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‘James Alexander has cultivated a reputation – especially in soapies – for playing virtuous characters. But after appearing as Dr Rico Maartens in Binnelanders and Tristan van Reenen in ‘The Wild’, this actor-writer-producer is going against the grain for his role as Grant Wilson in e.tv’s ‘Scandal’. Debashine Thangevelo enjoyed a tête-à-tête with Alexander, who expressed a yearning for meatier roles, especially with years of proficiency under his belt…
JAMES Alexander is the epitome of all things wholesome – a fact that has been reflected in the roles he has bagged. And while it is enjoyable to play a character following his moral compass, being put in that pigeonhole isn’t flattering for an actor wanting to explore an array of characters.
As loved as he has been as Dr Rico Maartens in Binnelanders and Tristan van Reenen in M-Net’s now canned soap, The Wild, Alexander wanted his next role to be an eye-opener.
Scandal’s casting director, Fiona Ramsay, with whom he has a good relationship, offered him that opportunity by slipping into the skin of Grant Wilson.
“The character is fun and different, I felt quite privileged that they thought I could do this.
“He is a very ambiguous character. You don’t quite know if he is good or bad. A victim or a perpetrator. To get the opportunity to play such a character – especially after Tristan – is an honour,” he says.
Talking about ‘The Wild’, his character and how he felt about M-Net pulling the plug on the soap, Alexander comments: “Nel (referring to his actress-producer wife Anel) and I did the movie Semi-Soet. I don’t know if you ever went on (The Wild) set. It is quite taxing (in terms of being on location), but very rewarding. I resigned in June last year. I wanted to take a break – but return for the next season. A few days before my last day, the announcement came that it wasn’t going to be renewed.”
While the news threw many of the country’s top acting talent – some of whom were poached from their longstanding roles in other soaps – the actor continues: “I think it was a great pity… and for the local industry as well. It put a lot of doubt in actors’ minds as to where we are going.
“If the best-looking soap is canned to free up money for more local TV programmes – to meet the quota – then what hope is there for scripted content?”
That it was a “real blow” for him is something he freely admits.
“It demanded a lot of soul searching with the questions that it raised for me, like where am I going? It was really, really tough. At the end of the day, because of the calibre of actors, they have managed to walk into other productions. But the younger actors find themselves at a loose end.”
Without wanting to rock the boat – or be horribly misquoted – Alexander pointed out that it wasn’t often that a local or daily television show offered an actor the opportunity to grow and develop. And he is right to an extent. After all, Robert Whitehead will always be Barker Haines (Isidingo) and ditto for Sophie Ndaba as Queen Moroka (Generations).
With series producer Ilse van Hemert at the helm of the brilliant writing team, Alexander couldn’t be more chuffed with his intriguing character and the shades of grey he comes with. In fact, he has researched rather extensively for the character.
He admits: “As you get older as an actor and a bit braver and a bit less self-conscious and afraid of making mistakes, you start looking for those roles that are a bit more ambiguous and complicated. Something that requires an actor to indulge a side of humanity you are not.
“With Graham, I took a lot of time to work out why I love him, because you really have to love the character to play him with conviction. I even met with a criminal psychologist about what goes on in the mind of these people.”
Alexander is also full of praise for his co-star Briony Hurwitz, who plays Sasha.
“I think if the audience loves the journey, they are going to love his interaction with Briony’s character and what they go through together, especially what he brings out in her. She has done a great job exploring that side of her character.”
In the meantime, he and his wife are brainstorming ideas for their next script under their production house, Scramble Productions, and hints that there is a possibility of a Semi-Soet sequel.
In an ever-evolving industry, change is good and Alexander is living that adage.
James Alexander debuts on e.tv’s Scandal on Wednesday, March 20 at 7.30pm.