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.
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.