Interview: Jane de Wet on acting, pole dancing and landing her first big role
She is the main character, Adri, around which Spoorloos: Steynhof revolves; in Griekwastad (for which she was nominated for a SAFTA) she plays Marthella Steenkamp – the centre of a real-life murder mystery drama; and she is the actual Girl From St Agnes. Her official acting career only got under way in 2019, yet Jane de Wet has already been in a combined 12 movies and series with another two in post-production at the moment and, in case you didn’t notice, we’re still in the midst of a pandemic.
Jane is an absolute go-getter with ambitions for the UK and Hollywood and at the rate she is lapping up big roles locally, it is just a matter of time before she achieves those dreams too. Despite her hectic schedule she made some time to talk to us about her unquenchable thirst for acting, whether it is in music videos, dancing or landing the leading role of Showmax’s first Original drama series, The Girl From St Agnes, as her very first gig. Read her answers or listen to the audio files of her answers in full.
Corné Pretorius and Hunter Kennedy released a music video for Liefde is ‘n Werkwoord and you star as the love interest. There is a lot of shouting and fighting happening between the couple. What did you shout at each other?
We truly did have a very improvised, very real, shouting match. Yes, it was crazy! I think we both got to say everything we wanted to say to our exes and it was such a release. I will not disclose exactly what was said because that would be a violation of privacy but we both enjoyed it thoroughly!
You completed a BCom Management Sciences degree cum laude and then decided to become an actress. Judging from your accomplishments in acting during your final two years of high school, it is totally understandable, but what made you decide to ignore acting at first and pursue a degree on the other side of the spectrum?
For as long as I can remember, I have always known that I would become an actor. It’s a calling that was placed in my heart from a very, very young age and I knew that and I experienced that so I don’t think that my choice and field of study was as much a deviation from that path, as it was a very deliberate little detour … A large part of my decision to study BCom was simply rooted in a desire to have a degree – it didn’t really matter to me what it was. I didn’t feel that I needed to study something in the arts in order to pursue it, because performing arts specifically had been such a big part of my life already up until that point.
I have a very strong appetite for knowledge in a variety of fields and I just felt that by studying something in the arts, I would be totally neglecting and closing off a lot of who I am. I went on to study a BCom, which allowed me sufficient time to still pursue acting and dancing. I did a lot of theatre work, while I was studying – a lot of dance shows, festivals, Woordfees, KKNK and all of that. So I was still able to feed the artist in me, which was obviously extremely important to me.
We do live in a capitalistic society and everything is very corporate and the work I do as an artist is also very corporate. And the skills and the knowledge that I learned in my three-year degree, I do apply in my daily life as an artist. I think it’s the type of degree that serves you in any field and I actually wish that they would incorporate more business courses in fields like engineering and medicine, and the arts, because we have a lot of phenomenal artists who aren’t skilled entrepreneurs. I think there’s a lack there and I’m very grateful for having a bit of a business background in that sense.
Most actors start out in forgettable roles to kick start their careers – “loud lady number 2” or “guy with peanut butter stain on shirt”. Your very first role is sommer the leading role of Lexi in Showmax’s first ever originally produced and hugely successful series The Girl From St Agnes. You did a fantastic job. How did this role come about?
My first ever role was indeed the title role of a Showmax Original series, which is crazy! It’s so crazy! And I still have to pinch myself sometimes that that actually happened.
I think the weight of it all only really hit me on the first day when I walked onto set and I’d never seen a camera before and I had no idea that there would be so many people on set or that I would be mic’d. That’s not really something I can put into words but from the very first day that we started shooting, I knew that this was it – I was home. This was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life!
Did you feel equipped enough to dive in head first? I mean apart from love scenes (which can be awkward and very technical), there was also nudity and violence. Or do you just go “Right … so on my first day of my new job…”
I had never felt so unprepared and ill equipped for a job or an experience in my entire life. I was petrified! As I said, I arrived on set, having never seen a camera before, not knowing that I would be mic’d, having never seen a call sheet in my life and here I was in this completely unfamiliar world with people on standby to powder my nose and tie my shoelaces. I found myself extremely grateful for having been given this immense opportunity to learn at a very fast pace because I knew that everything I learned in that experience, on that job, would serve me in my career going forward.
Yes, I felt ill equipped in a very practical sense – I didn’t have the technical skills that my co actors had and I was very overwhelmed by the environment – but I knew in my heart and soul that I was in the right place and that I would be able to pull it off.
There were very challenging scenes, material, and moments, but I think I just at some point decided to surrender to the experience and I made a very conscious choice to just take it one day at a time and to learn as much as possible from whoever was willing to teach.
You mentioned specifically, you know, nudity, and yeah, intimacy. Of course, that was very scary to me at first.but I think what really helped was the fact that we were shooting remotely. So I got to live with my co-actors and we got to spend a lot of time together and really get to know one another, so that there was a lot of trust in the end, among all of us, and definitely between myself and my directors. I felt that it was a safe space. I felt that I could tap into that level of vulnerability without losing a part of myself, without compromising.
