AVICIOUS rivalry, a brutal firing, accusations of behind-the-scenes backstabbing and inappropriate sexual relationships . . . The secrets and scandals emerging from the set of one of South Africa’s most popular telenovelas is worthy of an award – but this drama is very much real.
At the heart of it all is a veteran actress and an “Instagram influencer” new to the industry. And if the older star is to be believed, it’s because of the younger one that she’s been pushed out.
But insiders say that’s not the full picture – the woman who has played Malefu Mokoena in 1Magic’s The River this past year could be entirely to blame for the situation she now finds herself in. “She’s difficult and rude,” one says bluntly.
Yet this is not how Moshidi Motshegwa (42) sees it and the actress hasn’t been shy to share her thoughts on being fired from The River.
She had a difficult relationship with younger co-star Larona Moagi (22) and executive producer Gwydion Beynon, Moshidi tells DRUM.
“It was a relationship breakdown. I had gone to meetings with him about scripts and Gwydion told me to stop being cruel [to Larona].”
Moshidi doesn’t mince words when it comes to the actress who plays her daughter. “It was very difficult to work with Larona,” she says.
She felt Larona wasn’t experienced
enough and said as much to the show’s producers. “We can’t cast people from Instagram, give them a huge role and not give them support.”
Moshidi’s treatment of Larona was a huge issue, says one insider who works on The River’s set. “We all saw how she treated her and it was bad. She never liked her from the beginning and there was even a time Larona’s parents wanted to come on set to confront her.”
And it wasn’t only Larona, who plays Itumeleng, on the receiving end of Moshidi’s criticism.
Producers and scriptwriters found it difficult to work with her as “she kept changing the story and the script”, the insider continues.
Nothing was ever good enough for Moshidi, they say. “She has been a very problematic person to work with, which is why the production decided to give her a break with the intention to bring her back.
“She would tell writers they were bad and literally shout at Larona that she can’t act.”
Moshidi admits she wasn’t afraid to speak up if she didn’t agree with the script. “I always challenge directors. I phoned Gwydion and told him, ‘ This doesn’t make sense’.
“I completely and totally invested in this character. I didn’t short-change her.”
IN A case of life imitating art, Malefu was having problems with adopted daughter Itumeleng. On the show their familial bond comes to an end when Itumeleng disowns her mother. Now it’s clear their relationship was fractured on- and off-screen. According to Moshidi, Larona told producers she was finding it tough to work with the former Rhythm City actress. “She argued I was being cruel.”
That was around October last year, and after being “reprimanded” by production over her relationship with Larona, Moshidi called to say she wouldn’t be returning to the show. “I told them they could find someone else since I was being cruel to young actresses.”
She says she went back to work after receiving an apology from the producers. But it wasn’t long before the relationship with Larona broke down completely, Moshidi alleges.
The first sign of trouble was when her younger co-star stopped greeting her, she says. Moshidi spoke to producers to address the matter and recommended Larona hire an acting coach.
The situation felt like it was about a young girl being pitted against an older actress. “I even asked Gwydion at the meeting, ‘Are you sleeping with Larona?’ because he referred to her as ‘the child’ – ‘Don’t be cruel to the child’.”
To ease the tension on set the veteran actress says she requested a meeting with Larona to deal with any issues between them. “I wanted her to explain what I had done.”
At the meeting Larona said she “felt like I spoke about her”, Moshidi says.
“It was an assumption. There was no evidence that she could give that said, ‘I heard you say my name in such and such a discussion’.”
The encounter left a bad taste in her mouth because “in 25 years of being in this business I have never fought with an actress”.
“I’ve never been in that kind of situation. If she was saying I was being difficult, she should have said I came to work drunk or I didn’t know my lines, but none of the above was quoted.”
The environment made her feel like she was in kindergarten. “It was someone saying, ‘I feel’, ‘I thought, I heard’.”
She scoffs at the idea of competing with a younger woman. Larona can’t be considered on her level, she says. “Why would I compete with a child who’s starting her life when I have had 25 years to build my name, to be who I am?”
SO FAR Larona has kept mum about the allegations. Al l queries related to the saga have been referred to M- Net by her and The River’s producers.
“As channel 1Magic we are fully supportive of The River,” says Philly Kubheka, head of PR and publicity for M-Net’s local entertainment channels. “We entrust the writers and producers of each show to give the best content and their discretion on storylines and characters is always well-informed.”
Moshidi believes she wouldn’t have been written out of the show if not for the conflict with Larona. But her only issue with her on-screen daughter was her acting skills, she insists.
All she asked was that Larona be given training. “I even said at the meeting [with producers] that Larona is struggling. She’s struggling because she’s not an actress and has been given a huge role to play. This is a craft. It’s a skill.”
Moshidi has nothing but praise for her other co-stars and says she had a great time on set.
“I worked with the best young actors that I could have gotten,” she says about her other on-screen children played by Matshepo Sekgopi and Presley Chweneyagae.
“I had a wonderful year with the actors I worked with.”
The way she was fired was unkind, she says. “It took away the humanity. I experienced power and what power can do.”
She’s going to take a break from the fickle entertainment world, she says.
“I don’t have plans at the moment. I’m letting God be. I don’t plan – I wait for things to come.”
With Malufe not being killed off, would she return if asked?
“I don’t know. Only God knows how to answer that question.”