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Live Mag Interview Spling...

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling has been a movie critic since 2007. He currently runs his own movie-based website where he regularly posts reviews, interviews with celebs, competitions and lots more. LIVE spoke to Spling about his take on film adaptations and reviewing in general.

Tell us a bit about yourself and you came to be a film critic

I was very into my arts and English at school, and I then studied a BA in Film, Media and Visual Studies at university. This lead to me doing some copywriting, but I still wanted to pursue my dream of becoming a movie critic as I was very interested in film, had a huge collection of DVDs, and was an avid film goer.

I started writing a review a day just as a hobby. They say if you write about something long enough you eventually become an expert, which was partly true in my case. I consistently reviewed and after a year or so I started investing more time and money into my work until it became a full-time project.

What are some of the criteria for reviewing a film?

Reviewing is an interesting sort of assessment because so many of the arts come together to make a film. You’re looking at factors such as the sound track, the visual component, the intentions of the director and other creative elements.

What are some of the challenges of comparing a book to its film adaptation?

I think an adaptation is more of an inspiration, and I think the film therefore has to honour its source material.

It doesn’t have to be entirely accurate though, especially since some things don’t translate very well into film. A lot of adaptations at least take the core of the book’s message and then create a new artwork out of this.

The whole thing with adaptations is that you could have had a script that was equally as brilliant as an adaptation. Having a book behind it just means there’s much more thought involved since the book is laid out from beginning to end, involves more characterisation and has a more solid structure.

Which books do you think should and shouldn’t be made into films?

Should – The Bible

It’s such a rich source of inspiration for an adaptation because you’ve got so many characters that are all sort of fallen and all kind of redeemed in some way or another. When people tap into more human stories, there’s a better chance of them succeeding and connecting with people who watch it.

Shouldn’t – Mein Kampf

Just because turning it into pop culture would really be a bad idea in a number of ways – there’s enough weirdness in the world already!

A message for young and aspiring writers...

Just start. If you’ve got enough passion about what you do, make a sacrifice – it might be financial, it might be time-wise. Pursue your dream without fear of failure, and pick up as much info along the way. If you stick at something long enough, you’re going to succeed.

Original 'Live Mag' interview...here.

INTERVIEW: Stelio Savante

Born and raised in Cape Town, Stelio Savante pursued his love for acting after a tennis scholarship led him to the United States. Savante established himself in New York, relocating to Los Angeles for a recurring role in Ugly Betty. With numerous high profile film, TV and theatre credits to his name, and lauded as one of South Africa's top exports, Savante continues his star trajectory both home and abroad. Now poised to feature in several exciting independent films, including Where The Road Runs Out and The Impossible Dream, we were lucky enough to catch up with the A Million Colours actor, who is making South Africa proud.

You've had a very busy 2012 with numerous roles... which are you most excited about?

The indie world has been very rewarding because most of my films have gotten distribution. So work is plentiful. Probably most excited about Where The Road Runs Out. The subject matter is very relevant and the role was more of an escape from the roles I usually play. There was room for levity as it’s a very unique film. I’m also excited about The Shift, a hospital drama with Danny Glover. I play a fireman. Producer Jeremy Mitchell and director Lee Cipolla’s first feature was picked up by Lionsgate so we’ll see what happens with this one.

You're probably best known for your role on Ugly Betty, but which acting role would you say is your career best?

In the US, people are more familiar with me for 110 Stories, and indie film roles. Ugly Betty was a while back and so much has happened since then. But South Africa doesn’t have a strong independent cinema circuit so people don’t see a lot of the work. I’m my own worst critic but if I had to pick one, the role of Bolivar Arellano in 110 Stories.

"The ‘Hollywood’ generalization is one I’ve never understood."

What's it like being a South African actor in Los Angeles?

It’s an exciting time to be here because casting has become so much more diverse. I’ve seen the business change a lot. Was an actor in NY for fifteen years and have been in LA since 2007. It’s truly evolved a lot in that time. But the first twenty years of my life in South Africa shaped who I am. I carry that with me into every role. I don’t think of myself in those terms though as I fit into so many different boxes when it comes to casting.

Many say Hollywood's running out of original ideas - what do you think?

