Interview: Beer Adriaanse on Ekstra Medium as medicine for your mid-life crisis
Over the last decade, we got to know Beer Adriaanse for his acting roles – as Thomas from Hotel, Lukas from Wonderlus, Tjaart from Buurtwag and Corporal Crunchie from Kanarie. But apart from being an accomplished actor and having a really cool name, Beer more than often finds himself grinding away behind the scenes on quality South African productions, wearing many different hats.
One such production is the brand-new dramedy, Ekstra Medium (streaming here on DStv Now and here on Showmax), where Beer put on his writing hat and at the same time raised the bar. Where there’s Beer, there’s always quality.
The ever thinking-out-of-the-box Beer (capitalisation is extremely important) talked to us about the balance between comedy and drama, the work that went into Ekstra Medium and his generation heading for a midlife crisis.
What is Ekstra Medium about?
The series centres around Bertie, who finds himself in his third midlife crisis. In an attempt to re-invent his own life (and partly driven by a sense of nostalgia) he spends the last of his savings on a run-down property in the hopes of turning it into a cocktail bar. He moves in with his sister who, by chance, reluctantly gets involved in his half-baked plans. At its heart, Ekstra Medium is a story about family and community.
Some unlucky people have to deal with a midlife crisis at some point in their lives – but three? Do you actually know people like this?
I absolutely know people like this! Myself and co-writer Retief Scholtz played around with the characteristics of our generation that started in our early 30s and now we find ourselves in our mid-30s going through this. We grew up with the promise of “more” so the crises set in quicker, earlier and bigger, because we’ve been sold so many lies by movies and television shows! Being told “you can be anything you wanna be!” and then one day your life just suddenly falls apart. I guess it is an amalgamation of a bunch of people I know, including bits of ourselves.
I’m laughing with a sad tear. Hollywood would normally talk about a “dramedy” when referring to a series such as Ekstra Medium. Would you say this series is heavier than it is funny?
Officially. I think we call it a ‘light drama’ and it definitely leans more towards the lighter side than the dramatic. We jokingly refer to it as a ‘heavy comedy’, just because it explores both genres through each other’s lenses.
As you pointed out, there are many Berties out there. Do you think Ekstra Medium could serve as a meaningful coping mechanism, or at best, an early warning system for the midlife crisis missiles?
I definitely think Ekstra Medium is a version of exploring at least the idea of how to overcome various manifestations of crises. For me, film and television is absolutely a coping mechanism! With Ekstra Medium, you experience life along with the characters and it sometimes changes your perspective: “I know I’m in the middle but I like it here. I’m medium but I’m actually extra medium. I don’t have to wish for other things.”
The overall production of Ekstra Medium is really slick. I was instantly drawn into Bertie’s world in the first episode and the scripting comes across as very natural – effortless, even. What is the secret?
Well, thank you! I think one thing that I learned about writing, thanks to being a staff writer on Hotel, is that re-writing is absolutely key. Locally, there normally isn’t a big budget but luckily our egos got in the way in that we wanted to release the best versions of everything.
We storyboarded, re-wrote, re-wrote each other’s episodes and re-wrote everything again. When it comes to production value, I also have to give props to our DOP, Jorrie van der Walt, who is a machine (he also worked on Die Spreeus). The entire production team bent over backwards, building sets to make the bar and the apartment look like a real bar and a real apartment.
Production quality is very important because we need to be aware that we are competing for the attention of our audience with international shows. Again because of budget constraints, scenes would often end up just being two people in a room, which means you miss characters interacting with the world and we didn’t want to risk that. With Buurtwag, for instance, the characters are a neighbourhood watch group in the actual streets. It comes across more naturally and this spilled over into Ekstra Medium. It really anchors a show.