Hey folks, today we have a very special interview to start off the weekend. Last week we chatted with Riaad Moosa – comedian and star of the new local comedy “Material” – and he was more than happy to questions about his character, experiences, and the weird questions that you submitted on our Facebook page. He also wasn’t shy to share a few jokes and anecdotes. We chatted for a while but everything in the interview below is gold.
JK: How did you get involved with Material?
RM: Well, Ronnie Apteker, the executive producer, is the original founder of internet solutions basically brought the internet to South Africa. Ronnie also has a love for stand up comedy and movies – and he met me on the comedy stage at Cool Runnings many years ago when I was still doing medicine. And he said ‘Riaad that’s an interesting story, Muslim doctor and comedian, we should develop a script. Let’s do it.’ And I thought ‘I have ward runs in the mornings, I can’t think of these things’. But I approached it like I do most things in my life, if I’m not morally apposed to something, I just go with it and see where the universe takes me. So that was the original exciting incident and then he put me in touch with Craig Freimond – the movie’s writer and director – and we started having conversations and it was a seven year process and the story changed dramatically, and here we are!
There are obvious similarities between you and your character Cassim, is there any truth to this tale in relation to your life as a Muslim comedian?
The actual story has got nothing to do with my life specifically because I’m originally trained as a doctor, I’m from Cape Town, and my parents are generally very supportive – at the same time urging me to do things within the boundaries of my culture and my religion. And this guy (Cassim) is from Fordsburg,Johannesburg, works in a material shop having to deal with the family business. So my actual frame of reference is not the same, however trying to negotiate doing stand up and at the same time having to be an integral part of the community. Those issues – I deal with on a daily basis also – and to a certain extent have been dramatised in the movie.
Your character has such a complicated relationship in the film with Vincent Ebrahim’s character. How did that affect the way the two of you, as actors, related to each other when you weren’t shooting? Did you try to get to know each other, or did you keep a distance?
No, we hung out. It was [a] very family set up. It was interesting because the family fit quite well in terms of us not anticipating that the casting would be so good in terms of us looking like a family – and we shot on location, we shot in a home. So from the get go it was very much a family feel and everybody was very gracious, we were all hanging out together and it was really nice. The interesting thing is even though there are conflicts that occur between my character and Vincent’s character, there’s also a lot of love and tenderness between the two characters. With Vincent you can see that he loves his family very much and he shows a lot of tenderness towards them but at the same time there are boundaries that he won’t go beyond. Generally Vincent as a person is also very awesome and he’s a gracious man.
How did you prepare to play as “Cassim”?
I think that because I was part of the writing process it happened sub-consciously and most of my preparation came from trying to normalize the accent because there are slight differences between the Cape Town and the Johannesburg accents, so at the same time we couldn’t make it too specific because there had to be a consistency between Vincent and my mother, Denise’s character and the family generally – so it couldn’t be too contrasting. We had to kind of work out the sound that is consistent with the sounds in that are. Most of the work was involved there and also just the dramatic scenes were challenging because acting for camera is very technical and it’s very different to stand up which is exaggerated whereas the camera is right here in your face and the camera sees everything. They always say that the camera reads thoughts. So that was challenging but Craig, the director, really assisted me with that – and also watching Vincent and Denise especially on set with the dramatic scenes helped me a lot
Did you have a hand in writing down Cassim’s comedy routine?
Most of it was my stand up and also Craig had some input in that – like the whole Pakistani head massage – that came from Craig. I’ve never experienced that. So I wrote the stand up in conjunction with him after that. But other than that, there are little bits and pieces of stand up that I usually do and we try to interweave it into the actual narrative and show how certain things that you experience in real life gets translated onto stage. Specifically with smoking, the smoking bit outside weddings so most of it comes from my own stand up, ja.
Was the chemistry between you and Joey off screen similar to on screen?
Ag it was very nice Joel, because there’s also a lot of improvisation – Craig allowed that – we improvised while writing the script, during rehearsals and even on screen at times and he gave us the opportunity to do that. I’ve also known Joey for a long time so it was generally easy to do that.
Did playing this character impact your own life, in any way?
Oh yes, I think it has the potential and to a certain extent it has in terms of the marketing build-ups thus far innovated people’s awareness of me and it can be quite difficult when I’m busy with my kids and my kid is covered in syrup and I’m trying to wash their hands and face with the water fountain in Zoo Lake and people go “hey, it’s Riaad, lets take a photo!”, and I’m like, I’m on battle stations now maybe just give me a few minutes to relax. So that’s challenging
So did you have a lot of outside interference from people trying to take photos of all of you?
We have a dedication to that experience in the movie.
This is a step in the right direction for South African comedy films, it’s smart, funny, and has a touching message. Do you think that future films will take Material as a lesson that there is more to comedy than just slapstick?
I haven’t thought of that and how it will play in comparison to other films that have come out in the past and films that will come out in the future. It’s just intercomedically I’ve always wanted to make it accessible to all people and all different tastes in humour. So you’ll find we have humour ranging from slapstick to witty dialogue to silly dialogue to comedic situations to cultural humour to stand up comedy specifically.