The ‘Hollywood’ generalization is one I’ve never understood. Because I live in the heart of it and there are so many different factors, cultures, different types of people and stories that this business is sprinkled with. But I think the studio system is certainly void of fresh ideas. There are too many remakes. There is too much recycling of the same actors who in many cases are interchangeable. Too many trends are repeated. How many more identical heist movies, romantic comedies and horror films are we going to see?

In your opinion, which actors are the most underrated in Hollywood right now?

I think there is a forgotten generation of truly great character actors that the public deserves to see more of. Specifically Tom Noonan, and two friends Diane Venora and John Hawkes. John is finally getting the recognition but Tom and Diane have played some brilliantly memorable characters in relevant films. Yet we see more popular, more commercial but less talented actors taking their roles. They are undervalued, underrated and so much more interesting. I put both Diane and John in 110 Stories here in LA two years ago and learned so much from acting opposite them.

One of your latest films is 'Where The Road Runs Out'... tell us more, how did you get involved?

Every producer and director have a list of their top choices for their leads. That list could be three deep. It could be five deep. I’m lucky enough to be finding myself on people’s wish lists the last few years. It happened with A Million Colours when they wanted Gabriel Byrne and then made the role younger for Barry Pepper but I got the part. On WTRRO, they wanted Sharlto Copley and then one or two others and I was next in line.


"I think there is a forgotten generation of truly great character actors..."


Director Rudolf Buitendach and I were looking to work together and he really pushed for me. I’d auditioned for his film Dark Hearts and it went very well but they went with a name in Goran Visnjic. Sometimes you’re actually auditioning for your next project as opposed to your current one. Rudolf is a brilliant director and one to watch out for. We’ll be working together again very soon and Where The Road Runs Out has a lot to do with that.

You play opposite Isaach De Bankole and Juliet Landau, what was it like working with them?

Isaach is a man of few words with a huge heart. We bonded immediately. In the film our characters are lifelong friends with a rich history and of course some conflict. Could not have asked for more than what Isaach gave in our scenes. Juliet is a good sport, enjoyed working with her. Again, Rudolf’s direction and personality made it very easy and rewarding to work with both Isaach and Juliet. He trusts his actors and that goes a long way. It creates an inspiring environment on set.

What's the intent behind this film, it seems there's a special focus on human rights?

Yes, it is a human rights based project about a scientist who finally practices what he’s been preaching for years. He returns to Africa and tries to make amends for his and his fellow scientist’s shortcomings. There are secondary plots regarding biodiversity and an orphanage. The producers have partnered with SOS Children’s Villages and I am confident that this film will stimulate the minds of those who see it.

'Where The Road Runs Out' was partly filmed in South Africa, have you made a concerted effort to come back more regularly?

I do like to come back home and film. But the priority is on great roles in scripts and films that are quality regardless of where they shoot. Where The Road Runs Out originally was not meant to shoot in South Africa. So I was delighted when they added Durban as a shooting location.

You played Major Shawn Dixon in 'A Million Colours'... how did you immerse yourself in the role?

As with every character, I need to know what drives him at his core. What makes him tick. What his priorities were. I create a huge back story and character bible for every role I play so this is not atypical. Then there was the challenge of playing an impediment. Every actor who’s worth their nut loves to play characters with impediments. I spent time learning from athletes and soldiers who’d had their knee caps broken. And also with their physical therapists; to understand about the recovery process and long term effects, which are also psychological not just physical.


"...most South Africans are still not mature enough to deal with anything Apartheid-related."


What most people don’t know about limps and canes is that the way one walks is often very inconsistent. Based on: the speed of the walk, the angle and substance of the walking surface, the shoes one is wearing and how one feels physically that day. According to every above person I learned from; there is also no one correct way to limp because no two injuries are 100% identical. And no two bodies are 100% identical. And would you know it; I had one or two people come up to me on set and say ‘that looked great but you weren’t walking that way in yesterday’s scenes’. And instead of telling them off I’d have to explain that I was wearing different shoes, walking slower, the scene took place many years later and therefore using a different part of my core to support myself with my cane.

What was the greatest challenge of playing a policeman from the Apartheid era?

There were several but I embrace these kind of challenges. The first was to not make him obvious or his choices obvious. I didn’t want to play him as a racist or a loud barking villain. Too boring and not specific enough. He was also from Zim (a former Rhodesian and not South African) so that helped shape his mindset more uniquely. The second was to make him the kind of character that stayed cool, calm and collected at the most critical parts of his confrontations. He enjoyed needling others and getting into their heads. To me that’s more interesting for the character, and it keeps the other characters/actors on their toes. It was also the most truthful way to play Dixon based on the back story and character bible I created for him.

