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GIVEN her long-standing love affair with the theatre, TV and the movies, veteran actress Denise Newman can lay claim to being a truly versatile performer.
Also, it takes real skill to deliver the understated performance she gave in her role as Fatima in Craig Freimond’s film Material, a dramedy in which Newman had to balance the emotions of a woman trapped between being a dutiful wife and a protective mother. And she pulled it off with aplomb.
The affable actress couldn’t conceal her excitement over the film’s reception either.
“Yes, I’m even more proud of the fact that South Africans are supporting local films. We (Material) have been running since mid-February – that’s impressive in itself,” she notes.
“It was lovely working on Material. It was a long process – they waited until they got the right group cast. And the story was written over many years.”
As for getting to work alongside the celebrated comedian and novice actor, Riaad Moosa, she says: “I first looked at him and thought: ‘How are you going to do it?’ Actors who have been doing this for a long time make it look effortless.
“But he was just so open and prepared to listen and to go with his emotions – that is what made him amazing to watch.”
The nurturing role-play is fostered one more time in her depiction of Ma Rose September in season five of SABC2’s compelling drama Erfsondes.
Reflecting on the encouraging reception of the series since it debuted in 2007, the actress says: “It’s interesting how Henrietta Gryffenberg (scriptwriter, producer) started the story with Kate Ferreira – looking at the adoption, my work at the orphanage and how she was the biological daughter I never had as I raised her with my son, Ricci.”
Newman continues: “As with all adopted children, when they grow up they want to find their biological parents. And then she finds her biological parents, they reconcile, and she marries into the wealthy Spencer family.
“Their lives will for ever be entwined because of Ma Rose switching the babies at birth.”
While Newman was written into every season, her scope varied in some.
She explains: “For a while, Kate was going through a lot of drama. Henrietta phoned me and said she was going to write me out for a while as they needed Kate to deal with things getting hectic.
“And Pa September was ill, so it made it easier for my character to pop in every now and again.
“In this season, Kate awakes from a coma and has no recollection of her past life. Everyone is trying to protect her from these terrible things and this upsets her.
“I think it is a very cleverly written season. The lead characters have been through a lot,” says Newman.
In the same manner that Ma Rose can’t help her meddlesome ways when it comes to her loved ones, she can’t conceal her flaws where her son Ricci is concerned.
“Ricci is gay and she has had to accept his marriage to Wong. Obviously Pa September was also a bit upset about the situation.
“But when Ricci and Wong return from Paris, she senses they are having marital trouble and wants to intervene.
“She is a fixer. But a curve ball is also thrown in her direction – she finds herself dealing with another son, thanks to Pa September’s past affair. And Ma Rose starts doubting herself.”
But despite her inner turmoil, Ma Rose’s children always come first. Although Newman is in her element in inhabiting nurturing characters, she doesn’t want to get pigeon-holed by doing it often.
“I love the goody mother roles – they come to me naturally; I have two biological kids and I raised my husband’s son from before he was married. But I would love to play a sort of femme fatale character,” she hints.
While the official word is that Newman is taking a break, she laughs: “When actors say they are ‘taking a break’, it means they are unemployed.”
Hopefully, this actress’s wealth of talent will not be dormant for too long.
• Be sure to catch up on the aftermath of the shooting drama at Eugene’s house, five years later, in Erfsondes on SABC2 on Tuesday at 7.30pm.