Interview: Lea Vivier on playing the troubled but brave heroine in DAM
Silwerskerm Best Actress winner Lea Vivier (The Day We Didn’t Meet) leads an all-star cast in the new Showmax Original DAM, a small-town psychological thriller from four-time SAFTA winner Alex Yazbek that is now streaming.
In DAM, Lea stars as Yola Fischer, a prodigal daughter who returns from Chile to a small town in the Eastern Cape to bury her estranged father. To her surprise and her sister’s irritation, she discovers he’s left his farm to her. But this may be more of a curse than a blessing, however, as the house seems to be trying to tell her something. But with her mother institutionalised, and her own meds running out, Yola has to wonder if the spirits are real or just in her head.
“It’s a story of how you can only start rebuilding yourself once you have faced your inner demons,” says Lea. “Yola has run away from her past but now she’s coming back to face her demons. She wants to understand why she is the way she is, which ultimately is a very powerful thing to do – and very brave.”
Yola is open about being broken, and there’s strength in that
DAM looks at a small town through Yola’s gaze, as she starts to piece together how the different characters’ stories are interwoven and uncover their darkest secrets.
The actress says she was careful to play Yola as broken but not weak. “One of the main themes of DAM is that there’s strength in vulnerability, and there’s strength in being open about being broken. Yola is anxious, and traumatised, but she’s also one of the most proactive characters Alex wrote. She’s trying to rectify the mistakes of the past and she’s trying to get to the truth, which takes a lot of strength and bravery. So actually she’s got a lot of guts: she’s one of the gutsiest characters in this series.”
Lea related to Yola’s contradictions, and her need to claim her weaknesses
The theme resonated with Lea. “I do find it difficult, in my own life, just being open and honest about the things that I struggle with. With Yola, in every single scene, I realised there’s so much strength in just claiming it: claiming your weaknesses, your faults, and your brokenness.”
Lea also related to the character’s complexity. “She’s playful but she’s broken. She’s strong but she’s vulnerable. She’s confrontational but she also wants to run away and hide. I love how complex she is; it makes her real. So I really had to put my entire living, breathing human being into playing her. And I did, I really did.”
Yola slowly crawled under Lea’s skin as she sat with the scripts
Lea was cast in May last year but COVID delayed the shoot until October 2020.
“I sat with the scripts for a long time before we started shooting, which was awesome. I was learning lines and prepping from April, so she slowly but surely crawled under my skin. I knew episodes one to eight back to front; I didn’t even have my script on me for the whole eight weeks of shooting. I knew every line of every single character.”
Lea loved seeing the rest of the cast embody their characters
DAM was filmed on location in the towns of Bedford and Adelaide, in the Amathole District of the Eastern Cape. Lea says she loved seeing the all-star ensemble cast bring their characters to life over the course of the shoot, from two-time SAFTA winner Pallance Dladla (Shadow) as Yola’s love interest and Natasha Loring (Beaver Falls) as her sister to SAFTA winner Antoinette Louw (An Act Of Defiance) as her aunt and Africa Movie Academy Award nominee Faniswa Yisa (Knuckle City) as her mother’s nurse.
But, she says, she particularly enjoyed watching actor Neil Sandilands (The Flash, News of the World) in his first local role since cracking Hollywood. “He’s wonderful. Bernoldus is written so comically, but Neil was so truthful. As actors, we’re always told not to play too big. But what blew my mind with Neil is that, as an actor, on set, he is huge; he takes up space. But he’s so truthful, so centered and grounded and in the moment in every single thing that he does, that it never feels big, it never feels over the top.”
DAM is a coming together of different South African languages, cultures and backgrounds
“DAM is one of very few South African TV shows that interweaves and tells a whole array of South African narratives,” Lea says. “It’s a coming-together of our different cultures and language and energies and atmospheres and backgrounds. It’s how we should be telling stories in South Africa. We shouldn’t be telling our own stories in isolation from one another. South Africans should be telling one another’s stories, interwoven. That’s very difficult because it’s different cultures and different languages, and it’s a huge hybrid of people. But we should be telling our stories together. And it’s the first time that I’ve experienced that to the degree that DAM does it.”
I have seen very little work like this made in South Africa. I just want people to see it.
For Lea, the series is exceptional on a personal level too.
“I’m very critical of my own work. I find it very difficult to watch work that I’m in. That suspension of disbelief, I can never attain it, so I can never lose myself in a story. But the things that I’ve seen of DAM, I was completely and utterly lost in the world, in the characters, in the story. Just in terms of the quality of work, I have seen very little work like this made in South Africa. I’m immensely proud of it. I just want people to see it.”