It's a true story and a sprawling epic, what other South African stories should we be telling?

Thank you. I feel that way about A Million Colours as well. I think most South Africans are still not mature enough to deal with anything Apartheid-related. They claim its tired or boring or want to forget it. I could not disagree more. I think that through pain, adversity and heartbreaking circumstances comes well-earned and appreciated victory. How did you overcome at your darkest hour? That’s how you catch lightning in a bottle. And that’s why the USA had an entire generation of Vietnam films that will go down as some of the greatest films ever made. (Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, etc).

And that’s why Athol Fugard is one of the greatest playwrights we will ever see. He truly understood conflict and how it shapes a character’s life and motives. I think we should be telling truthful stories that people can identify with. Instead of making something that is attempting to be too clever or trying to be too funny. We have so much raw talent on the cast and crew side in SA. Harness that talent into making great product as our country has a rich history and a fascinating present mix of cultures and generations that are growing up together.


"South African acting schools need to recruit some great American acting teachers..."


The South African film industry shows great promise, but sometimes seems naive, do you have any advice for up-and-coming local actors and filmmakers?

It does show great promise and I commend people like Darrell Roodt and Anton Ernst for making brave films like Yesterday and Little One, which I saw with him at a screening here in LA just two weeks ago. But South Africa has become so obsessed with movie stars as opposed to actors. And obsessed with A-list movies as opposed to great films. It’s got a very glossy, naive perspective of what film-making is. Both in the general public and in the industry. I think local actors and film-makers need to learn more about the great generations of films (Cinema Novo, The French New Wave, the 70s, Cinema Verite, etc.) and I encourage them to learn and watch more from pioneers like Kurosawa, De Sica, Kubrick, Kieslowski, etc.

On the set of A Million Colours I kept hearing about one of the great acting teachers in the country. Was introduced to him in a tent when it was raining. Heard him talking about Sandy Meisner and Meisner’s principals/methods to one of his students (an actor in the film) and I was mortified. I’ve studied with Robert X Modica, the foremost Meisner teacher in the world, and this acting teacher had no grasp or concept of what Meisner was teaching. He was giving this poor young actor way too much to think about in his upcoming scene. So I think the South African acting schools need to recruit some great American acting teachers and bring them over. And we need screenwriting teachers too. Doing soapies with weak dialogue and schlocky plots is not helping our local actors. They develop too many bad habits.

You played the lead in 110 Stories... how did you cope with the emotional content?

Yes, a role that I’m very attached to and had trouble letting go of. I’ve grown very close to Bolivar Arellano, the real-life photographer that I’m portraying. And I was also only a few blocks from the World Trade Center when the planes hit. NY was home for fifteen years and to experience something so traumatic first hand… I can’t put it into words. But by spending a lot of time with Bolivar it cathartically directed my compass. It had to, because doing the material isn’t about showing the emotions. It’s about how we all overcame… I think our entire cast (Samuel L Jackson, Melissa Leo, Jeremy Piven, Katie Holmes, etc) achieved that. And by giving back to NY in the form of charity and this love letter (that’s essentially what the play is) one is able to use that emotional content in a positive way.

It seems that deeply human stories have a special place in your heart, how has this affected your life outside of film?

Well it's more my life that has affected my career. I was diagnosed with Celiac’s disease over two years ago. It attacked my organs. That kind of unexpected circumstance really makes you think about life, and about what you’re doing in your career that can help other’s lives. Since then I’ve used my platform to support charities and causes that are important to me and the masses. And I’ve also looked at the type of projects and roles that I consider with a different perspective.


"...Daniel Day Lewis is the greatest living actor we have..."


In your career, you've starred opposite some of Hollywood's greatest, what makes a truly great actor?

That’s a good question because the term 'great' is so loosely used these days. Actors who can consistently present outstanding memorable performances that affect others. And actors who can master all mediums (film, theater and television). I would say that Daniel Day Lewis is the greatest living actor we have because he fulfills all of the above and is in a class all of his own. On a more direct level: it takes dedication, commitment, confidence, a very thick skin, passion, patience, and of course… talent.

What can we expect from Stelio Savante over the next few years?

