In Showmax Originals’ first ever Afrikaans series Skemerdans – a tense, neo-noir murder mystery and drama centred on a Cape Town jazz club called The Oasis – directors Amy Jephta and Ephraim Gordon had only one person in mind for the crucial role of Shireen, the wife (and then widow) of the owner of the club: Ilse Klink.
It’s not often that an actor gets called “the beating heart of the show” by a project’s creators. That’s a wonderful accolade, but is it potentially as stress-inducing as it is encouraging?
“It’s a massive compliment, of course,” admits Ilse, adding, “I know, for writers, it can be that they have a picture of a particular character in mind as they come up with the story, and something about me must have fitted that. Does it add more pressure? No, I don’t think so… as actors we often feel that we didn’t really do enough. But I think I brought to this character what was expected of me.”
The locations for the filming of Skemerdans took place along Cape Town’s gritty Voortrekker Road and in the iconic Club Galaxy in Rylands, which stood in for the story’s The Oasis venue. Did the nature of these places – their vibe, their heritage – affect the way the cast interacted with each other and the script?
“Yes. Club Galaxy has been there since 1978, so some of us could bring our own memories to the situations we were in, and all of us could understand its importance in the story,” notes Ilse. She says, “It’s been part of everyone’s social history in that area. I only lived in Cape Town until I was 15, so I was too young to hang around on Voortrekker Road then, but on return visits I did go to the Galaxy a couple of times. I remember seeing a girl on the dancefloor and really loving the way she moved. I still dance like that girl now – well, at some point in a party, I’ll get to it! Such a weird connection to the place, but it’s stuck.”
To heighten the dark, threatening mood of the series, much of the shooting took place at night. How did that affect day-to-day work on the project? “The club is dark during the day – we had a brilliant lighting team, so we could do all those interiors during daylight hours,” says Ilse. “For the exteriors, filming at night gave everything a cold, uncomfortable, uneasy feel – exactly what was needed for this story. Practically, it meant that the call times were later, from 10am to 10pm, which I loved. A slower start, and we didn’t end too late.”
Shireen’s character arc has her balancing grief and ambition after the death of her husband Glenn (Kevin Smith), owner of The Oasis. How did she process those two powerful emotions? “It was really interesting,” says Ilse, adding, “with Shireen’s grief, she finds out secrets that make you wonder how much grieving is actually going on. It was challenging for me as an actor, as she doesn’t go where an audience would expect a widow to go. She tends to choose what is most important to her in the moment.”
Skemerdans brings together a specific community of actors – what was it like celebrating the language, culture and heritage of the Coloured community as the focal point of a series rather than as incidental (and often caricatured) secondary characters?
“It’s so important to have a show that has a completely Coloured complement to start to tell our stories,” states Ilse, “our stories do get told, but so many of them come from a desperate place – it’s always crime, suffering and gangsterism. This show involves people who come from affluence; who have enough. It’s a story about family and legacy and heritage.
For Ise, it was a big deal to work with an all-Coloured cast. “As a Joburg actress, we often get thrown in there for a bit of spice; as a demographic thing. For the first time, it felt like I could tell a story with my people. And having the show directed by people with the same background was important too. There’s lots of nuance, like specific words and language that only Cape Town people speak, and that creates an authentic world,” she explains.
Watch Skermedans on Showmax from May 2021.