was “playing in the movie space and serving corporate clients in industrial theatre and working at grooming young filmmakers in KwaZulu Natal”.

“When people don’t see you on a SABC show or a soapie, they assume you are not busy. I haven’t been on a big SABC show for a long time, probably since Generations, I think and people have said they miss seeing me play Melusi. He was a lady’s favourite,” he chuckles.

But without saying he would never go back to Generations, Melusi says those days are gone. For the first time, he is excited to be working on a Mzansi Magic production.

“I haven’t worked with Mzansi Magic and it’s the first time we embark on a big project, it’s a great challenge," he says.

“I have been called into established shows to come in as a character. It’s nice to get a brand-new show and fresh show where every role gets established at the same time. If the show flops, we are at the same table together. That’s the interest.”

He was approached by a few companies, but he is picky.

“I was tired of playing the good-looking guy in a suit, who is romantic. I wanted something more challenging,” he says. Melusi no longer wanted to be type-cast.

“You end up doing the same thing over and over, just change costumes,” he adds.

“I try to look for work where the producer can put me in a different light and allow me to shape shift. I like to look at the content and find flawed characters. In Durban Gen, the storyline was about substance abuse. My character was a huge guy who is successful but is flawed; he abused alcohol and drugs. Even Sibonelo, people will eventually see his flaws. He has a darker side; it is challenging and exciting for an actor. We are actors and we are versatile. You don’t want to get into a space where you are too comfortable. I long for something new, a serial killer or rapist. Today we have issues of Gender-based violence, and I want to tap into uncomfortable spaces like those.”

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When he took a break from the small screen, many assumed he was running away from fame and the limelight. But Melusi loves meeting people who appreciate his work.

“At the end of the day, I’m an actor. I still appreciate being recognised in the street. That is when I’m most alive. Acting for me is healing. I can express myself and tap into emotions. I am a healer. I don’t ever see myself not acting,” he says.

“But it’s also important to sometimes step away to regroup. I won’t lie, I have missed playing the male lead. I am excited about the group of vibrant and talented crew and cast I will be working with. They challenge me. They take what appears to be a small role and make it so big. I love the way they view things,” he says.

There is more to be expected for Melusi. He has shot two other upcoming productions.

"I worked on another show coming up soon called Umbali. I shot that before this Isifiso. I worked with award-winning director Zuko Nodada on a story about a young Maskandi guy who comes to Durban. but the shows will be revealed with time, for now, I am focusing on building Sibonelo and hoping that everyone enjoys and appreciates the show.”

Isifiso, will play on Mondays at 8pm on Mzansi Magic (DStv Channel 161), premiering on 4 July.

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