Interview: Kim Engelbrecht on filming on the set of Reyka
M-Net’s local psychological crime thriller Reyka recently had its world premiere at the prestigious 60th Monte Carlo Television Festival in Monaco, where Prince Albert II welcomed delegates in the TV industry. He told attendees that his wife, Princess Charlene (originally from South Africa), was particularly excited about Reyka. Leading man Iain Glen said that Reyka’s script blew him away and leading lady Kim Engelbrecht said that Reyka is just the start of more to come from the African continent.
No stranger to the international stage, Kim Engelbrecht is an immensely focussed and hard-working actress. We caught up with the accomplished superstar to get a glimpse of her titular character’s complicated psyche, how she immersed herself in that role and what it was like working alongside actor Iain Glen.
Your character, Reyka, is meticulous and questions everything. Would you say it comes naturally because of the nature of her job, or does her traumatic past have a bigger influence, which makes her more cautious?
I think it is, yes, Reyka is naturally a critical thinker, a problem-solver, a high-level investigator. She is constantly assessing and reassessing a situation. Her job is her life, and it completely consumes her. She also dedicates 95 percent of her time to her work, and with the other five percent, she tries to confront her life.
I think as the episodes progress, you will see more of her life revealing itself. But I think she mainly questions everything because she trusts no one. She doesn’t even trust herself when it comes to her personal life. When watching the show, you will see that her thoughts and work constantly consume her.
She occupies her mind with work because she cannot bear to think about herself and her life and personal circumstances. She feels like a complete failure in life and is filled with intense guilt and remorse about what she has put her mom and family through, but never says it.
The final scene of the first episode, set in the sugarcane fields, is extremely unsettling. The superb editing and sound design supports the tone. What was the atmosphere like on set during filming?
I think everyone was very aware that we were dealing with sensitive subject matter. I think the production team was very conscious of this and took immense consideration in the making of the show. Themes of trauma, both physical and mental, were to be handled with great sensitivity. Recreating disturbing scenes such as the one you mentioned is not always the easiest, but it also places a spotlight on our incredible make-up and SFX team led by Theola Booysens.
They made it look so realistic, and you had no option but to be sucked into the scenes like it was happening in real time. Accompanied by fantastic directing and music, the scene was always going to be very uncomfortable to watch.
It must be challenging to play such a layered, troubled character – on the one hand very focused and determined as a top murder investigator but on the other hand dealing with a troubled past, complicated by alcoholism as coping mechanism. How did you get your character out of your head when you wrapped for the day’s shoot?
I didn’t. It was a gift to have the ability to immerse myself in Reyka for four whole months. As actors, we often move from one character to the next, one project to the next, sometimes doing two projects at a time. Reyka allowed me to think only of one character, one narrative. I breathed her for four months, and when I went home or to my hotel room, it was just me and the script. I over-prepared for her, and when I got to set, I was ready to be moulded by the director who has plans for the scene, and it became a team effort working through the lines and keeping to the story.
We shot out of sequence, so it was vital for me to know my emotional movement from scene to scene. An acting note given to me by Ian Roberts one evening at the hotel where we were staying, was to always remember where you are coming from and where you are going to – in each scene. I appreciated this advice and took this very seriously, and that’s what I tried to do with each scene.
Also, an extensive character bible was sent to me that dealt with Reyka’s entire life, psychology, mannerisms, and nature. I then start learning the material, and I think of nothing else while I shoot. I also draw on personal experiences, and the script allows me to dig into the deepest parts of myself. I also look to the directors to make me feel comfortable and safe enough to try different options when I get to the floor each day. They supported me tremendously. I loved working with Zee Ntuli and Catharine Cooke.
We’ve talked about your special superpower before – crying on demand. Two years ago, you said: “I find it very hard, but if a scene is written well and the moment genuinely calls for it, it usually just comes naturally.” Asked about this, your co-star, Gerald Steyn (cop partner, Tanner) said, “I don’t know how she does it, but if the script says ‘cry’ – it doesn’t matter how many takes – she cries and the whole bloody crew cries with her!”
