Netflix local crime thriller Fatal Seduction has had viewers glued to their screens since its premiere earlier this month.
The suspenseful seven part series is still number one in the Top 10 most watched shows locally and was number one in four countries when it launched. A first for an African show on Netflix, the series ranked number two for non-English shows on the streaming platform.
Starring Kgomotso Christopher, Thapelo Mokoena, Lunathi Mampofu, Nat Ramabulana and Prince Grootboom the series is the South African adaptation of the Netflix hit series Dark Desire.
Speaking about the reception of the show, Kgomotso, who plays the lead character Nandi, said she was completely blown away and grateful for the reception it has received.
The series centres around Nandi, a married woman who goes on a trip with her friend Brenda and meets a young hot man who manages to unleash her sensual side. A disturbing death sends the characters into unsettling revelations setting the scene for the series.
Lunathi, who plays the character of Brenda, Nandi’s high strung and emotional best friend, said it has been exciting to receive the different experiences of the show from everyone across the board.
What drew you to your character?
Lunathi’s character goes through a whirlwind of emotions. She is expressive and intriguing, something Lunathi says is quite opposite to what she believes she is when you first meet her or don’t know her.
“I always try to play characters that are outside of my comfort zone. Characters that are going to challenge me and Brenda did. It was an emotional rollercoaster. The sensuality of the show is also something I have always been interested in exploring. The way Fatal Seduction has done it is very artistic and tasteful. Those are just some of the reasons and also Cape Town is home.”
For Kgomotso, the story and how it was written as an adaptation was very compelling.
“From a well loved Netflix show, to contextualise it and make it relatable to us as South African artists and, more importantly, to our viewers.”
She added: “The way it has been received is a testament to the fact that the writing did well to bring our local audiences without losing out on the relatability issue on the international side. I was compelled by how multidimensional it was. Every character is not what you think they are.”
Kgomotso expressed how the story is so layered that even them as artists could get confused at times and it required them to also dig into the story even more.
“It always starts with the script and then character of course. I have never played a role where I am an academic and a woman who stands on her own as much as my characters have been bold, strong women with their own personalities. I have never played a nerd who has this dark layer that I get to explore. So I was quite excited to explore the duality of one character in such a complex way.”
She added that it was important for her as an actor to reach for roles that stretch her craft and present her in a different light to the way people have seen before.
Of all the cast members, Lunathi was the last to join the show during pre-production which presented a bit of pressure to build relations with the rest of the cast regardless of whether she knew them or not. Preparing for her role required her to dig deep and find herself within other people who have been in situations like that of Brenda’s.
“I had to mentally prepare for Brenda’s journey, doing some research to see if a situation like that could happen to me as Lunathi, what instances or situations would I have gone through. With Brenda being a teacher, I had to dig into me being a mother. Working with this cast was such a privilege. The emotions that I needed to delve into that I wasn’t aware of or that were uncomfortable, it was easy for me to have those conversations with the cast to assist me to get into that space.”
Sensuality of the show
The series is openly sensual, with sex scenes majorly intertwined into the storyline.
The cast had three intimacy coaches to help them create the scenes.
“The coaches would help you relate to your character in every single intimacy session that you would have with the other characters because there are different ways to express how the character is feeling. It’s things like that you need to research on your character and how you would portray those things and thanks to the intimacy coaches that helped us get there and understand our characters more.”
When it comes to debriefing from the emotionally charged Brenda, Lunathi says she was thankful she had her family close by.
“I was fortunate enough to have my daughter and my family around so it was easy for me to get out of character by stepping into my safe space.”
Kgomotso says the task was very clear from reading the script that sensuality was a big part of the series.
“By the time you accept the project you have already had those conversations about how the scenes will be executed. Netflix and our producers were very helpful in reassuring us on how we were going to shoot the scenes and tell the story in a tasteful way.
As much as the content is sexually racy, we still had to make sure we portrayed it as a full story – a crime thriller.”
And while there are essences and undertones of erotica, they were by no means shooting a pornographic show.
“We really hope that it is translated on screen. Once we were reassured about how they would creatively approach how they would shoot and tell the story then it helped us to prepare. Practically, we had the coaches and spent a lot of time preparing for those scenes, even though they looked quite easy, it was us doing stunts.”
She acknowledges that sensuality and intimacy coaches are a growing aspect of filmmaking in this country, but with Netflix it is a resource that is a must have on set.
“The sensual scenes are an actual physical stunt and we work with professionals who are helping us create and rehearse the stunt and then infusing the performance and creative side to actually tell the story. That support system and network of the intimacy coaches was incredible to have.”
Kgomotso has never worked with intimacy coaches before and credits the ones she worked with on the set of Fatal Seduction with the great reception of the scenes.
“We were so privileged to work with people who literally held our hands before set, on set and post the show launching, we are still in touch. We were well taken care of professionally and protected.”
Kgomotso’s character also goes through the traumatic experience of a miscarriage that is also part of the reason her relationship with her husband Leonard becomes difficult.
“My process in this situation is not different to other emotional scenes that I have had to do. The most important thing is to avail my creative vessel and to be present in that moment. The technical side of it – the life experiences of your characters aren’t always life experiences that you have had. I have never had a miscarriage but I can equate that type of emotional journey to any sense of deep grief and loss. I can relate to it in that sense and tap into it. To personalise it for Nandi – what does it mean when you lose something and there is a sense of someone blaming you or not supporting you. You have to particularise it to the character, storyline and show.”
While breathwork is something she has been trained to do, it was never something she practised often before this series.
“In that type of scene, because it takes so much of you, especially as artists and actors, we only have ourselves to use in our emotional scenes, so we are not faking it as our bodies respond naturally, traumatised from that experience.
