A story that will appeal to South Africans, to everyone who has been heartbroken. It’s a story that is specifically about love but has universal appeal that celebrates living in South Africa, in Jozi, in Soweto.
Mrs. Right Guy is the latest film from Nigerian-born filmmaker Adze Ugah, who moved to South Africa to further his studies, where he earned an Honours degree at the South African School of Film and Drama, AFDA, with a major in script writing and directing.
In Mrs Right Guy, Gugu Hlatshwayo (Dineo Moeketsi) has grown up with the curse of being the ‘It Girl’, the most beautiful and wanted by everyone. That is, until she met Sipho Motshegwa, who showed her that her grandmother was right to warn her, when he wooed her, won her, married her, bonked her, and left her broke, without money on an island paradise. Now chaste, in debt, embittered, angry towards all men and focussed on career success, Gugu is once again at the crossroads when fate introduces her to two eligible young men – Dumile (Thapelo Mokoena) and Joe( Lehasa Moloi). One a sure-fire way to heartbreak, and the other a guaranteed ticket to true love and happiness.
Mrs. Right Guy was directed by Ugah from a screenplay by Pusetso Thibedi , a storyteller across the mediums of theatre, film and television. He has directed and written numerous plays including Capturing Sanity, which is currently in the development phase of adaptation from stage play to feature film.
A Q&A with director Adze Ugah
How did you get into film?
I have always loved film, but while I was growing up in Nigeria there were no options when it came to studying film as a career. In terms of an industry there is ‘Nollywood’, but that is more about home videos and not film. So I went to study engineering, but when a film school finally opened in the country, I switched from engineering to do what I love.
Why did you come to South Africa?
We grew up in Nigeria with films like Sarafina, The Gods Must be Crazy, and Shaka Zulu, so I knew that South Africans were making high-quality films of an international standard, and they were African stories. When I started looking around to do my Honours, it seemed like a very good choice to come here and learn more. There was a strong film and television industry here and I wanted to be part of it.
Where did the idea for the film originate?
The development of the writing began in 2011 when Dumi Gumbi and Cati Weinek decided to make a film for an audience that was being ignored. They wanted to tell a story that was joyful, that was about love, how women feel about love and how Johannesburg is a great setting for love. They were keen to get away from dark stories set in Jozi about gangsters and people killing each other. Most people living in Johannesburg experience the city differently; they fall in love, they work, they have relationships and friends. I joined the team in 2013 and started engaging and making sure the story become more and more resonant. Pusetso Thibedi, Mokopi Shale and Cati took on different drafts to build the film into a visual and comedic feature. The film is about how you can unexpectedly crash into love and how it will change your life.
What is unique/most entertaining about the film?
Good films are about taking a character and putting them into a situation where they are no longer in their comfort zone. In Mrs Right Guy we investigate the idea of change and ask what you are willing to change. The protagonist’s stakes are high. The lead character Gugu had a preconceived idea of relationships. She had been hurt in the past and was closed to love. As a result, she her armour on and rejects love before it even gets close to her. The film is interesting because it tells us that we should not become prisoners of our own making.
Though I am not qualified to speak on behalf of all women and men in terms of love, I can speak on my own behalf and for Gugu. The story is relatable to both sexes because it is about how we collide and change each other as people. Even if you have been hurt, and you may be hurt again in the future, please take a chance on love. Just take a chance.
What were your thoughts on reading the script, and how you would interpret it?
Here was a story that would appeal to South Africans, to everyone who has been heartbroken. It’s a story that is specifically about love but has universal appeal that celebrates living in South Africa, in Jozi, in Soweto. I wanted to ensure that the existing elements in the script would be magnified, so I focused in on the characters and the setting. The film is filled with settings that represent Johannesburg. Whether you live in Sandton, or work in Soweto, or work in Sandton and live in Soweto, Johannesburg is populated by people from all walks of life. In this film our lead is forced to collide with life and find her true self.
What comments do you have on your role as the director of the film?
I deeply respect the craft and working with actors. The actors are the key to unlocking the film. I am drawn to all kinds of stories. In terms of genres they can be science fiction, war, dark comedy or romantic comedy; that is just the framework. But as a director, I love investigating the heart of my character, the heart of a human story where the character, like all of us, has goals and objectives but something happens that forces them to change.
How did you go about casting? What do the lead actors bring to the film?
Usually, I like casting against type. I did this with Thapelo Mokoena who plays one of the romantic leads. People expect this of him, but as the story unfolds, it shows him to be a bit of an anti- hero. Lehasa who plays Joe, the other romantic lead, shows vulnerability and quiet strength, exactly what I wanted for him. He is the kind of man who has the answer before you even ask the question. He is a man in tune with himself and the world around him.
When we were first starting to cast the film in 2012, Dineo Moeketsi was a strong contender. At the time she was working only as a presenter, but I could see her potential. She was often passed over during castings for other roles, but I could see she is a strong actor; she had the playful, vulnerable yet stubborn force needed for the role of Gugu.
Describe the visual identity of the film
For me it was about ensuring the screen was informed by the energy in the frame. In turn, this ensures that Mrs Right Guy has a classic look and feel in terms of the genre. But the film also has soul because I was always in pursuit of seeing ‘heart’ in each scene. It sounds trite, but that gives the film depth. Working with Tom Marais as a DOP was great because he very quickly frames up to find the light, depth and grit in a scene. My references included Spike Lee’s ‘Jungle Fever’, ‘Bridesmaids’, ‘Baggage Claim’, and ‘Think Like A man’.
Describe the making of the film
It ran very smoothly. Sure, there were some of the usual challenges of making a film, but we shot fast and efficiently and we had a great team.
What excites you about the film?
I am now excited to see how audiences will respond when they see it. As the filmmaker, I am immersed in the process and I don’t have 100% control of every aspect of the film. That is the nature of filmmaking. Part of it is about luck. And so I hope we have pulled together a good film that South Africans will enjoy.
Who is your target audience?
It seems obvious that it is targeting South African women who really deserve to see themselves on screen, but I believe this film is for men and women as it’s about the universal experience of heartbreak and falling in love.