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Pearl Thusi

Queen Sono’s Pearl Thusi & Kate Liquorish bring fresh fire to the Afro-spy genre

As part of YNaija’s coverage of the launch of Queen Sonothe first original scripted series produced by Netflix on the continent. Pearl Thusi plays the titular Queen Sono and Liquorish’s Ekaterina provide much of the conflict in the show, their rivalries increasing even as they swap proxies and move closer to a show down. Listen to them discuss feminism on African sets, the physicality of their roles and the true place of a villain in cinema


YNAIJA

Queen Sono is packed full of fight scenes with complex choreography, and a climax fight scene between your character Queen and Kate’s character Ekaterina. What was it like working on such a physical project?

PEARL THUSI

I cried at the end of that night. There was so much pressure surrounding our fight scene and preparation from the other departments. I have to be emotional and physical at the same time and that is very tough. When we learn the choreography, we are in a safe space with mats and padding and a coach, but when we do the real thing, it’s a completely different scenario.

KATE LIQUORISH

The space was a very tiny space, and we had to throw each other, change the choreography to work with the space. Delays on the set and props not working properly at the first time meant we had to repeat many sequences, and you have to stay focused and pumped for everything.

PEARL THUSI

It was really intense and the only time I cried during the entire production. It was that physically and emotionally draining.

YNAIJA

Queen Sono’s backstory is as tragic as her fight scenes are spectacular. How difficult was it for you to do her story justice, as a reminder of the personal toll that the fight for freedom had on the families of the freedom fighters?

PEARL THUSI

My friend Nzinga Qunta, was born in Australia and raised in Zimbabwe before she was finally able to come home and I also spent a lot of time with Hugh Masekela when he was still here. I understand more than most people on a personal level the toll of separation on these families. Coming back from exile and not being able to connect with your people because you don’t have the experiences or speak the language.

I draw from these experiences to portray the relationship between Queen and her mother Sophia and having to live in the shadow of an influential parental figure and having to find your own path. It was also something natural for me because I am a part of that world.

YNAIJA

A huge part of Queen Sono is the physicality of the roles and you play a villain on the show. It’s such a deviation from the kind of roles that you traditionally play. How much prep did you do to get into the role?

KATE LIQUORISH

Can I just say that being a villain is not a negative space.

It is so cool to not have to worry about how people perceive your character. A lot of people will notice the physicality of the show, but there was also an intense mental toll getting into character for Ekaterina. I had to learn Russian with a whole other alphabet and learn it believably enough for me to sell her to our audience. I had to train 7 hours a day, 5 days a week to get the physicality necessary for the character. It was wonderful when I got the top and could just comfortably slip into character.

YNAIJA

What are some of the things that Queen and Ekaterina would say or do that you wouldn’t do?

KATE LIQUORISH

I wouldn’t kill people.

PEARL THUSI

I used to think that, but I was talking to a friend of mine recently and came to realisation that I can kill, for my children at least.  But I wouldn’t be a daredevil and  ride a bicycle towards an explosion and Queen does that, a lot.

KATE LIQUORISH

I don’t wear makeup everyday in real life and my hair is curly, so Ekaterina’s whole look is very different from who I am. Its always interesting to me that a significant part of acting is makeup and how it can transform a person’s face for a role. For my character, it’s not about being sexy or beautiful, for her dress and makeup is armor, she puts it on and goes to war.

YNAIJA

We’ve seen a few episodes of the film and we’re very impressed with what we’ve seen so far. What do you think the series is going to do for the African film industry?

PEARL THUSI

Whew! This is the first bit of feedback I’ve received for someone who wasn’t on the crew.

When I came back from New York, I had a very clear idea of the legacy I want to leave, based on the South African film industry. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but it was clear it needed to be done. South Africa is in a state right now because we aren’t unified behind a singular cause and as such, no one wants to commit fully to sacrificing for any cause.

What makes American entertainment special goes beyond believing in the projects they work on, there is enough experience to ensure a level of quality on every level. In South Africa we have low quality and small budgets, so the filmmakers are always in a state of compromise

KATE LIQUORISH

And there is always a cut, either they remove a 6th of the footage, or the costuming or locations. You have to make enough to be able to pare down to the best parts of the project.

PEARL THUSI

I want to prove that you can be right here at home and do great things. I didn’t like the validation my career and acting suddenly had once I had worked on Quantico. I was offered my role because I was good, Trevor Noah was hired for his excellence, he didn’t suddenly become a better comedian because he went abroad. This shortsightedness is what I want to change.

Since I came back from New York, I have not worked on any locally broadcasted production because I’m not interested in fighting for fairness from people who refuse to treat me as an equal.

This project was part of a vision board I made for myself. I didn’t really care where it was made, I just wanted to lead it. But here we are today, I get to do this project in South Africa with an African story. I hope the success of Queen Sono will contribute to a future where African filmmakers can approach global film studios and collaborate as equals.

KATE LIQUORISH

That’s the thing about acting, you can never judge your character because you have to portray her. The minute you pass judgement on your character, you lose your audience, because they can always see that happening. You have to believe in your character’s struggle and that gives your portrayal integrity. Ekaterina is fighting against patriarchy, she is fighting against a world which has wronged her. While her views and methods are distasteful, she is a fighter. Translating that conviction believably will never push audiences away.

Conviction is a relatable emotion in any kind of context. And everyone wants to be a millionaire, with private jets and lots of money and henchmen.

PEARL THUSI

Everyone secretly wants to play a villain.  It’s cool to be the hero cos you stay longer and get paid more, but secretly, everyone wants to be a villain.

YNAIJA

Queen Sono is different from other films about espionage because it doesn’t explore an American storyline. Instead it focuses on a Russian Oligarchy and private interests on the continent. Why this angle?

KATE LIQUORISH

Ekaterina is the daughter of a Russian oligarch, but she grew up in London and she lives now in Africa. In many ways, she is a neo-colonialist. Kagiso is so good at what he does because he finds ways to tell a layered story that exposits on the socio-economic climate that reverberates around the world while keeping the story centered on South Africa today.

Comedy is often social commentary and Kagiso’s background in comedy shines through in how he is able to deliver stinging critique sandwiched with clever dialogue and amazing fight scenes. Kagiso doesn’t absolve anyone of blame, he focuses instead on telling a compelling story. The political commentary is just a consequence of that.

PEARL THUSI

Your experience of Kagiso’s work is only as smart as you are. I experienced this when we did promo work for Catching Feelings. I’ve answered so many questions on the promo tour for this that expanded even my perceptions of the project. So I think everyone should watch Queen Sono with an open mind.

YNAIJA

Normally, when actors move between projects, it is hard for the audience to separate them from their best known characters. But on Queen Sono, we see everyone with fresh eyes. Was there any actor whose work surprised you on set?

 

PEARL THUSI

I was always concerned about what was happening on set. Queen Sono is a project like we’ve never seen before and most of our cast and crew had to learn a lot on the job. So it was refreshing to see them step up and deliver.

The stunt team did an incredible job, the DOP  (Motero) did an incredible job, the sound guys did an incredible job.  We wouldn’t have a film project if we didn’t have an army of extras who populate the fictional worlds we create. We can’t have a show without extras, and I hate the way they get treated here and in the states. So I guess, I want to shout to the guys behind the camera and the extras that keep Queen Sono real and grounded. We wouldn’t have a project without them.

 

 

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