The intimacy coaches doubled up as our emotional coaches and helped us snap out because we have long days and sometimes we have to shoot a happy scene right after that emotional one.”
Kgomotso used the breathing exercises more in this show than she has before.
“You have to let your emotions go through where they have to go through and release them.”
It also helped the cast to have the picturesque views of Cape Town as an escape.
What lessons can be learnt from the series?
Judging from the audience response, the biggest lesson here is communication, says Kgomotso.
“Communication in any relationship is very important. The viewers all had one question and that was why did Nandi not just ask Leonard when she had the chance to. Leonard even says in his speech that they have to communicate and find a way back to each other.
That’s a takeaway for anyone in any relationship, friendship or dynamic with someone who is supposed to be a loved one or even in any set up in life – let’s communicate effectively and avoid misunderstandings that lead us to make certain decisions.”
How similar is your character to you in real life?
“Brenda is a fashionista, a stylish young lady and that’s one of the similarities I have with her,” says Lunathi. Her character also shares her nurturing, loving nature.
“Brenda was brought up with everything in a well off family, the only difference is that her parents did not necessarily give her the love and attention that she needed. I do come from a family that has given me everything and I grew up very independent. I am also very introverted compared to how Brenda is.”
Kgomotso interjects: “Lunathi is the life of the party just like Brenda”
“Only when you get to know me,” Lunathi quips.
“An introverted extrovert, she protects herself and her space,” Kgomotso adds.
For her, Nandi is the closest character to her, biographically, that she has ever played.
“I’ve worked at a varsity, being a lecturer before. Nandi is a professor. I was a lecturer at Wits, I was at the Law department at UCT. Ironically, this is the most similar character to me but in terms of her attributes, she is very much not like me.
I would not call myself a bookish person at all, I am involved in academia, love my other life in research and all of that but Nandi is very much in her head. I am a heart person and I needed to learn that with her, some of those things and her decisions are in her head. She is very intellectual- reasonable and logical… all things that I am not,” she laughs.
The series explores themes such as femicide, the justice system and mental health. Issues that are very pertinent in South Africa.
Kgomotso: “We have to credit the writers and directors for the incredible foundation. We walked into something that was already so present in terms of the themes we have to tackle. In Nandi’s character we are dealing with
Gender Based Violence (GBV), with Jacob we are dealing with justice and how sometimes it is not served, in the character of his mother we are dealing with postnatal depression. Without judgement, we are telling that very openly and honestly.
We are so fortunate that those issues were put in such a way that it is not didactic, this was not edutainment but telling a story. If you are watching carefully you see the layered aspects.“
The series also touches on cyberbullying and catfishing.
“It’s not in your face but you will see it being explored. The rest of it is preparation and understanding the scene. All those themes and issues affecting our society were very well placed in the script and story narrative as we received it.”
What were you most nervous about before the premiere?
Lunathi: “We were all nervous about the sensuality. From day one of getting on set, everyday was a conversation about the sexual scenes. All of us, coming from different backgrounds – pastors’ kids, married and all those things – we were all a little shook even though we had the intimacy coaches to make it more comfortable for us. It was always the thought of how is everyone else going to receive it, how is everyone going to think it was done.
Also how it will be portrayed by Netflix and by all of us. Mentally that also works on you as an individual. As much as it is your craft, what you do and love and you expect people to understand that, there is a bit of judgement that you feel like you’re going to get from people especially with the level that we went into. So definitely the sensuality and the reception of it.
Kgomotso: “It is a new territory we are exploring in terms of storytelling in South Africa. We all have different backgrounds with partners and families involved, that was the main thing. We are only starting to push the envelope and get more comfortable. All of us have local show backgrounds on soapies, drama series and telenovelas that weren’t at watershed times where we can’t show certain things. Our viewers have never seen us in that light and neither have our families. It was the waiting to see what people were going to think about the sexual nature and also just people seeing you portraying that type of content as an actor you have never done before.”
What sort of person is going to love this show?
Kgomotso: “First of all, you must be over 16.
There is something for everyone, I would not limit it to anyone because there is something about the aspect of a crime investigation, the themes around GBV, femicide and depression.
We have an intergenerational story, where we are exploring this notion through the character of Zinhle and defining what love is in 2023.
These are topical things right now and we have infused everything for different generations.”
“I love the fact that we are such a textured show looking at the richness of Cape Town, the townships and different parts of the county – the tapestry of environments. Those are all our stories. That’s why it has really been relatable locally and internationally.
If you like thriller, if you like crime, intrigue – yes there is sensuality – but if you love a well produced and well shot South African show, this is it.”
Viewers can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their questions may indeed be answered when Volume 2 of the series premieres on Netflix. Dates are yet to be revealed.
Whether or not a second season is in the works however… “that’s between ourselves, the creative gods and Netflix,” chuckles Kgomotso, with her fingers crossed.
Cover stars: Kgomotso Christopher & Lunathi Mampofu
Cover story: Mpiletso Motumi
Editor-in-Chief: Bonnie Meslane
Photographer: Austin Malema of RTC Studios
Creative Direction: Lesego Kgosimolao & Bonnie Meslane
Makeup: Caroline Greeff & Tumi Mbangi
Wardrobe: Advice by KgosiLesego: Bongiwe Masina & Nthabiseng
Photography team: RTC Studios
Henry King on lighting
Tyrone Jhns on Digitech
Donovan Malema & Tshepo Zitha Assistant
Aust on the camera
Nkateko Masinga who did the treatment
Videography: Michael Dlamini
Graphic Design: Herbert Chaunzwa
Lyra instructor: Zuki Ndodana
Studio: New Katz studio