By BRUCE DENNILL
In Showmax Original film Dam, Yola Fischer (Lea Vivier), who returns from Chile to the Eastern Cape to bury her father, only to be tormented by spirits in the farm house she has inherited. But with her mother institutionalised, and her own meds running out, Yola has to wonder if the spirits are real or just in her head?
Can you distil what it is that you love about film or television acting particularly – over other types of performance such as theatre? Are there aspects of the craft of acting that are different in front of a camera than when performing for a live audience?
The two are entirely different, apart from the fact that both revolve around the art of storytelling. Comparing the one with the other would be like comparing apples and pears. Both genres have aspects that I absolutely adore, and other aspects that I find exceptionally challenging. At the moment, however, I do migrate more towards film and television as a performer, and theatre as an audience member. I miss attending the theatre more than performing in a particular piece of work, but that might just be my inner director yearning to be heard! With regards to acting for film and television – it is when I feel the most alive. It requires one to be absolutely present in the given moment and circumstances. It’s storytelling from not only the heart, but also from the gut; from one’s entire heart and soul. And that’s when my emotional and physical body become one. A unified whole. So it makes me feel alive and whole! Some might call me slightly obsessed. But that’s what it takes to be an artist, I think.
Film and television can involve an enormously lengthy creative process, with months or even years passing between coming on board via auditions and the premiere of the piece. What’s that like emotionally as a performer – investing heavily in something and then having to wait?
It’s hugely challenging, as you can imagine. It’s a constant rollercoaster. We tend to joke and call ourselves Bipolar Bears, because of the inevitable ups and downs of our industry and our craft. That’s why I go to therapy, haha! And that’s why it’s important to have other constants and dependable facets present in one’s life. For me, it’s my family and my life partner. I can depend on them being there for me, whereas my job is a continuous ebb and flow, touch and go. It’s also important to find joy in other parts of one’s life, especially in the small daily rituals. If our sense of success, as actors, revolved solely around our professional careers, it’s a recipe for disaster. Because our career trajectories are in no way linear or fair. But, it’s still worth it once you get to set! Then the magic of the world makes the difficulties seem slight.
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?
Oh, it’s a good mixture of all three, and at the same time, sometimes it’s more of one, and less of the other. It all depends on where you find yourself in your personal life. I do, however, feel very passionate about being truthful and practising empathy. Acting is built around these two pillars. But the importance thereof bleeds into life as a whole, and therefore I also strive to portray characters – their different ways of being and living – truthfully and from a place of empathy. It helps us to understand other human beings, and it fosters connections across different cultures, religions and languages. So in terms of my activism – I guess I am an activist for empathy. You can never judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, right? And in the same breath, we need to work because we still need to pay our rent! So a good mixture indeed.
What do you need from a director? Conversely, what won’t you put up with from a director?
I need to trust my director. That’s the single most important thing between an actor and a director on set. With regards to the second part of your question, I definitely have a list of things that I find exceptionally challenging when it comes to the director-actor relationship, but I never cut myself off from dealing with any particular person. It’s always an opportunity to learn, even if it’s learning where my irritability stems from or learning how to deal with it in a professional capacity.
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?
As a fan, I adore going to both the cinema and the theatre! I love taking myself out on a date to the Labia Film Theatre in Cape Town and immersing myself in the world of a good film. So yes – as a fan it definitely makes a huge difference. I very rarely watch a series on a laptop, and I’ve never watched a series on my phone. Last mentioned also hurts my eyes! As a performer, and in an ideal, pre-COVID world, feature films would have a cinematic release, because it does justice to the medium of film. With series, however, people are used to watching on laptops and/or phones, so it doesn’t make a huge difference to me. The thing that truly makes a difference is international distribution, which is something I hope Dam receives.
Tell us about Dam: who is Yola and why is she satisfying to play?
I would never try to summarise Yola in a brief paragraph, because she wouldn’t be able to do that herself. But she’s searching for the truth, and desperate to unshackle herself from the demons of her past. Yola was hugely challenging and satisfying to portray because she’s so complex and unpredictable. Her emotional through-line had so many variations that we could choose from, so we went ahead and tried an assortment of things. And that was fun, because we were always excavating and finding something new. Her inner contradictions are also rather obvious – I always thought of her as being a walking, talking contradiction, like most of us, I guess. But at the same time, she is also alarmingly truthful, sometimes. So the challenge was to capture and embody all these outgoing aspects of her being, without reading like a complete crazed individual. She still had to come across as a coherent whole. That was my challenge from day one. But it was also my license to play! And that’s what every actor wants. As a character, she is a dream come true to portray.