This is you first major leading role, have offers for new projects started coming in?
Not at the moment, I think some people took some contact details, for film stuff but people still just approach me for comedy club stuff. I think that maybe after the release I’ll consider it but I don’t know if I’d like to do it. I really enjoyed this but it’s another sort of life.
Back onto improvisation, Vincent’s plays a very serious character, would you say that there was any sort of improvisation with him in those scenes?
RM: In terms of dramatic stuff we improvised in the rehearsals a little bit but with the dramatic scenes we tried to keep it as structured as possible. It was mostly during the comedic scenes that it was improvised. Like there was a joke where we started throwing ice – they throw ice at you – we did three versions of that, the response of having ice thrown at you – and we just chose the one that we thought would fit in best with the movie. All of those things came out on the day and we just tried various options and that was fun with regard to the comedy but we cut out so many jokes because it’s very important that you must stick to the narrative and you must not waste time in terms of the length of the movie all those things are very important things that I came to understand during the editing.
So will we see some of that in the DVD bonus features?
Oh yes, I think so! Like for example there’s lots of solemness in terms of the dramatic scenes and there’s a lot of things in terms of the comedy that happen – otherwise, you know – and hopefully we can capture that in the extras.
Would you say that it’s more stressful to be behind the camera than to be on a stage, in a hall where hundreds of people are looking at you?
I think I would be suited to writing and maybe try my hand at directing one day in the future because I think that’s where most of my comfort lies. I love performing but I’m very private so the associated fame or celebrity status just makes me very uncomfortable. It’s the occupational hazard which I have to accept.
Everybody knows me as a very serious person, are there any movies that you’ve seen – comedy movies – that could spark my humour bone a little bit? Preferably not any Bollywood movies because I don’t know how to spell any of the names.
I think there are a lot of movies, you do seem like you have a sense of humour. I don’t actually watch movies, now that I think about it, because I have two young kids now and I do watch movies but it’s all like Barney and the whole day, and then you lose brain cells when you do this with your kids because I’d be watching with my child and then half way through the child gets bored and then leaves and I find myself still sitting there watching Barney and 20 minutes later I realise “hey, why am I doing this? I can change the channel…”. This is what happens, they change your behaviour.
I asked the community on Facebook if they had any questions for you – I was only picking out the weirdest ones and some of my own . Someone asked if I would ask you to marry me.
They always say that and then I say that I’m flattered and I know I’m allowed more than one wife but there’s only one woman for me, my wife Azana, who I love dearly.
Bravo, Bravo. Another one, I don’t know if you know about Star Wars. How do you feel about abuse towards Wookies?
Oh, it’s terrible, and I don’t think that people are spending enough time on highlighting their plight. They don’t worry about the trees and the environment, you know, carbon footprints. I think that the plight of the Wookies is something we need to spend a bit more time on. I’m hoping to present this at the next G8 summit; we should tackle this head on. I’m with you there.
Here’s a more serious one. If your comedy career fails, will you go back to being a doctor?
Well if I go back to being a doctor, I think people will die because I’ve been out of practice for a while. But at the moment I would actually like to do both its just very difficult being out of balance, so at the moment I’m trying to use my public persona to raise funds for medical education. We’re going to do a show called ‘Keeping you in stitches’ as part of Rondebosch’s medical centre’s hospital in Cape Town as part of their Social initiative and we’re going to raise funds for the UCT department of family medicine.
Have you ever watched the movie ‘Patch Adams’? Would you ever open up a funny clinic?
Patch Adams is actually a very serious guy; he is such a principled man. If I do that, I always thought that if I go into private practice it would have to be focussed on laughter, stuff like that and when I was younger I loved to research the health benefits of laughter. There is quite a lot that has been written about laughter. It improves cardiac output and improves your reparation and even improves your immune system. He just focussed on doing things that in sighted laughter like watching comedy things, there are a number of things that he did and it’s such an interesting story and I always wanted to research it a bit more but I got distracted along the way. It’s something I’d like to revisit.
Do you have people mobbing you when you go out? Do people recognise you?
I try and keep a low profile, grow a little bit of a beard, wear a cap. I’m an unassuming character generally. Unlike Joey, he’s just a large character. So a lot of the time people don’t recognize me. It’s cool, they were playing the trailer for Material in the airport and we were standing at the baggage carousel and you just see every few minutes the trailer starts playing. And then I just hide so no one notices me which is cool. But then my daughter runs to me and says “daddy, I see you daddy, you’re on the TV daddy” and suddenly everyone is looking and I just hide again. So it happens at times.
Alright one more personal matter I have to get settled. As everyone knows there’s a bit of a rivalry between Joburg and Capetown. Can you tell us about the good things about Joburg?
Ah, I love Joburg. I stay in Cape Town at the moment but I have to come for my fix of Joburg. I find the city very vibrant and there’s a lot happening here and there is an energy that is not in Cape Town
I say that as well!
I love my home for different reasons but Joburg is a special place
Material starring Riaad Moosa, Vincent Ebrahim, and Joey Rasdien opens in cinema’s countrywide today, you can read my extremely positive review right HERE!