A lot of your roles deal with very hectic social ills, especially within the South African context. How do you approach something like this when our audiences are still conservative to a degree? Or do you think they are maturing?
When I get involved in the project and approach a role, I don’t do so with much consideration or regard for the target audience. That’s the honest and blatant truth. That is not my job. That’s the job of the producer and the channel – to consider the appetite of the target audience and what they will be able to digest and what they will respond to well. My job is to be the storyteller and to do whatever it takes to tell that story to the best of my ability and to serve the needs of the story.
With Griekwastad in particular, I felt an immense responsibility towards Marthella. Having been a real person, I felt the responsibility to do her story justice, to tell it truthfully, honestly, and tenderly, with the sensitivity that that kind of subject matter deserves. But I do think that our audiences are definitely maturing. I mean, ultimately, art and film holds up a mirror to society, right?
I started pole dancing at the end of last year, and a couple of years ago, there were very firmly held stigmas around things like pole dancing whereas nowadays, it’s almost considered trendy and cool to be doing it. That’s also definitely thanks to influencers like Siv Ngesi, who have totally normalised it and celebrated it and made people aware of all the phenomenal forms of exercise that it is, and what a difficult craft and skill it is.
But that’s just one example of our society, definitely progressing and previously taboo topics being explored and I think there’s a lot more transparency in the world nowadays than what there was 10 years ago and our cinema definitely reflects that.
You’ve been very convincingly cast as a high school girl in almost all your roles, most recently in Spoorloos S3 as the 15-year-old Adri Van Tonder. Do you see this as a burden or an advantage?
Initially, I was extremely frustrated at being pigeon-holed as a schoolgirl. I thought it meant not having challenging work. I wanted to be the romantic lead or the young mom or just something that I hadn’t done before, but I pretty soon discovered that playing a character 10 years younger than you is actually the ultimate challenge because you’re sitting with the IQ and the EQ of someone in their 20s with all the experience and the cognitive processes of a mature young adult. And now you have to step into the shoes and into the mind of someone who doesn’t have that, who hasn’t experienced anything.
Nowadays I regard it as an immense blessing that I am able to play so young and that I read so young on screen, and it also means that I get to tell some very dark and difficult stories of very young people that cannot be told by actual young children. If I think about Marthella in Griekwastad, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect an actual child actor to tell a story with that much gravity. It demands a certain level of EQ and coping mechanisms to deal with the vulnerability that you experience telling a story like that. It’s a privilege that I am in a position where I am more mature and have a lot more life experience that equips me to tell difficult stories.
You were a dancer in the IPL for the DHL Stormers as well and have performanced at Aardklop, Die Woordfees and many more. If you could choose the perfect movie role which would involve dancing, what would that movie be?
This is such a difficult question, because as much as I love a good dark drama, I’m also such a sucker for a musical! So I wouldn’t mind a role in something like Mama Mia!, or Westside Story, or Grease or even Burlesque. They’re all such wonderful, ridiculous productions and I’d love to be part of something like that with a real Broadway feel to it.
But then, at the same time, I wouldn’t mind a bit of a more sinister, dark character, like Natalie Portman in Black Swan. I’d love to play something like that!
Your acting career took off just before the pandemic and the majority of your roles were actually cast during the pandemic. The entertainment industry was hit very hard. Did you at some point think: “S**t, maybe I should dust off that Bcom degree…”?
Honestly, the thought of getting out of this industry has not crossed my mind, not even for a second. On the contrary, I think the pandemic afforded us all the time to really reflect and reassess our priorities and where our values lie and what we really want in life.
During that time, it became more clear to me than ever before that I am on the right path and that this truly is all I want to do right now. I think the pandemic actually affirmed my passion and my calling for me, more than threatening it. But of course, it has also tested my faith beyond measure because yes, there were months during which we couldn’t work at all and of course that’s extremely challenging on every level – psychologically, emotionally and financially. So every day was just a strengthening of my faith and learning to take it one day at a time and to trust that the right thing will come at the right time.
Do you have ambitions to hit Hollywood or do you want to keep things local for now?
Oh I have big dreams! Hollywood is definitely, definitely on the cards! As soon as finances and opportunities and the rest of the stars align for that to happen. But yes, my heart is very much set on going abroad and exploring the film industry in both LA and possibly the UK too.
For now, however, I am very grateful to be working locally and I’m very excited about the influx of international productions and the opportunities that they will bring next year.
The future is here with streaming. What does it mean to you and your career to have all your work showcased on Showmax?
I cannot tell you how absolutely invaluable it is to me as an artist to have more than 50 percent of my work available on one platform! We really do live in a day and age of instant gratification – and that is exactly what Showmax offers me! Because of that, my work has definitely reached a far wider audience. People often ask me: ”Where can we watch your work?” and it’s so easy and convenient to just say “You know what? I think six or seven of my projects are currently available on Showmax!”
Watch Jane in these titles on Showmax:
And see her in the latest season of Spoorloos, streaming on DStv online: