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ABOUT six years ago, actor, writer and comedian Louw Venter made the conscious decision to concentrate on feature films.
“Film is what I love and if you want to specialise in it, you have to commit,” he said during an interview in Cape Town.
This was around the time that he was approached to develop a TV version of his play, The Best Man’s Speech (directed by long-time collaborator Rob van Vuuren).
Venter wanted to work with a producer, which is how he met Zaheer Bhyat of Light & Dark Films, and while they eventually lost interest in the SABC, the idea mutated.
Today that play has morphed into the comedy feature Confetti, which should be released early next year.
In between, though, Venter has gone on a roller-coaster ride of life, film and letting go of Corné and Twakkie to concentrate more on the writing.
He says 2010 was the annus horribilis: “I had to work so hard just to stay in debt.
“I had massive physical problems,” the 35-year-old said, rattling off a litany of ruptured discs, dislocated shoulders, back braces, operations and torn muscles.
“It was a two-year period when I honestly thought everything was against me. I had to use all the energy I had just not to lose hope.”
But life has turned around over the last two years, starting with his casting as the germaphobic Hertjie in Semi-Soet in 2011.
Since then he has worked on nine different TV and film productions, and is about to step on to the 10th set.
Deon Meyer’s Die Laaste Tango was shot after Jimmy in Pienk. Venter had sent Meyer a letter expressing an interest in playing one of his literary characters. Meyer explained that he had no say about those castings, but eventually approached Louw about a new character in the purpose-written feature thriller.
“I woke up on a Sunday morning and he said ‘hello Louw, dis Deon Meyer hier. Sal jy ’n teks lees?’,” says Louw, pitching his voice lower, changing his accent to Meyer’s.
“I was like, ‘Hallo, okay, Deon. I’ll lees your teks’,” he chuckled, pretending to rub sleep out of his eyes.
Die Laaste Tango called for boxing and tango lessons, very different from weightlifting and a full body tan for Jimmy in Pienk.
He had to learn how to shear sheep on a farm in Moorreesburg, and the gentle comedy was shot last year around Philadelphia, a small town along the N7 on the West Coast.
“I had to grow a big beard and put on weight, kilos of muscle. I did a huge amount of training just to get into the physicality of the character. I wanted him to really be like a farmer. It was a lot of work to get old Jimmy up and running.”
One of the ways he has really had to commit to the film-making experience was to rope in the entire family, so for the Jimmy shoot his wife created the paintings his film uncle creates, while he wrangled his own dog to play his screen character’s pet.
“My son played my father in the flashback, which was kind of strange and meta-textual.
“It’s become very much part of our life, this film business.”
Jimmy in Pienk is the quintessential fish out of water story, which is how writer and director Hanneke Schutte pitched it to win the 2006 National Film and Video Foundation and UK Film Council 25 Words or Less competition for a screenplay concept.
Reaching for his inner metrosexual for the role was not as difficult as persuading himself that he’s cool enough in real life to be hanging out on Kloof Street or in De Waterkant, where part of Jimmy in Pienk was shot.
“It’s amazing how uncool I feel hanging out on Kloof Street where people have glasses without lenses and Casper the Ghost tattoos. Isn’t it amazing, in Camps Bay I don’t feel Miami enough. I’m from Krugersdorp,” Louw laughs, widening his eyes in mock disbelief.
Being “a little bit multiple personality disorder”, in his own words, helped.
“Some days I feel all metrosexual and I clean my nails and put on cologne, and other days my inner Krugersdorp comes out again.
“I feel quite chameleon-like in a lot of ways. I change all the time, look different. It’s definitely why I like the acting. It makes sense to me, this thing of changing.
“I change frequently and I love it. My characters in my films are so different, it’s something I pride myself on. I love seeing how radically different they are from each other.
“Physically, they don’t look the same. That’s the ideal that you want, they look different and feel different.
“If I can immerse myself in the character, then the audience can immerse themselves. Even if you’ve got no make-up on, it’s still about the way they speak and carry themselves.
“The energy they have inside of them, finding that particular inner energy, that’s the magical thing. Once you do it, you feel very alive. Tapping into something that exists, somehow.
“Corné was the best example of that. Somehow, I didn’t play Corné, I just accessed him. “
“I feel like I do the same when I do film, push the audience to go on a journey with you.”
l Jimmy in Pienk is now on circuit.