South Africans really like to see fellow South Africans thrive overseas, especially in entertainment, and it fills them with pride, probably because the odds are stacked so high. That circle of achievers is also relatively small.
When you say “South African actress in Hollywood”, Charlize Theron is always the first to spring to mind. And now we have Kim Engelbrecht as well, playing Marlize DeVoe and the mechanic on Season 4 of The Flash!
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I was excited when I saw you in Dominion but I was super-chuffed to see you land such a major role in Hollywood on The Flash, especially when I figured out that your character built that samurai robot! How did your role in The Flash come to fruition?
Well, firstly, thank you for your kindness. I truly appreciate the support because being classed with Charlize is a dream – I’ll take the compliment with open arms!
I loved Dominion too. Wow, what an awesome show to be part of! I met up with the writer/creator/executive producer of the show, Vaun Wilmott, while in Los Angeles and I asked him what was going to happen to Noma if the show had received a third season. He had a lot to say… I am still hoping for some sort of spin-off. I live in hope as my heart runs strong with Noma Love.
Flash came at the exact right time for me. I was in South Africa on break and I was auditioning for international projects from home. I would self-tape for auditions from home and send them to my managers in LA.
The world is so incredibly small. I was immediately drawn to the character. She is smart, loyal and in control. I had to work hard on the audition as she only speaks engineering and robotics jargon and obviously, I had not been to MIT. I had to get comfortable with her speech. I auditioned and a few days later got booked on the job and flew to Vancouver. It is kind of crazy but that’s how it happened and it was perfect!
The second surprise in the series took me a while, especially because I try not to read up on stuff before I watch it, and I eventually clicked that your super villain husband is fellow South African actor Neil Sandilands. What are the odds of two great South African actors starring alongside each other as an evil husband and wife team? And to top it all, both Clifford and Marlize DeVoe’s back story is also rooted in South Africa. Pure coincidence or tailored around you guys?
I know, right?! 7de Laan and Isidingo on CW? I LOVE IT! Neil had been cast, I think, a month prior to me if I remember according to our initial chats. He had already settled in the States and has established himself there in other shows, so I was thrilled to work with him.
The show is based on the comic, so I am glad they tailored it in a way where we fit perfectly and made the audience seamlessly move with our characters’ storyline.
I think Neil had a lot more research and character information to draw from, as his character is very well established in the comic book. Everyone waits for the season big baddie! My character, I later found out, was initially a male, masked character. It was an absolute joy that I could break the gender barrier and play her. Having the opportunity to mould her how I see fit while staying very conscious of the script was awesome for me!
Briefly moving over to Tom Cavanagh – he plays multiple characters, especially in Season 4 of The Flash – how does his salary get worked out? Does he get paid per character or a daily rate? It must surely be harder to act as more than one character?
Well, there is absolutely no way you can briefly move over to Tom. Tom has the ability to just transform. The way you see him on screen is what he is like. He was already meticulously brainstorming characters for the following season while I was there.
He has such high positive energy. It is contagious! I really think he does get paid multiple salaries … and if not, he should! I also don’t think many things are hard for him. It’s natural with him.
You play various characters or roles — the role of a loving wife, the role of a brainy techno mechanic and the role of a super-evil villain who eventually turns out to be a good person. How do you prepare for something so layered and complicated? What were your main challenges moving between these areas? Do the outfits help?
That’s an awesome question! I prepare, then I prepare some more. The moment I got the role, I fell in love with her. As I said earlier, very little was known about her, so I had to fill in many blanks and as the show continued, the writers filled us in on their plans for her. Many of the episodes came as a surprise to me. As it got revealed to the audience, it was revealed to me. I find this very exciting as I don’t really know what the future is for the character. As it is in life.
When we first meet the mechanic, she is hard and stern and as she reveals her past her true character is revealed. Those emotional scenes are the hardest to prep for but the best to do on the day. And great actors to play a scene out with made it all the better.
High five on the accent you used in The Flash, by the way! It is somewhere between a British and South African accent, which suits your character perfectly. Both you and Neil didn’t come across as South African actors let down by distinct South African English accents. How did you prepare for this?
I designed and developed The Mechanic and Marlize as two completely different characters. They look, walk and sound different. They are from different worlds… different Earths.
The mechanic: her accent is hard, crisp and void of emotion. She comes across as a nurse, lab assistant… Clinical. I really didn’t want the audience to figure out that there was an emotional attachment between the two characters. The characters had spent many years studying in England and this was the persona she took on for this part of her story. Even Neil’s accent was a lot crisper and cleaner.
