You could easily Photoshop Rolanda Marais into one of those “If Showmax was a person”-memes because she is the local equivalent of the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon phenomenon. In fact, the list of local movies and series in which she appears in on Showmax is so long, we’ve posted it separately in the middle of this post.
Most recently, we got to walk a mile in the shoes of her complex character, Milla, from Deon Meyer’s Trackers, the five-part M-Net series that weaves together storylines about black rhinos, the CIA, diamond smuggling, organised crime and a terrorist plot to attack Cape Town.
Rolanda found the time to share her experiences on the set of Trackers, her love for Cape Town, where most of the action takes place, the challenges of being a mother while balancing work but finding inspiration in it at the same time, as well as the technicalities and intricacies of racy love scenes.
This is not the first time yourself and husband Jozua got to work on the same project. You played the lead role of Sonja Daniel in Wolwedans in die Skemer, which he directed back in 2012. How did you guys end up working together on Trackers? Was it coincidence? How did you land the role?
I went through a few rounds of auditions. Fortunately/unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) Jozua didn’t have a say in the casting of the series. Producers from the UK and the South African producers were the decision makers when it came to the casting of Trackers, so I guess one could say it was a coincidence?
Look, I must be honest. I said to my husband that I can’t wait to get older so I don’t have to do love scenes anymore.
You play the role of Milla Strachan in Trackers, a woman looking for a fresh start after leaving an abusive husband. This could possibly turn out to be one of the biggest roles in South African TV (along with your fellow cast members) because Trackers is making history for our country, it seems. It is M-Net’s most ambitious production to date. Has that reality sunk it yet? How did you prepare and stay focused for this role?
To be honest, I have not had time to watch all of the episodes, I’ve been so busy with other projects and theatre at night and then on top of that, having a toddler. But I must say, I am looking forward to binge-watching it once the end-of-year-madness have subsided. I think only once I’ve seen the whole series will it sink in. We shot over a duration of about four months and we also didn’t shoot chronologically, so the challenge was to stay focused and keep track of Milla’s emotional journey and where to pitch each scene.
Well, you’re in for a treat! Let’s talk about the toddler. You became mother to Charlotte three years ago. Do you think being a mother brings the best out in you in your work? Are certain senses heightened, perhaps? Maybe a newly developed sixth sense?
I can say with confidence that I am a better actor now that I am a mom. I’ve often played mothers before but I now have first-hand experience of the emotional complexities one is faced with. Having your heart walk around outside your body makes you vulnerable to the point where you will do anything to protect it. I think I have more depth and layers as a performer, now that I have access to those unique emotions.
More Rolanda Marais on Showmax
Wow! What is the single most memorable incident that happened off-screen or behind the scenes during the filming or production of Trackers?
We shot a scene as the sun set. We had one chance to get the shot. Real time. No time for mistakes. It’s stressful and exhilarating!
Let’s talk about even more stressful stuff – on-screen kissing and sex scenes. I don’t even know where to begin. There is a pretty racy scene in episode two of Trackers. How does it work? How do you get into and out of the moment and scene and does it affect you off-screen? Do you just go for it in the hopes of nailing it (the scene, of course) the first time? Is this one of the hardest parts of acting when you’re in a relationship or do you have mechanisms put in place to cope deal with it?
Look, I must be honest. I said to my husband that I can’t wait to get older so I don’t have to do love scenes anymore. It is the hardest thing to do. It is extremely technical with so many people watching. Even though it is a closed set, someone still has to hold the camera and someone has to pull focus and there has to be sound and someone watching continuity et cetera. So it really isn’t a very intimate situation.
In fact, it’s quite invasive. And you don’t get to choose who you do the love scene with either. You just hope the person is half decent. I was lucky as Ed Stoppard (Lucas) is super professional with a sense of humour, so a lot of laughter happened before the director shouted action. That helped a lot. You work out the choreography vaguely and then throw yourself into it and hope it translates on screen as “real”. At the end of the day is just a job. Very little emotion goes into it.
Did you work closely with Trackers author Deon Meyer for character development? What was the process?
Deon really understands collaboration and process. He gave us so much freedom to make the characters our own. I find if someone dictates too much, it jeopardises the growth and potential of an authentic performance.
Trackers is a true suspense thriller but the whole series also has a feel of authenticity. There is also a sense of familiarity with the scenes set in Cape Town. Having lived in the Western Cape most of your life, do you feel that the surroundings and set become a character of sorts that you can feed off?
Yes, even the area where we shot Milla leaving her house… I know the neighbourhood well. I know the type of person who lives there. The scene in the first episode where she leaves her husband and drives off and you see the majestic Table Mountain in front of you? It gave me goosebumps. It’s so familiar. It feels like I’ve been preparing for this part my entire life.
Do you think Trackers has opened up a new world of possibilities for South Africa? If this kind of effort, backing and money could be put into another project and you were the person to make the decisions, which book or production would you like to see filmed next? And what would your ideal role be?
It is definitely showcasing our country in the most beautiful and authentic and honest way. I would like to see something like Lauren Beukes‘ books being transformed and then of course Ettienne LeRoux ‘s novel, Seven Days at The Silbersteins (Sewe Dae By Die Silbersteins). In terms of an ideal character? Just give me something that will challenge me beyond my comfort zone and I am in heaven!