BET will kick off Black History Month this February by premiering part one of a three part mini-series about Nelson Mandela called “Madiba.”
The six hour mini series will star Oscar nominated actor Laurence Fishburne as Mandela, and Orlando Jones as Oliver Tambo. Kevin Hooks is directing the mini-series. Fishburne, Hooks and Jones were on hand at New York’s Paley Center for Media to screen the first part of the mini series as well as discuss working on the series and more.
What did you learn about Nelson Mandela that you didn’t know prior to working on Madiba?
Laurence Fishburne: So much. The thing that surprised me the most was his sense of humor. He was a incredibly funny man.
What was one thing you found interesting about the friendship between Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo?
Laurence Fishburne: That they carried on this thing for like decades, and didn’t see each other. Like across the ocean. But they remained strong. Their relationship remained strong.
What did you know about Oliver Tambo prior to becoming involved in the project?
Orlando Jones: I’m a nerd. So in college they had a model organization of African community. So the first year I went I played the economic leader of the ANC and secretary general the next year so Oliver Tambo has been an idol of mine since I was maybe 19 years old. He framed race in a way I could understand it being a kid from Mobile, Alabama. For me I was well aware of who he was. When Fish called and said Oliver Tambo I tried not to embarrass myself. It’s a role that I hold sacred and a story I think so often as African Americans we talk a lot about our heritage but we never speak to our African heritage and to have that conversation led so clearly by these particular heroes of human rights during this periods of times when they fought in I think is a great template for today when we look for answers.
You got to know some of the people who were close to Nelson. Can you speak with what they imparted to you that helped you in playing your role?
Laurence Fishburne: I had an afternoon with Ahmed Kathrada who is called Kathy. I wasn’t really aware of who he was. He started talking and I was listening and he finally looked at me and said ‘Why are you here’, I’m just here to say thank you for what you guys did. Then he started talking explaining their entire history and their entire experience on Robbin Island. It’s astonishing to hear somebody talk about it so matter of factly having spend damn near 30 years in jail for being a political. So I go right 27 years in jail away from your family, bad food all of that how do you keep going, how do you do that, what keeps you going. So he goes ‘We knew we were right’ and wait for it ‘we knew we were gonna win.’ So if that’s where his resolve is and he’s a part of a collective of a bunch of people and that’s their position as an actor you can build anything off of that.
What was the challenge of taking this on?
Laurence Fishburne: Well there were a lot of those. We had six hours first of all, and having six hours gives us a bigger canvas to work with, and we could be a lot more detailed. We had each other, we worked together, we’ve known each other we have a history, so there’s a kind of trust with us that you don’t get without sort of going through the fires in your own life as well as together. We had Kweku who is one of Mandela’s grandsons as our executive producer so he could keep us on the path, we had Lance who is our other producer who went to Mr. Mandela and asked for his blessing and was given specific instructions from Madiba that he wanted the audience to understand that it wasn’t just him, it was a group a collective of people that brought down the Apartheid system and that he was perhaps the tip of the spear, the tip of the spear is for shill if it doesn’t have people on their staff. So it was really about trying to tell the story of a very very large governmented rage of the people.
Kevin Hooks: I was just gonna add to what these gentlemen were saying one of the challenges and blessings working in Johannesburg was that number one you’re in some of the real places where these events took place. The treason trial was in a synagogue, and the reason for that was because the government wanted that trial as far away from downtown and the spotlight as possible so they transformed a synagogue to do this trial. So there were things like that that sort of brought it to life. There’s another trial obviously [spoiler alert], we actually filmed that in the courthouse where that trial took place. You can’t begin to express the value of something like that. At the same time you also had people around you that knew Nelson Mandela well, and so it was very challenging to say the least and it offered a tremendous opportunity but at the same time it brought upon a tremendous amount of pressure to satisfy all of the different things that people brought to the party and they’re very passionate about that.