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November 2016. Interview by Marelise Jacobs. Cover: Israel Zulu - Courtesy of Sarah Waterfield

Heartlines has launched its latest campaign, 'What’s Your Story?', which aims to tackle some of South Africa’s deepest divides. Often playing the role of the bad guy in television shows and movies such as Gaz’lam and Tsotsi, Israel Zulu is no stranger to being stereotyped. His story and his reputation, countered by his warm and gentle persona captures the heart of What’s Your Story. Perkolate spoke to Israel about his participation in the Heartlines project and his upcoming movie Beyond the River.

How did your involvement in the Heartline project start and what is the story behind Beyond the River?

Israel Zulu: As an organisation that funds Beyond the River, they are the ones who proposed to me to come to the story telling session. I agreed and that's how I got involved.

The film Beyond the River is about this guy who has a God given talent but who suffers from peer pressure. He participates in canoeing, in the Duzi, but then because of the peer pressure, it distances him from that passion and that's where I come into the story. I am one of those guys who wants the best for him. I mentor this boy to keep doing what he believes in, and what God gave him.

If you can consider that it is not a sport that is popular in black society, so it is something that is fresh, something that is unique. It's a story that tells it's not about the colour, it's about talent, it's about how you think.

“...The hardships that I went through, the struggle in my life has produced this product that is called Israel today...” - Israel Zulu

I've heard you are interested and involved as script consultant and character developer on certain projects?

Israel Zulu: I do a lot of things in the film industry. I get involved in terms of dialogue consultant, more especially the township lingo. I become also a wardrobe consultant, which cars are relevant. The people that I work with, they trust me a lot, I say yes this is the one or no this is not going to work.

Another job that I do, is that I own an acting school in Alexandra. It also runs as an agency, but it's more than an agency because I spot the talent, I capture it and then I groom it. I create opportunities for them, commercials, television, films. I am also doing music. I do soundtracks, I'm a performer, I have a debut album that released in 2006 and then I'm looking forward to release another one.

Tell me a bit more about the acting school?

Israel Zulu: I've discovered through experience is that a school like this accepts very needy children. So it was best for me to start in Alexandra where I grew up, where I believe the kids are more problematic in terms of crime and drugs.

But also I want to explore and go to places like Diepsloot and Bram Fisher. My target is the most problematic but it's hard for me because I'm based in Alexandra. Then to go to other places, I'm not ready now but it's something that I look to do in future. I do have members who doesn't stay in Alexandra, who travels and come to the school and train and teach them the basic skills of acting.

It's hard for other kids because they have to travel by taxi and so that's where the problem begins because people don't have money. That's where we get the biggest challenge but in future I want to have branches, I think my next branch will be in Diepsloot.

I also teach my members different skills. I don't only groom them to become superstars on TV because what if they don't get that chance? I train them to be like me, to start something from the roots, create something out of nothing. Me, I never had a funder, I use my skills, I use my energy. I was motivated by the influence of where I grew up.

I can tell the honest truth about what made me me, it's the challenges. The hardships that I went through, the struggle in my life has produced this product that is called Israel today. I didn't choose the life that I grew up with when I was young, it was the circumstances and I took it as a challenge.