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Erica Wessels on 'Hatchet Hour'


Erica Wessels is a rising South African star, best known for Alles Wat Mal Is, Primeval and My Father's War. Her latest role in Hatchet Hour, which opens 4 November, sees her playing Isabelle Sudlow, a ruthless, go-getting lawyer who finds herself in a tricky situation when she kills her gardener by mistake and scrambles to cover it up with the help of a friend.

Hatchet Hour - Erica Wessels

How did you get involved in this film?

Judy Naidoo phoned me about a year and a half before we started shooting. She had heard of me through someone in the industry and wanted to chat and organize a Skype meeting. At first, I didn't think anything would come of it, but eventually she set up auditions in Joburg and I happen to be up here, so it worked out well. I'm not sure if she even saw other actresses for Belle, so I was pretty lucky that she so envisioned me in this role. I got the job and the rest is history.

Do you know anyone like Isabelle Sudlow?

No I don't. I know people with certain traits of hers, but as a full person no.

Did you enjoy playing a blonde for a while, and more importantly a psycho?

In terms of the blonde, I loved having such a radical transformation as an actress. It's the stuff we dream about. It also really helps when forming the character, because physically you feel like the job is half way there. You feel very 'other' and yet ironically, you now have to find the truth of the character within yourself, find links, connections, needs and a deep love and empathy for yourself as the character. It was pretty scary playing a psycho sometimes. But people and behaviour is what fascinates me so the way Belle rationalizes her behaviour; I found upsetting, yet profoundly interesting. I never saw her as a psycho, just a woman who has become lost in competition, fears failure more than anything, and in essence, desires praise and acceptance from her father more than anything.

How did you prepare for the role and where did you get inspiration?

I chatted to a couple of friends who are attorneys about the technical details and their experiences. I hung out with a bunch of lawyers for an afternoon. Trying to catch on the energy and general nature of determined goal-driven lawyers. I read up about people who isolate themselves and refuse to see vulnerability as a healthy life decision. I created a whole back story for Belle. And then I always read my script over and over. There are lots of clues on every page.

What was the most grueling aspect of this project?

About 50% of the shoot happened at night, which gets incredibly draining and demanding in a physical sense.

What was it like playing opposite Petronella and Adam?

We had loads of fun and the couple of rehearsal days also really helped in regards to connection and freedom once we got to set.

Did you keep anything of Isabelle's or what would you have wanted to keep?

I bought a couple of her designer outfits from Glynnis our wardrobe HOD. I have never understood 'power dressing' as I do now. Belle made me feel like an ice queen mixed with a lioness on heels.

How do you think audiences will respond?

I think people are going to like it. It's gritty and funny with a dark and twisted edge, yet hilarious and upsetting at the same time. Definitely a genre South Africa hasn't seen enough.

What was it like working with Judy?

Judy has a very clear idea of what she wants, yet she always gave me freedom to play around and find the truth of the moment for myself. I respect her determination to create an interesting and surprising film. Hopefully we will work together again.

 
Movie Review: Mandela's Gun


Nelson Mandela has become immortalised as an international icon for peace and transformation. Many know the story of the wise man and freedom fighter, who led a country through a turbulent time in South Africa's history as newly elected President, after being incarcerated as a political prisoner on Robben Island for almost three decades. This true story is comparable with The Count of Monte Cristo and has been popularised in world media, but what about Mandela's life before he was arrested? Mandela's Gun uncovers much of the mystery of a young Nelson Mandela in the time he spent co-founding Umkhonto we Sizwe in the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre.

His mission was to build an army and led his compatriots to Algeria and Ethiopia to receive military training, during which time he received a Makarov pistol from Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, signalling the ANC's shift toward armed resistance. During this time as South Africa's most wanted man, he was known as the "Black Pimpernel", travelling across Africa through Botswana and Tanzania under aliases and using fake passports, evading capture and even assassination attempts.

Mandela's Gun is a blend of documentary and espionage drama thriller. It's directed by John Irvin, who is best known for classic war films and the iconic British TV series, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. He's brought a finesse to the dramatisation that gives the black-and-white film an epic and important feel. The clinical "Cold War" element to the espionage seems a bit misplaced in the African context, but like the films of Anton Corbijn, the stylish visuals are composed and polished to the point that you wish they'd applied them to a full-length feature film.

Mandela's Gun

"Don't force me to use it."

Tumisho Masha plays a young Mandela, the first South African actor to do so, and at certain angles, the two seem indistinguishable. There's some wiggle-room in this performance since Mandela was much younger, more reactionary and there's much less interview footage to contrast against Masha and Irvin's interpretation. At first, it seems as though the film-makers are trying to protect his determined performance by cutting away for speaking parts and narration. Mandela's unique accent and rhythm is mimicked by Masha, who does a good job, but it does seem like some of his performance is lost in trying to capture the nuances of his speech patterns.

Mandela's Gun is a strange mix, delivering breathtaking and artistic dramatic footage with talking heads jutting into frame to give context and fill in the gaps. It's as if this project was salvaged after it was initially intended to be an art house espionage thriller. You find yourself being immersed into the period and character's plight and underground resistance, only to be ripped out of the dream by a new interviewee's commentary. This concept keeps you constantly distracted, possibly to the film's benefit as the infotainment keeps us off-balance, yet entertained.

This film has been beautifully shot and features an award-winning South African cast, including Zethu Dlomo as Winnie Mandela, Nick Boraine as Cecil Williams and Desmond Dube as Govan Mbeki. While the story is captivating, based on Mandela's legacy and draws some little-known subplots to life, you get the impression that it would struggle as a standalone drama thriller, especially since everyone knows the outcome. The dramatisation is quaint in execution, but seems a bit tame given the political turmoil and lacks the necessary moral and situational tension. While respectable and solemn, Masha's performance is a bit distant, a factor which is further alienated by the documentary hybrid treatment.

The film-makers have gathered some impressive commentators and witnesses from the age, including: Tokyo Sexwale, Ronnie Kasrils, Denis Goldberg and Mac Maharaj amongst others. While they add some testimonial fuel to the fire, it's two interviews – with Mandela's would-be assassin in Ethiopia and with former FBI agent Don Rickard that really take the film up a notch, opening up discussion around some details that have been lost in history. The docudrama mash-up is a bit experimental and uneven in terms of establishing a flow, even though Irvin has spliced the interviews against the backdrop of the film to aid continuity.

Perhaps a better set up would have been to start at Lilliesleaf farm with the current day search for the missing Makarov pistol. Opening with this air of mystery and exploring the symbol's political heritage could have been a better springboard for suspense and given the documentary more direction and relevance to today's audiences. Without this filter, we're simply hitting checkpoints and sifting through a great man's early history, which while curious, is dwarfed by his extraordinary legacy in later life.

The bottom line: Experimental

 
Talking Movies with Spling - The Accountant, Don't Breathe and Hello, My Name is Doris


Spling reviews The Accountant, Don't Breathe and Hello, My Name is Doris as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
Talking Movies with Spling - Hands of Stone, Cafe Society and A Hologram for the King


Spling reviews Hands of Stone, Cafe Society and A Hologram for the King as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
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