‘I USED TO GET
LOTS OF APPROACHES FROM PEOPLE SAYING THEY WOULD MAKE THE PERFECT
watched a couple ofdays‘ lilmingf he says. ‘But I always felt the film was in \ery safe hands with Minghella and Richard (‘urtis. I haye to say I was Very impressed by the attention to cultural detail and location in the scenes I saw being made.’
The film employ ed international casting agents to recruit the actors who would portray such well—loycd characters as Mr “B .\Iatckoni. the proprietor of Speedy Motors. who becomes Mma Ramotswe’s fiance (played by Lucian Msamati). and Mma (iracc .\Iakutsi. the .-\gcncy ‘s ineticulotis secretary. who is play ed by [Manny'er .»\nika Noni Rose. Yet. it was the process of seeking out the actress who would play the central character that almost derailed the entire production.
'I Used lo get lots of approaches from [‘CUPIL‘ saying they would make the perfect .\lma Ramotswe; people wrote letters and enclosed photographs] laughs .\Ic('all Smith. ‘But I belieye the casting of the film was \ery difficult
Minghella had almost giy en up in fact.'
‘It‘s one of the most challenging castings l‘ye eyer done.‘ agrees Bricknell. ‘.\lma Ramotswe is a Very iconic character. and we knew we had to find a middle-aged actress of traditional build. not some skinny starlet. We started off seeing Botswanan women and gradually e\tended our search into South Africa. l'ganda and other African countries before heading for London and l.os Angeles.~
The American (irammy Award-w inning ja// singer. songwriter and poet Jill Scott had tested for the role and had reached the shortlist. though there were some concerns that her relati\e lack of acting experience would make it a tall order for her to cany an entire feature film. It was only when Minghella came across a series of
Main image: Anika Noni Rose. Jill Scott and Lucian Msamati. fmm left to right. as Mma Grace Makutsi. Mma Ramotswe and Mr JLB Matekoni. Left: author Alexander McCall Smith
You'l'ube clips of Scott's musical and poetry jx‘rformances that the director fully appreciated her rare screen presence.
With barely a fortnight to go before the project had to be set in motion or abandoned altogether. the producers decided to go with their gut instincts and cast Scott. who gained weight for the role. Luckily their faith was justified: her performance effortlessly captures the blend of wisdom. compassion and understated humour that has made Precious Ramotswe such a popular creation.
:\s the first feature film made entirely in Botswana. the producers relied heavily on their local crew for advice on local flora and fauna. The production was not without its setbacks: ten feet-high electrified fences had to be built around most of the sets to protect the cast and crew from attack by wild animals. Despite such tribulations. in a recent interview Minghella described his inyoly'ement with the project as being ‘a slow process of seduction. mostly by Botswana itself.‘
While the final verdict on the adaptation won’t be known until after its ratings have been recorded and the review cuttings assembled. the film‘s quietly confident producers have signed a ten-year lease for the area at the foot of the Kgale Hill in Gaborone. site of Precious Ramotswe's storefront detective agency. It‘s likely then. that the subsequent novels in the series will make the same transition from page to screen. This adaptation certainly makes a refreshing change from the endless Iinglish country house mysteries and gritty urban thrillers that currently clutter the schedules. Yet. as 'l‘imothy Bricknell points out, while primarily a colourful. funny. entertaining slice of bank holiday entertainment. The Na / Ladies" Detective Agency also offers a rare opportunity to showcase a modern. relatively prosperous African nation before a large television audience.
‘I’eople have talked about the responsibility of doing justice to Alexander McCall Smith's novel.‘ he says. ‘But with this production, we also felt a strong sense of responsibility as white people making the first motion picture filmed entirely in Botswana. and presenting modern Botswana to the rest of the world.‘
The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is on BBC1, Mon 24 Mar, time the.
13—27 Mar 2008 THE LIST 17