Film Interview: Tracey-Lee Oliver – Kaalgat Karel, Or Enjoying A Winning Streak

November 15, 2020

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Kaalgat Karel tells the story of Karel Venter, a 30-year-old guy who loves the thrill and accompanying social media stardom of streaking during sports matches. He falls head-over-heels for the paramedic, Rita, who saves him after a streak gone wrong, but there’s a problem; she’s a strait-laced single mom who has no interest in his streaking shenanigans. Tracey-Lee Oliver stars as Rita’s best friend, Maria, a fellow paramedic.


Can you distil what it is that you love about film or television acting particularly – over other types of performance such as theatre?

Besides the thrill of a live audience in a theatre setting, I really enjoy the point of view of filming. You get to guide the viewer to what you want them to focus on, in so, telling the story the way you, or the director, wants. The behind the scenes aspect is also truly amazing to me. All those different departments each doing their part of the puzzle to make a director’s vision or screenwriter’s words come to life. Every one with the same goal. It’s like magic. Also, one gets to do it over in case you burst out laughing in a take – which happened a lot in Kaalgat Karel. I’d love to see the gag reel!


Are there aspects of the craft of acting that are different in front of a camera than when performing for a live audience?

Oh yes, for sure! On film the camera is up close, so your facial expressions have to, at times, be microscopic; at times, just using your eyes to express things. You have to make it believable; not ‘put on’. But in a live theatre environment, you have to project for the folks sitting right at the back so they can read the character as well as those in the front row. It’s a balance of projection, I think. But film has taught me how to tone it down a notch. I have a very expressive face, so I had to teach myself how to manage that.


Other than the script, how do other facets of a film – costumes; locations; perhaps the soundtrack (if you are aware of that before editing) – that help you inhabit or understand a character?

We were lucky to shoot on location in East London. It was hot and the rain was unpredictable, but it really helped with my character discovery. Maria is a girl from East London and she loves it there. Going around and interacting with the people of the city was a huge help for me. The crew was fantastic and we really had a lot of challenges and lots of fun.


How important is a message for you in terms of the types of stories you prefer to get involved with? Are you part activist (and if so, for what causes), do you want something that primarily presses artistic buttons, or is it a matter of simply working first and foremost? (Perhaps it’s a mixture of all three…).

I think that, first and foremost, I get to live my dream. Coming from a small town, Grabouw, in the Eighties and Nineties, I didn’t know a lot if people who looked like me who made it. They were all in Johannesburg working as storytellers, being singers or actors. So I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given. Secondly, I get to make a living out of that. Which is another blessing. I tell stories to help people see themselves, and to help them consider things in different ways. What they interpret is theirs and that’s what film, art and entertainment should be about – for us to individually decide for ourselves. That’s the beauty, and there’s no wrong interpretation.


What do you need from a director? Conversely, what won’t you put up with from a director?

That’s a complicated question. Our job as actors is to follow the vision of the director. If we want to direct, we should go and direct our own movies. But I think respect and the room to play within the structure really helps, especially with comedy. It’s nice to know that a director like Meg Rickards encouraged any ideas we had. It made our performances flow well, without any force.


Does the way a film or show is distributed make a difference to you – the impact of the big screen and epic sound in a cinema versus a film or series being watched on a laptop or phone? Please answer as both a performer and a fan.

I love the experience of a theatre or a cinema. It’s dark, and there are others coming to discover a new world with you. Strangers (wearing masks, of course!), decide to come together (while also social distancing!) and have a lekker time. Or to be scared together or cry together – whatever the genre. That, to me, is awesome! It’s a strange time now because of this lockdown and pandemic. We have to be careful about going outside, so a lot of folks are watching TV and streaming series and movies at home. I suppose if you have a huge TV and a fabulous sound system, you’re not really missing out on the cinema that much. Oh, and don’t forget to pop some popcorn for that authentic experience…


Who is your character in Kaalgat Karel and why were they satisfying to play?

I play Maria Jacobs. She’s the witty, no-nonsense best friend of our leading lady Rita Swart, who’s played by Christia Visser. Maria is super-protective over her best friend, and over her daughter Bella, played by Rosebelle Clasen. I loved playing Maria, because I saw a lot of myself in her. She’s a smart, stylish paramedic with a strong will and a soft heart. She goes for what she wants, but also is a huge protector of her family and friends. Also, she’s gorgeous, so obviously I was perfect for the role! Just kidding…but also not kidding.

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