Lunga “Luchy” Mofokeng has been trending for his role, Andile, on the 1Magic Telenovela, The River. He opens up to Blacklight about portraying a gay character on primetime TV, fame, mental health and paving the way for other young actors.
By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
Images by: Zulu Desperado
Lunga Luchy’s breakthrough on TV has been nothing short of mighty. His role as Andile, on the 1Magic Telenovela, The River , which airs Monday – Friday at 20h00 (DStv Premium, Channel 103), has thrust him into the spotlight.
It sees him explore the dynamic storyline of a gay black man trying to accept his sexuality while under the iron fist of his mother, mining magnate Lindiwe Dlamini (played by Sindi Dlathu).
He joins the list of talented local actors, like Pallance Dladla, Abdul Khoza, Wright Ngubeni, Warren Masemola and Tiisetso Thoka, who have portrayed gay characters on primetime TV.
“I am really honoured to be representing the LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning) community on Prime Time Television,” says Lunga Luchy.
“It’s still one community that straight people don’t want to understand or shy away from. If a straight guy, like myself, becomes part of the conversation then I can say we are slowly bridging that gap.”
We meet Lunga Luchy in Braamfontein on a rather hot Friday. He easily blends in with the troupe of students roaming the streets, especially with his Adidas track pants and white plain shirt ensemble, complemented by hip Vans sneakers and happy socks.
Unlike his often tense character, Andile, Lunga Luchy is easy going and confident in his skin. Throughout the photoshoot he displays such admirable lucidity.
Once in a while he reveals his humorous side, which he follows with a subtle laugh.
While Lunga Luchy may be slowly becoming one of the recognisable faces on TV, he is still unfazed by his growing fame. In fact he still carries himself like any regular person.
“I still walk around the streets of Jo’burg and most times people don’t recognise me. That’s probably because the show is on DStv Premium and not a lot of people are on premium,” he explains.
“I guess that helps me maintain a certain level of normality, but at the same time I would love for more people to be exposed to the beautiful content that we produce on The River. I would love for the show to be more famous instead of me getting that title because I happen to be on TV.”
Lunga “Luchy” – as he would like to be addressed – was born in Katlehong. He holds a diploma in Professional Acting from City Varsity. Before scoring a brief cameo on Ring of Lies Season 2, he was a theatre nerd. In fact he still harbours a deep love for theatre.
When he is not on set, he spends most of his time with his girlfriend, actress Lorraine Moropa, who plays Katleho on Mzansi Magic’s new series, Housekeepers.
Every young person has this idea of what fame is. Now that you are a known actor, what has fame been like?
Lunga Luchy: Being a young known actor is good because that means I still have time in the industry. Fame on the hand, I am not so sure about, because I am just doing my job, which exposes me to the public and that’s where the fame comes in.
Once you are exposed, it’s no longer just about the work. People want to know about your relationship status, what you eat, where you hang out, which car you drive etc. Does that add more pressure on you?
LL: There is some sort of pressure but there is not much for me. I still have the freedom to do what I used to do before being on TV.
However, there is a bit more caution on how you interact in public spaces. With this social media culture, it’s easy for people to just take a snap and turn it into whatever they want – all of a sudden you are trending for all the wrong reasons.
You also have to watch how you address people because now everyone wants to talk to you. And whether you are in a good mood or not, you still have to wear a smile.
I guess being famous either exposes who you truly are or turns you into someone you are not – if you are a good person then that will still shine through.
Being an actor in South Africa is tough. And the instability of the industry can cause so much anxiety and depression. How do you feel when you have to read or hear about fellow artists ending their lives because they can no longer cope?
LL: It so sad and unfortunate. My most honest answer, using myself as an example; sometimes it helps to lean on God when you are going through such dark periods.
For someone else it might not be enough, they might need something else, but I am a very spiritual being and that’s what gets me through.
I also believe that if something is yours, it’s yours. Just have faith!
Even if it takes ten years for you to truly get there; all that happens in between those ten years is just maturing you as a person so that you are ready when that moment comes.
I mean, Morgan Freeman only received recognition as an actor at the age of 52 and now he is a legend.
We still find that many black people don’t like to talk about mental health or be associated with the term, especially people in the public eye. And your character Andile went through a depression phase and even attempted suicide. How did you feel about taking on such a big issue?
LL: Depression is truly one of our biggest issues and the crazy thing about it is that it’s not a scar that’s visible for everyone to see. You never know if the next person is suffering unless they tell you. It’s something that remains very personal because it’s an internal battle.
For me to channel that in my character, I had to ask myself: ‘who goes through this?’ And you find that it’s mostly everyone. In this case it just happened to be a gay man struggling with his sexuality and acceptance from his family, but the struggles vary from person to person.
I realised that being gay is already an issue and then add mental issues on top of that and one can easily go over the edge.
With Andile I had to look at his surroundings, the people around him, because most often those are the people that can contribute to one tipping over the edge.
That is why it’s important to keep healthy and positive relationships all the time.
I also believe that what you do after or during the recovery phase, after attempting suicide or having mental breakdown, is very crucial in helping one get better.
We should definitely be more aware of mental health and talk about it even more.
What does it mean for you to be trusted to portray a gay role on primetime TV?
LL: When I got this role, the contract said I would be playing a gay man. My agent asked me if I was sure about wanting to take on this role. I had no doubts because if I call myself an actor then I need to be able to slide into anyone’s life and present them on screen.
In the beginning, the path was not so clear, but as time went by I really began to establish who Andile is. I also had to reveal his sexuality subtly (or cautiously) because in the beginning he was deeply in the closet.
I did not want to portray him as a stereotypical gay guy because most times people associate being gay with being flamboyant and over top. I wanted to play more with his straight attributes because we have a lot of black men who are in the closet. I wanted them to also be able to relate to the character.
Because this character opens all of that up, I had to play him seriously, and even bring him closer to me.
The reality is that it is hard being in closet and even when one comes out, it’s hard to accept being gay. So self-acceptance is the first step and then you deal with the world.
What would you say is your main purpose when you get out of bed in the morning?
LL: Failure. Especially being in the limelight because you have the pressure of having to sustain the momentum. I feel like if I fail at this then I am failing someone else’s child who is looking up to me.
If you are in a position where what you do allows you to touch people’s lives then you have to think about the next person. Because of that I work hard also for the generation coming after me – I want to prove to them that it’s possible to be an actor.
What are the projects you are busy with when you are not busy with The River?
LL: I am part of a non-profit organisation called Kwethu Kreationz/Arts. When I was in Varsity I was performing quite good and this lady pulled me aside and said: “I have a company. We have no projects yet, but we need people to be allocated in different fields – marketing, finance, publicity etc.”
We are basically trying to link all the different fields because in arts there is also the business side, marketing etc. We are creating a platform for young people who want to be in the arts.
People only know you as Andile on The River. Is there more that they need to know about you, as an actor?
LL: I am still trying to discover the more. I know I am hungry for the game and I am capable of portraying more than one character.
If you know me as Andile, please allow me to also show you somebody’s life, whether on screen or on stage. I studied for this. This thing is in me. I really love the craft and I am not about just being one character for forty years. I am continuously learning.
What would say to the very young Lunga?
LL: That guy thought screen was not possible. He thought theatre was where it all was for him. So I would say to him, now: “my guy there is more out there for you, just believe. Surround yourself with positive people, listen and allow others to open up your world.
Catch Lunga Luchy on 1Magic’s The river, every week day.