CARLA VISAGIE

Stellenbosch University (SU) have produced a variety of well-known actors and actresses over the years, such as Antoinette Kellerman, Casper de Vries and Margitte Meyer-Rödenbeck to just name a few, but most of them studied acting here. Jane De Wet, BCom graduate however at SU, also recently added herself to this list of notable actors.

Jane recently got her first role in a series, and although it is only her first series, she is already praised for her excellent performance in The Girl from St. Agnes, which were released on 31 January. The series further made history by being the first proudly South African drama series and the second original Showmax series following the mockumentary, Tali’s Wedding Diary, containing the internationally known YouTube sensation Suzelle DIY. Through the series Showmax wanted to
change the perspective people have about local South African content.

She did this through her role in the recently released drama on Showmax, The Girl from St. Agnes, which premiered on 31 January.

The trailer of The Girl from St. Agnes made big waves in the film industry as it was viewed over 1.2 million times. The series is a South African eight-part murder mystery series and is set in a fictional prestigious all-girls catholic boarding school, St. Agnes, in the Kwazulu-Natal midlands. According to director Cindy Lee, the particular location was chosen to get a “foggy atmosphere” as it “contributes to the thriller theme of the movie”.

When the body of a young student, Lexi Summerveld, is found on the roof of the old millhouse, the school’s principal and governing body is quick to declare it as a tragic accident. Drama teacher Kate Ballard (Nina Milner) however, doesn’t believe it. Kate got Lexi’s death constantly on her conscience because Lexi made an effort to call her on the night she died. Could Kate have stopped Lexi’s murder, and more importantly, who is to blame for her death? With her investigation she discovers a lot of untold stories and the viewers gets a look behind the school’s imposing walls.

Head writer from The Girl from St. Agnes and double SAFTA winner, Gillian Beslin, said that they wanted to get inside kids’ heads to create content that address issues children really face, because it’s easy for adults to make light of teenagers’ struggle but they don’t really know what’s going on in the childrens’ lives.

The series is also a rare showcase of South African English-language acting, as South African English actors “generally work internationally and have to do American or British accents to make decent money,” says the legendary casting director of The Girl from St. Agnes, Moonyeen Lee, who’s been nominated for two Emmy Awards in the past three years, in an interview with Independent Online.

The series also shattered records by being an all-female produced, written, directed and commissioned series. Cindy Lee, director, said in an interview with eNCA that the show aims to spark important conversations in South Africa, like the #MeToo movement.

“The show is very topical and touches misogyny, bullying and sexual harassment,” Lee said. Jane plays the role of a typical queen bee, Alexis “Lexi” Summerveld. Lexi is a popular, confident and smart girl, but with an undeniable rebellious streak. She plays the system to her advantage by making the right friends: “brainy Jenna” and “rich Megan”. She is highly perceptive and capable of
identifying vulnerabilities in anyone and using them to her advantage. In fact, her life seems completely perfect – until it is cut short at a very young age.

“Though highly manipulative, she’s also just a teenager, grappling with her own identity,” Jane revealed about her role as Lexi.

Jane was born and raised in Somerset West and finished grade 12 at Parel Vallei High School. She then did her degree at SU, but contrary to the expectation of an actress in such a well-known series, she did not study BA Drama, but BCom Management Sciences, in which she even got a cum laude.

Although she always had the dream of becoming an actress, it was not acting that introduced her to performing arts, but dancing.

“I started dancing at the age of 7 after watching one of my cousin’s shows. I was completely hypnotised by the movements, colours, lighting, costumes, glitter and sheer extravagence. I had found my true love at the age of 7,” Jane said about her passion for dancing.

A year later she started participating in drama eisteddfods and school plays and so her relationship with the arts grew to include acting and she describes her and the two art forms as being a “happy throuple to this day”.

She started acting at a very young age and was born with the dream of being an actress as she was always “drawn to the idea of playing characters and telling stories”. The first play she starred in (called The Little Fairy) was already in Grade 4, where she played one of the leads in their quadrennial school revue.

At high school Jane shined on with shining brighter than the spotlight and got a wide variety of acting awards. In 2014 she got awarded as the best actress at the ATKV Tienertoneelfees, Durbanville Tienertoneelfees, Fraserburg Logan Toneelfees and on top of it all best actress in her high school.

Jane got the role of Lexi through joined Artiste Personal Management (APM), her acting agency, after she got back from India last year (around June). The casting brief came three months later and she consequently sent in a self-tape through them to casting director, Moonyeen Lee in Johannesburg.

Although Jane describes the biggest trial with shooting the series as “summarising her experience” there was a few things she found challenging.

“The nature of the material and my character’s arch made heavy demands on my psyche. Some days were exceptionally taxing on a psychological, emotional and sometimes, physical level, especially against the backdrop of a night shoot schedule and living on set,” she said.

In spite of the challenges she wanted to use every opportunity to commit herself to using to soak up knowledge co-stars like offered. She enjoyed the experience very much and “felt honoured to be working with a talented, hard-working and committed cast and crew”.

Lexi is not the regular teenage movie role, but it is exactly that which intrigued Jane about the character she played.

“The level of introspection that was required to deliver a truthful performance, placed me in touch with previously neglected and ignored parts of my inner being. Exploring yourself in such a profound way makes acting an almost spiritual experience. I love that,” she said.

In contrast with Jane’s role, when she chooses a movie to watch she would attend to the romantic in her with When Harry met Sally. Although there are many movies she admires for their production and acting value, she still enjoys as she puts it “Friday-night-pizza-and-wine-feel-good” movies.

When asked what role she would like to play in the future she will just see what comes to her and wants to free herself of preconceived ideas. She believes that the destined character for her will cross paths with her at the right time, but she does have a particular role she favours.

“I like strong, passionate characters – women with depth and complexity”.

Her mother and Oprah Winfrey are two of these strong women she gets her inspiration from and they were part of the drives behing her success. She describes her mom as the real “Wonder Women” and that she can’t even give a fit definition for her mom and that one “just have to meet her” to understand.

Jane sees Oprah as living proof that we can achieve anything we set our minds to, irrespective of our backgrounds. For her Oprah embodies grit and mindfulness “a combination that is really powerful”.

While The Girl from St. Agnes’ views are still exploding on the internet, Jane doesn’t know yet what her next big step is going to be. At the moment she doesn’t have a big project in the pipeline and plans to see where life takes her, but she already has a few smaller projects she’s working on. She would also like to do some more dance work in the future, maybe we see her in the next Step-Up movie?

If Jane could have a conversation with any actor or actress in the world, she answered that it would without a doubt be Emma Stone (if she wouldn’t be completely tongue-tied). She even said that she doesn’t like to casually throw the word “love” around, but in this case she might even tell her that she “loves” her.

“In the rare case that I do in fact find my voice, I’d like to tell her how much I admire her craft and skill,” Jane admitted.

Jane wants to inspire young artists because she remembers how it felt to take the first leap of faith on the road to your dreams.

“I want young people to realise that it’s possible and okay to create their own career and life paths. There are many ways to skin a cat. We live in an age where we have the freedom to choose the life we want. We don’t have to follow the conventional route. Just do you.”

PHOTO: Supplied