I try to take it one project at a time. But there are several already lined up for 2013. Exciting projects that are strong creatively and not just pay-days. In the long term I want to continue to be part of films, TV shows and plays that are relevant and allow me to use my platform to help and encourage others. There are several directors and producers that I’m partnering with in features and you will be hearing about these and seeing a lot of press about them in the first quarter of next year.

INTERVIEW: Wayne Thornley on 'Adventures in Zambezia'

Wayne Thornley never imagined his first motion picture role would be in the director's chair. The young South African director amazed producers with Adventures in Zambezia, a feature-length animated film, made on a fraction of the budget of animated contemporaries like Rio and Legend of the Guardians, which is scheduled to open nationwide, 28 December.

Selected as one of Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans, Thornley has only just begun his journey. We were lucky enough to catch up with the man to find out more about the genesis of Adventures of Zambezia and how he got there.

Tell us how you got started in animation?

I worked as an actor for about seven years while I tried to break into live action directing. After seeing the reaction that some animation pitches received at the Sithengi Film Market I realized that animation might be the pathway for me to get into directing.

There was some exciting stuff happening in Cape Town and it seemed to me that animation had the potential to have a more global reach than many of our local live action films had managed. I formed a small company with two partners and we made a short promo for a TV show I wanted to make. That promo started getting me directing work in the local animation industry. That’s how I met the guys at Triggerfish and, actually, almost all my directing work prior to Zambezia was with Triggerfish.

What animated movies inspired you as a kid?

On TV, Robotech was my all time favourite as a kid, probably Thundercats and He-Man were close runners-up. I think it was those shows’ ability to transport me to an utterly alien, thrilling place that had me glued to the screen. As for movies, I loved An American Tail, The Great Mouse Detective and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Later on I was totally captivated by Beauty and The Beast and Aladdin.

Do you have any role models in the world of animation?

I feel like I only really became aware of who was making animated films quite late and that awareness arrived around the time Pixar burst onto the scene. All of the Pixar directors have added something amazing to world animation. My animation collection is dominated by Pixar movies.

How did you get involved in Zambezia?

I was working with Triggerfish on various smaller projects and the partnership was working pretty well. One day they offered me the job and I jumped at the chance… and into the deep end.

The film features Jeff Goldblum, Abigail Breslin, Richard E. Grant and Samuel L. Jackson... how did that work?

Jeff, Abigail and Samuel were recorded after the movie was completed, when it was felt that we needed some star power on the film, to give ourselves the best possible chance of success. Jeff and Samuel were recorded in LA and Abigail was recorded in New York as I recall. Richard was actually recorded early on and he stayed.

How South African is the production?

Every second of animation, every rendered frame and every note of the score are proudly South African. Some of the “gloss” on the film is American; the great voice talent and the incredible sound done at Skywalker, but underneath that, this film couldn’t be more South African. It was made on a farm in the suburbs of Cape Town!

Has the film been integrated into any local product or merchandise campaigns?

The Triggerfish team is working closely with Nu Metro Films (local distributors) on making the release a great success in SA – we’ll be going out on over 90 screens, in 3D and 2D, on 28th December. And soon you’ll be seeing some merchandising in Woolworths, Edgars, Jet and Ackermans as well as some fun Adventures in Zambezia mugs in Shoprite Checkers.

Rio and Legend of the Guardians were also 3D animated features about birds... did the release of these films have any bearing on Zambezia?

Only that we were envious of their monster budgets.

Zambezia took several years from idea to completion, what would you say you’ve learnt from the experience?

The answer to THAT question would fill a memoir. In short, though, I learned that there’s no easy, pain-free way to gain experience. I learned that the only way to succeed is to risk gut-wrenching failure. I also learned that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

What would you like audiences to take away from Zambezia?

A full box of popcorn, because they were too involved in the movie to eat anything!

South Africa has produced several animated feature film productions in the last few years, are we poised to become the next big “anination”?

The animation world is definitely divided into leagues, based largely on budget and marketing clout. I’d say we’re poised to become top contenders in our league.

What advice would you offer aspiring animation directors?

Never stop being a student of your craft. Learn how to lead. If you can’t lead people, you’re not a director; you’re just a creative person.

Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

I’m working on a script at the moment and when it’s done we’ll see what happens. I’m aiming to be back in the director’s chair as soon I can, but I have an ever-growing drawer full of film ideas, so there’s always going to be something to keep me busy.