Marlize was fresh, real and natural, and sounded more like me but also more of a Suzy Homemaker/perfect wife mix and later as the character started helping the team, her voice became deeper and more like mine. The character had to be someone who had no real sense of self but only more of a sense of duty to the cause.
The character of Marlize DeVoe went through a lot of emotional turmoil throughout the season. This means there was a lot of tears and a lot of crying. Come to think of it, you probably got paid to cry more than any other cast member. Where do you draw that emotion from and where do the tears come from? Do they hit you over the knees with a lead pipe or do they threaten to do something to a puppy? Where does one even start to fake cry and have that emotion translate across to your face and body language?
Crying is a strange thing. It is hard to do but I have learned to trust it. One of my besties did her thesis on crying – Odelle De Wet, you know, my Poppie. She is great at crying! I find it very hard but if a scene is written well and the moment genuinely calls for it, it usually just comes naturally.
The Flash does a lot of running at lightning speeds when special effects are added in post-production. If one thinks about what he does in front of the camera, there is probably a lot of treadmill-running and pretending to break, coming out of full speed, looking like a complete tit. This must look and feel really uneasy when in front of the camera. What are your dumbest-feeling moments in front of the camera that turned out to be an awesome scene after it got treated with special visual and sound effects?
One of the best things about the show is that a lot of what you see actually works – I’m not pushing a button and pretending to see a graph fluctuate, things are attached to other things and everything works.
The Thinker’s chair was functional, as it moved and lifted. The Thinker’s lair had technology that was fully functional. It’s magnificent if you enjoy that kind of thing.
Also, everyone is pretty invested, so when the Flash arrives and leaves with immense speed, a surge of wind comes at you. The Flash has genuinely left with immense speed! And when my husband Clifford transformed bodies before my eyes he was really morphing before my eyes. It was a wild experience on that show and super-awesome!
Just when the viewer thinks he/she got treated with a great storyline, the evilest villains so far in The Flash, samurai robots and what not, Jay and Silent Bob rock up! In character! What was that all about? Also, can you please invite Kevin Smith over for a braai? That was such a pleasant surprise in the series!
Everything about this show is generous. Every director who works on the show, 100% WANTS TO BE THERE and Kevin Smith is no exception. He loves the show and loves the genre, as you should know. Working with him was incredible and he was uber-cool to be directed by.
I got on set and for the first time in my life, was I introduced on to set: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the mechanic!” followed by everyone giving me a round of applause.
Later I was handed some candy. A little later on the lot, Kevin drives by and gives everyone doughnut holes! That’s the all-famous Kevin Smith on set making everyone else feel important. What an amazing guy!
He even mentioned my name on one of his Instagram posts, talking about our scene. It is a really f***ing hot scene! One of my faves!
What does the cast do for fun or tension breakers between takes or shoots? Any fun moments to share or are most of them “you had to be there” moments?
A lot… Everyone is pretty friendly with each other. You have to be there to experience how much fun they have together. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It is pretty joyful – lots of games, improv singing, snacks. Lots of snacks! Late night taco trucks, fun trailer chats. They’re great!
Your character wasn’t killed off, which leaves room for a return in future seasons, episodes and movies. Especially with superhero movies and series, which are wildly popular. Is there something like this in the pipeline that you know about? Has this been discussed?
I just got back from LA a few weeks ago and I am in close contact with cast and production but no word yet on a return. Fingers crossed! It would be super-fun to return! Putting it out there into the universe, haha!
The way we consume movies and TV has changed dramatically over the last few years, especially with streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Showmax. How has streaming benefitted yourself as an actress?
Yes, everything is immediate, fast, instant. I like to do more short-form scripts. As an actress, I’m super into this new 14-minute TV series format but just as a normal viewer, I live online. I socialise online. I’m for this way!
This is one for your character, Marlize DeVoe (when she was still evil). Let’s pretend you modified the “Thinking Cap” from The Flash to control people from Earth with a streaming service such as Showmax. How will you control people?
They should watch more documentaries and become more socially aware and look after our natural resources and also be more proud to live in such a pretty country with its beauty and its wonderful people.
And to stream all my shows that I’ve ever been on and they should also follow me on all social media platforms on @kimengelbrecht!
What is next for you? Are you busy raking in the work in Hollywood or are you coming back to chill in South Africa for a bit?
Yes, it has been hot for two weeks while you are travelling the world. I have a few scripts but still, I’m constantly auditioning. I’m here to do the paperwork then I’m am heading back abroad. In the meantime, I’m on a Maycation in my mind…
Catch Kim in The Flash Season 4, now streaming on DStv Now.