Ah, wow, thank you Gerald for your kindness. I think as you progress in any career, you broaden your skill sets. Having the ability to draw emotion is a difficult thing to do. Understanding a script and a character makes this much easier, and I try to imagine myself in someone else’s circumstances. Still, I think I had worked hard on realising that preparation is the key to me having that ability to pull an emotion when needed.
But I also don’t put too much pressure on myself when I get onto set. I am fully aware that sometimes what you prepared might not flow when your scene comes up. It’s the nature of the beast. Also, I have a dedicated director who was always willing to talk me through the motions, and if it was difficult for me to emote when needed, he was cool with that.
You were part of a fantastic cast. Even Iain Glen, who got friend-zoned by Khaleesi in Game of Thrones, was there. What did you learn from him?
Iain taught me about working hard and loving every moment. After we had wrapped up shooting on his final night of the production, he spoke to me about the enjoyment of working. We were shooting into the early hours, as we had on many nights before. Iain has just finished a very physical scene, and he had just walked off set. And while I was waiting for my scene, I asked him why he keeps doing this? Why does he put his body and mind through this?
He mentioned that everyone had arrived to do their respective jobs and produce the perfect environment for you, the actor. The set is dressed and transformed for you – you’re in costume, the lighting is set perfectly, and all you have to do is arrive and do your part. The stage is set for your contribution. Iain made me more conscious of that. That’s what makes him so great. He respects the craft as well as the people around him. They’ve worked hard, and so does he, the mark of a true gentleman.
Iain Glen plays the role of Angus Speelman, a manipulative paedophile and kidnapper who is incarcerated for Reyka’s kidnapping when she was a child. But then adult Reyka visits him in jail and seeks help from this psycho to hopefully apprehend another serial killer. I get heavy Silence of The Lambs undertones here. How would you describe the show?
And he does it so perfectly. I don’t think anyone else could have captured the beauty of the Speelman character as he did. Iain Glen has a charm that is disarming. He has a face that you immediately trust, and you feel entirely safe. But in this TV show, Iain is the complete opposite. He is neither safe nor trustworthy. He effortlessly flutters from menacing to paternal in the blink of an eye.
The show, I would describe it as essentially exploring three themes. Firstly, it is a procedural crime drama filled with intense and often grueling scenes. Secondly, it is a family drama about Reyka trying to re-establish a relationship with her estranged mother, to whom she shows pure resentment. The second theme is her relationship with her young daughter, Thuli, who is the same age Reyka was when she was abducted. This complex mother-daughter relationship complicates the family dynamic even further.
Finally – it is about the highly dysfunctional love relationship she has with her abductor, a man she is supposed to hate, yet she has a strange affinity for him, which fills her with intense guilt and shame.
Lastly, you’re also in the brand-new second season of Raised by Wolves, playing Decima, a highly educated and notoriously ruthless weapons scientist. This must have been a blast as well. Anything you can share with us that won’t detonate your NDA?
Yes, and a very welcomed career highlight for me. I am a bit of a sci-fi child now. The genre is one that I genuinely love, and I gravitate to it quite naturally. I started out doing the first and second seasons of Dominion, a series set in post-apocalyptic times. In Marvel Comics multiverse TV series The Flash, I played the villain alongside the main character Barry Allen.
In Raised by Wolves, my character finds herself on an unknown, mysterious planet. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can say that it is a wonderful working environment. The cast is fantastic, and it’s been a joy forming part of the Raised by Wolves family. I also get to work on the beautiful epic show, which comes out of the mind of the legendary film director Ridley Scott. Some of the world’s best script writers have written the script, and I get to act alongside the ever-dapper Travis Fimmel, who received much acclaim in the series Vikings.
The show also features the beautiful and talented Amanda Colin and Abubaker Salim (who play the characters Mother and Father). The show also includes the Swedish actor Matias Varela. All are superstars and the nicest people!
Catch Reyka on M-Net channel 101, weekly on Sunday evenings from 25 July, streaming on DStv online.