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INTERVIEW: Gray Hofmeyr on Leon Schuster's 'Mad Buddies'

As a writer, director and producer of feature films and television dramas, Gray Hofmeyr is generally regarded as being among the top in his profession in South Africa. He began directing television drama in 1975 after training in the United Kingdom and working for the BBC as a floor manager.

Gray Hofmeyr directed and co-wrote the screenplay for Mad Buddies.

Hofmeyr began script writing in 1985 and has received seven best television drama script awards. He has directed nine feature films, seven of which he co-wrote, and has directed numerous television commercials. His latest Leon Schuster comedy collaboration is Mad Buddies (review).

Where did the idea for Mad Buddies come from?

In the late sixties (or early seventies) Jamie Uys made a movie about two guys who couldn’t stand each other and had to go on a walking journey together to prove to their girlfriends that they could get along. Leon had always wanted to make a derivative of that and we decided that the time was right.

You wrote the screenplay with long-time collaborator Leon Schuster – what was the process like? Do your writing styles and vision differ at all?

Leon tends to concentrate on the gags and I on the story, but all the way along we brainstorm scenes, then one will write this one and the other that one and then we swap and improve (hopefully) what the other has done.

Did you have particular actors in mind when writing the parts of Beast, Kelsey and Mda – and did the subsequent casting tweak the way the parts were written at all?

The roles of Beast and Mda were written for Kenneth and Alfred. We subsequently threw the roles open to more actors to audition for but in the end we went back to the two we originally had in mind. For Kelsey we had a couple of actresses in mind, and Tanit just emerged as the best lady for the role.

What do you think it is about the Schuster brand of humour that audiences – here in South Africa and elsewhere in the world – find particularly appealing?

Well, we have yet to succeed internationally but let’s hope this movie is a first, we are certainly hoping the Disney connection will help. In South Africa, Leon has been a brand since he began pranking people on radio years ago. He just has his finger on the comic pulse of the people. What is really remarkable is the way the humor has crossed over all the races and ages since the breakthrough There’s a Zulu on my Stoep.

How do you measure if what you’re doing is going to end up being funny on the big screen?

I can’t. All I can do is translate what is on paper to the screen to the best of my ability.

Do you think poking fun at racial stereotypes is a way of healing and building relationships within the country?

I think that is so. What is interesting about this film is that race in fact has nothing to do with their dislike of each other, that is entirely organic. Any racial stereotyping is entirely in the eye of the beholder.

Would you say Mad Buddies has more CGI than before and how have you seen the process evolve over the years?

Over the years our use of CGI has undoubtedly increased. As our knowledge of CGI has increased with experience it has become a more and more useful and impressive tool.

What is your favourite scene in the film?

Where the guys get stuck in a car on a mountain top and fight, sing and cry. I guess it is the dramatist in me.

What do you enjoy about working with Alfred Ntombela?

He is a talented, committed and courageous actor. In this film he (and Kenneth) had to do physical scenes way out of their comfort zones.

Have you worked with Tanit Phoenix before? What made her ideal for the role of Kelsey?

She had a small role in Schuks Tshabalala, and we knew she could handle something bigger. She is going to do well.

Sworn enemies, Boetie (Schuster) and Beast, played by Kenneth Nkosi (Jerusalema, Tsotsi, White Wedding), are forced to embark on a road trip as unwitting subjects of a new TV reality show, devised by a gorgeous TV Producer, Kelsey, played by Tanit Phoenix (Spud, Straight Outta Benoni). On camera, with the whole of South Africa in on the joke, the pair comes unstuck at every stage of this hilarious journey until they discover that they have been conned and join forces to exact revenge. Mad Buddies also stars long-time Schuster collaborator Alfred Ntombela as Mr Mda, the Minister of Tourism, is directed by Gray Hofmeyr and  produced by Helena Spring. Releases nationwide on 22 June 2012.