The wide-open spaces of the Eastern Cape are made eerily ominous in Showmax Original thriller DAM.  After the death of her father, Yola (Lea Vivier @vivier.lea) returns home from Chile to grieve with her family and check in with her childhood community. She must, however, come to terms with some fractured relationships – and some inexplicable events that make her question her sanity.

Lea Vivier in DAMFor Lea, working on location – the show was shot in the small towns of Bathurst and Adelaide – was a plus. “It’s really helpful,” she says, “you can immerse yourself there for the duration. Sometimes the lines get blurred between the world of the story and your own. You don’t get back to your own life, so you stay in the character’s life.”

Doesn’t that get a little weird after a while?

“It can be difficult,” Lea concedes, “as you can’t leave everything behind after a tough emotional day. But in this instance, shooting under lockdown conditions, we became a close community. It was great to be able to support each other with all the COVID-19 challenges. It made the machine run more smoothly, and we were able to build up real camaraderie because of our common goals.”

Lea Vivier in DAM

Much of the power of the series comes from its slow-building thrills, and the sense of claustrophobia that develops as the story unfolds. But much of that effect is achieved later in the editing process, and by adding an atmospheric soundtrack. On a day-to-day filming basis, without all of that support, how was it possible to keep the show’s noir mood intact?

“Portraying that energy means you need to stay in that headspace,” Lea explains adding, “you have to be wholeheartedly truthful about what you’re seeing and reacting to. And you have to know the world of the character very well, including what they think is going to happen. Costume and make-up helps – that’s about an hour-and-a-half every day where you can talk yourself through the transformation.”

DAM features a wonderful cast, including Andrew Buckland, Jennifer Steyn, Faniswa Yisa, Pallance Dladla, Laudo Liebenberg and Neil Sandilands.

“I’m a huge fan of Jennifer’s and Faniswa’s,” enthuses Lea, “I was in awe – I battled to say hello at first! Jen in particular was incredible, doing things that were unscripted and trying new ideas. I often say that the most you can learn as an actor is on set, watching other actors go about their jobs. And for me, watching these amazing, experienced performers, their sense of play encouraged my own. It confirmed that the set is supposed to be a creative space; that we’re allowed to play.”

Lea Vivier in DAM

Part of what makes DAM’s storyline so foreboding is the use of water – often associated with peace and tranquility – as a negative force, inspiring fear or hosting something dark and loathsome.

“As an actor if you know the script well – understanding exactly what water is supposed to represent in this context – you can help viewers buy into the tropes and the themes,” explains Lea. “That was another part of shooting on location, out of urban areas. Water is a symbol in a farming community, as is the land and the wind. You get a real awareness of the power of the elements. For me personally, water is quite scary. It’s uncontrollable, and I do suffer from claustrophobia when I know there is water above me. Plus, I’m not a strong swimmer, so when Yola is in trouble in water in the show, there’s not much acting needed!”

Watch Series 1 on Showmax now.

WORDS | Bruce Dennill @broosdennill