He is one of the most recognizable actors in the country. With credits that include the UK series Bulletproof, Trackers, A Royal Surprise, Nothing for Mahala and countless others, he has circled the block.
Now he’s in something totally different, a Showmax Pulse horror series. Thapelo Mokoena plays Errol, a game producer who discovers that survival isn’t just a game anymore when an electromagnetic pulse bomb frys every electrical circuit in his office skyscraper – and people’s heads.
He shares the project a little.
What is your claim to fame?
I’m just an individual trying to live a life of purpose. I’m someone who grew up on a farm, in a small farming town, where anything exciting was heard, read or seen on TV. All I ever wanted to do was go out and see, go out and touch, go out and take it. I’m someone who was really determined to conquer and uncover those dreams, to make them come true. I am like my people, the Crocodile Clan, otherwise known as Bakoena. We are resilient and we are seekers.
How would you describe Impulse?
Impulse is a journey that introduces you to the different types of people we interact with on a daily basis – their strengths and weaknesses, ups and downs, insecurities and insecurities – across the world of gaming. Each member of society is revealed to us across the world of these games, and strengthened after being modified by the Electromagnetic Pulse Bomb.
What attracted you to the project?
I read this and I said, “Man, this is crazy. What the hell is that? But man, I love it. I care about it. I’m interested. I like what they say and how they see it. this character.
What did you like about Errol?
He’s not trying to be a pretty boy. He’s not trying to be a nice guy. He’s not trying to be a “like me” guy. He is only himself.
I was trying to get out of those safe roles that we normally see on our screens. I get a lot of offers to do romantic comedies, to play the ladies’ man or the guy who ends up with the girl, but that’s not my point. I’m an actor and I’m always looking for a range of diverse extremes.
I had called my local and international agents and said that I would not play any good boy roles for another two or three years. I am not interested. I’d rather go without work if it’s not the right kind of bad guy or crazy. And this character was exactly what I was praying for. I was like, “Lord, this is what I’ve been asking you for so long.”
Errol is complex. He has so much reach. He doesn’t mean anything bad, but all he does is bad when he opens his mouth. He doesn’t want to be an asshole, but he happens to be. He’s a straight shooter. He doesn’t think before he speaks.
Are you a gamer?
My brother likes games but not me. I am a natural baby. I ride my bike outside, I run or whatever.
Part of my job and part of my skills as a performer is to step into different worlds and step into different people’s shoes to bring them to life. So entering this game world that I know absolutely nothing about, this challenge was already special for me.
To be a child, to see children who love to play and play street fighter and mortal combat at the boutique spaza was always fascinating. I used to enjoy street fighter a little, but it wasn’t for me. I was always going out early and going to play football or whatever outside. But I always found these children interesting; they would do anything to get a fifty cent coin to go to the arcade machines.
Errol is determined. He is driven. He is resilient. He’s a fighter. He is a winner at heart. There is no doubt how far he will go to make sure he succeeds, wins or gets what he wants. For me, that’s what took me to the next level, where I can identify with this guy.
I felt like there was so much I could offer him as a black artist, especially because of the gaming world in the township, in Soweto, in ekasi, compared to the rest of the world. It’s his backstory. He grew up in a time when there was this one spaza shop in his area that had a machine that all the kids came to play on. There were no game shows. A rich kid from the township had a TV game console, but that was it. So I know this kid. I saw versions of him every day. So I wanted to tap into this world to bring it to life.
How much research did you do to prepare for the role?
When you develop or build characters, you take what’s familiar and marry that to what the story is trying to say. You accessorize and decorate with the gems you collect during your research.
In this case Salas [multi-award-winning director Sallas de Jager of Dominee Tienie and Free State fame] shared as much as he could and I went on the internet from 2019. I was reading stuff. I started watching a lot of content based on gaming, dark web, dark internet…those types of shows. I started watching a lot of game shows that I didn’t usually watch. Now I can’t stop!
I was like, ‘Wait, we’ve never seen this from an African perspective.’ There is no show like this from an African perspective. There is no such thing, period.
The game is a global concept but we tell this African story. It’s a game world set in the heart of Johannesburg and these characters we can relate to, supporting such a grand concept. I started marrying that to the world of Newtown, Maboneng (where Impulse is defined). I know space. I did Ayeye there for a year and lived there every day. I was there. I know the way of these streets. I know taxis. So the research excited me because we are actually telling an African story.
Research became so easy for me because I thought, “Now forget everything you’ve seen about games; just go home to your past as a black South African child in the townships. Go back there and all the answers will be there.