INTERVIEW: Angelique Pretorius on 'Stilte'

Angelique Pretorius is a star-in-the-making. The talented and picture perfect actress plays the lead in Stilte (Movie Review), Darrell Roodt's latest film, an Afrikaans coming-of-age drama.

We caught up with Angelique to find out more about Stilte, her starring role and the challenges of playing such a demanding character. Stilte opens nationwide on 12 October.

What is ‘Stilte’ about?

Stilte is about a popular South African singer who seems to have it all, until she's hit by the unthinkable tragedy of witnessing the murder of both her parents in an armed robbery. In an attempt to shut out the world, she enters into complete silence.

She goes to stay with her aunt and uncle on a farm in the Karoo and, with the help of a young dominee, goes on a powerful healing journey. She finally rediscovers her voice as well as the bigger picture in which her tragedy took place.

What attracted you to the project?

While reading the script of Stilte I was completely captivated. The protagonist’s journey unfolds in a powerful way as she finds her way through a maze of emotions, with moments of terror and playful bliss.

Antoinette is such a wonderfully complex character, I was delighted at the challenge of playing her – I mean this is what actors like myself dream of. And with Darrell Roodt as the screenwriter and director I knew this movie would be something magical.

You worked with Darrell Roodt on the movie ‘Winnie’, did you have to audition for this part?

I did have to read for the part, but the fact that Darrell wrote the screenplay with me in mind - which of course was a great honour - made my chances of landing the role quite high.

How did you prepare for the role?

My preparation for this role involved doing research on post-traumatic stress, which helped me to understand Antoinette’s healing process. I also drew from the personal loss of my younger brother a few years ago and related the complex range of emotions I felt then to this character’s experience.

You described it as ‘demanding’... why?

Wow, yes! It was demanding in all aspects of the performance. Physically, it was challenging due to the fact that I had to do things like run up and down a mountain with a crutch and neck brace. Emotionally, I was required to dig deep and deliver a consistently sincere performance take after take.

Environmentally, I was faced with either 45 degree heat in full sunlight or ever-changing clouds that made continuity a real challenge – not to mention extremely dry and dusty air and lots of thorns digging into my feet! *laughs* But if I was asked if I would do it again – ABSOLUTELY!

How did your own religious outlook impact your performance?

My personal spiritual beliefs were very compatible with the message in this film. I have always maintained that adversaries in life are placed in our paths to teach us lessons and that one’s spirituality matures in times of pain, but only if one takes that approach.

What was it like being directed by Darrell Roodt?

Darrell is one-of-a-kind. His enthusiasm and passion lifted the whole set, from jumping up and down in excitement over a beautiful shot to giving someone a pat on the back for doing a good job. I thought he found a good balance between giving actors the freedom to make creative choices, while gently steering them in the right direction. He also has a great sense of humour, which instantly lightened the mood after a heavy scene.

How did you find sharing the screen with Andre Frauenstein?

I loved it. Andre's a method actor who really gets stuck into his roles. He was a great source of support and wisdom, and made my work experience so much richer.

Stilte has a strong religious theme... did this echo behind-the-scenes?

Mmm… interesting question. I suppose it did in a way. We all stayed on a farm in the Redstone Hills and you would see cast members holding hands around the dinner table to say grace before digging into a well-deserved meal. There was also a great sense of equality and mutual respect both on and off set. Whether these things were induced by the type of movie being filmed or not, is hard to say.

What did you learn over the course of shooting ‘Stilte’?

How hard you work as the lead in a film! I seriously gained new respect for lead actors – it’s grueling stuff! As an actress I gained confidence in my ability to access the required emotions needed to pull off dramatic scenes regardless of the environment.

For example crying on demand can be quite daunting for an actor, especially when one has to do it a number of times. I also revisited my personal journey of spiritual growth that was triggered by my brother’s passing. Comparing then and now, I can appreciate just how far I’ve come.

What's next for Angelique Pretorius?

Besides international fame and fortune? *laughs* I actually have three other films being released next year. They are the biopic Winnie with Jennifer Hudson and Terence Howard, in which I play one of Winnie’s friends; Lien se Lankstaanskoene in which I play a drama teacher who relishes directing the school play; and Fanie Fourie’s Labola, a romantic comedy by Bakgat director Henk Pretorius, in which I play the trophy wife of a pop singer sensation, played by Chris Chameleon.

Find out more about Angelique Pretorius and her Top Ten Movies...

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