Five minutes with Bonko Khoza on playing a convicted serial killer on 'Red Ink' and

29 February 2024 - 10:36
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Actor Bonko Khoza speaks on portraying a convicted serial killer.
Actor Bonko Khoza speaks on portraying a convicted serial killer.
Image: Supplied

Showmax's new eight-part thriller series Red Ink has had viewers on the edge of their seats as it unfolds the story based on Angela Makholwa’s best-selling debut novel of the same name.

Bonko Khoza plays Napoleon, a convicted serial killer and rapist who had a huge body count.

The actor chats about his role in the series and the effect of retelling a home-grown story:

How did you approach your audition?

Angus Gibson has quite a fluid casting process. I’ve known him for a while but we’ve never had the opportunity to work together. I tried to craft something different from what South Africa has seen me as. Books have followers and readers, so doing justice to an adapted character, it’s about being specific to the book and the existing text.

What conversations did you and Makholwa have about the story?

Angela gave me the freedom to interpret the character and create something special. Most days we were just chatting and laughing. I’d like to think we’ve become friends. She’s an amazing author but an even more amazing person with the kindest heart. We hardly spoke about the story — everything I needed was already in the book. 

What has playing Napoleon taught you about the mind of a serial killer?

There’s a show called I Am A Killer, which talks about a person’s past and what led to them being like this. In the beginning it’s told through his point of view and he talks about his background. Then, in the other half of the show, his victims give accounts of what happened. I’ve got a child now and when I see her, she’s an angel. It would be crazy for anyone to intentionally raise a killer such as Napoleon. Nobody is born evil. Every serial killer was once a child with a dream. It’s the world that changes us. 

Did you have to go through physical and mental training to fully embody this character?

I Am A Killer has six seasons and my wife would tell you I’ve watched every season. Psychologically I was able to take on the job. Physically, we had to make choices about his weight. He’s in prison for 13 years so what does that look like? I lost about 15kg. I hardly ate on set. We started creating things unique to him; these facial and neck twitches. So I had to get used to that and timing those in the performance. 

What was the most challenging thing about playing this character?

It’s the idea of how people will wonder how I’m so comfortable playing this. For some people, even crew members, it got too real and I wonder what they think of me. “Is he also crazy?” 

How did you leave Napoleon behind at work each day?

I’m able to pack the character away and bring him out when I need to because I create him so far from me. Me and Napoleon are worlds apart. Napoleon is easy — you put on overalls and glasses. You switch on to the things you switch on. But my life at the moment is so hectic that it was hard to switch Bonko away from the work. I've just had a child, I just moved house, so I have a lot on my mind. It’s exhaustion, something I can’t run away from. How are my eyes going to look white when I haven’t slept (more than) four hours? 

What did you do to get the chemistry with the actors you worked with?

Napoleon is an isolated character so I didn’t really have to build chemistry with anyone. I was no-one’s love interest and nobody’s best friend. But in the beginning [with Nqobile Nunu Khumalo as Lucy] we had a lot of big set-ups to create a foundation. It was about getting to know each other, sharing a bit about our personal lives and our process, trying to make sure she feels safe in the work environment, respected and appreciated.

How was it reconnecting with Kwenzo Ngcobo and Abdul Khoza (both from The Wife) on the show?

It’s beautiful. Kwenzo is one of my best friends. We see each other all the time. Abdul, our past four jobs have been together since The Wife and we have more work together on the way. He brings out the best in me and I also try to push him to a place where he can see the best in himself. Whenever I’m on a call sheet with them, I know I have to bring my A-game.

Who should watch Red Ink?

People who love crime thrillers and have an appetite for a thriller/horror series will enjoy the show. I think humanising the characters in their situation is what’s going to set this show apart. Get into the mind of a killer. I also hope it shines a light on gender-based violence.

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