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Fiona Ramsay’s name commands respect. In Cape Town and working as a dialogue coach on the set of the Hollywood biggie, The Giver, starring Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges, she told Debashine Thangevelo how, as Scandal’s casting director, she found herself in front of the camera in a Devil Wears Prada-esque role…
FIONA Ramsay is damn proficient at what she does; whether on stage, in the director’s seat, scouting for talent for a specific Scandal role, playing a TV character or being a dialogue coach.
She was in Cape Town when I called her to chat about her upcoming role as Helen Nemestio in e.tv’s Scandal.
“I’m doing a bit of dialogue coaching for a film called The Giver, which is being shot here with Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges. And it is directed by Phillip Noyce, who I worked with about eight years ago in Catch A Fire,” Ramsay shares.
The day we chatted, she was prepping for a reading (for The Giver) later that afternoon.
On how she got cast in a soap that she is a casting director of, she jokingly says: “I didn’t cast myself!”
Then she tells, in her captivating style, how it all came to fruition.
She explains, “When a character bridge comes to my desk, I always open it up to the writing team (to find out if they have anyone in mind). I send it out to casting agents and individuals I might have met… The objective is to send it to anyone who might know someone who is right for the part. It is also a way of just broadening the base.
“When this character came about, I sent out an e-mail to send out for auditions.
“Then the team told me that one of the writers wrote the part for me – it was someone who knew me well.
“So I didn’t audition for it,” adds Ramsay. “I didn’t know anything about it, but I said I’d be delighted to play the role and I enjoyed it.”
Expanding on her soap character’s traits, she says: “She was kind of loosely based on Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. I love the way she is dressed – she is a bit like (American Vogue editor-in-chief) Anna Wintour, but is not from the fashion industry.
“That is what fascinated me to play this character.
“That caustic personality comes from somewhere. It is quite complex.
“She is an über bitch. She has no redeeming features at all.”
To put viewers in the picture, plot-wise, Nemestio is the new editor-in-chief of Secrets.
The last time we saw Ramsay in front of the camera was in Hard Copy and Justice for All, although her array of plaudits are rather extensive in theatre, film and television.
The veteran actress says, “I love acting and I’m also in the international TV series, Black Sails. I do a lot of acting: small parts in big movies, and things like that.
“I haven’t been on South African screens since Hard Copy. There were one or two shows where I made guest appearances.”
In her story arc, Nemestio has a history with Mmadika, who now forms an unlikely alliance with Shakira to get rid of an even bigger nemesis.
Shedding light on their past, Ramsay says, “Helen was Mmadika’s first boss. That history in itself opens up a whole can of worms. Audiences will get an insight into how nasty Helen was.”
Following the “keep your enemies closer” principle, Ramsay explains her character’s strategy in dealing with the two.
“Shakira is much more devious and Helen is more wary of her. She thinks she is playing her quite well. Maybe she is in for a shock.”
Describing her wardrobe, Ramsay says: “She is very, very glamorous. But she tries to blend in more in the newsroom.
“She colour co-ordinates her wardrobe. She is also fond of short skirts.
“As Mary Quant, the fashion icon who invented the mini skirt, said: ‘You are as old as your knees’. That is Helen’s motto in life.”
But, as with all these untouchable megalomaniacs, the editor-in-chief has a few secrets in her closet.
And Joe, the vagrant who helped Daniel escape, can prove to be her undoing.
Ramsay continues: “Her modus operandi is not to allow anyone to see her unravel.
“The audience will love her nastiness, and wriggle in delight.”
Given her reputation as an acting doyenne, Scandal buffs are in for a deliciously malevolent performance. Brace yourselves!
• Scandal airs on e.tv at 7.30pm week-days.