GRIEF-STRICKEN: Jana Strydom as Karen with Louw Venter as her husband, Francois, in SABC2s new heartrending drama, Swartwater.

Jana Strydom has come a long way since her Egoli days. Now she has become the go-to actress for some of the best Afrikaans drama series on TV. With Donkerland, Erfsondes and Geraamtes in die Kas under her belt, she has been roped in to play the lead in Swartwater. Debashine Thangevelo enjoyed a tête-à-tête with Strydom and found out she has a knack for slipping into the skin of angst-ridden characters, but yearns to break the mould...

WITH there being more actors than available roles, the South African television industry has become a much smaller – not to mention competitive – playground.

Thankfully, actress Jana Strydom did not have to join that dog-eat-dog world.

Viewers were first able to form an affinity with this striking woman, recognised by her gorgeous curly locks, when she was cast as Marcelle Crafford in M-Net’s Egoli. Five seasons on, they had warmed to her tell-it-like-it-is character.

The actress, who graduated cum laude with a drama diploma from the Tshwane University of Pretoria, was fortunate to move on to other projects.

When I called her to find out about her career trajectory since Egoli, she was busy with her two kids, aged one and three.

On how motherhood has been treating her, she laughs: “It is quite busy and good fun. At least I don’t have to gym. I often get people saying: ‘You got rid of the baby fat so easily!’ But I don’t work out – that’s my kids keeping me active.”

Judging by the way she glows with unmistakable pride when chatting about her children, she clearly wouldn’t trade the lack of sleep, teething problems and exhaustion for anything in the world.

Her infectious optimism extends to her career as well.

“You take everything in your stride. I feel very blessed to be able to work in our industry. As we all know, there aren’t many roles. In fact, there are more actors than there are auditions.”

A consummate professional, Strydom always ensures she is respectful of the opportunities she gets.

Apologising for her English (not that she needed to), she says: “I try not to get a big head, is that how you say it?”

Before chatting about Swartwater, I asked Strydom what it was like playing a complex character like Kate Spencer in the Safta-winning (South African Film and Television Awards) series, Erfsondes.

She explains: “I have a very weird connection with pain. I don’t really know how to verbalise my relationship with it, but I would say I must believe in past lives. I seem to tap into something I know and am able to put myself in the character’s shoes.”

While doing Erfsondes, which ran for five seasons, she explored other characters in Villa Rosa, Binneland Sub Judice and 7de Laan.

Strydom says even now she is frequently signed on to play the romantic lead, but “one who goes through a bit of drama and trauma”.

She elaborates: “I am hoping to do a bit of comedy as time goes by, just to explore other avenues as well. Another big goal for me is to work on writing and creating characters.”

Talking about conflicted characters, she sheds light on playing Karen in Swartwater.

“Karen is an interior designer. In the early episodes, we see a bit of her in her Joburg life.

“She is a bit hard-core and is not a great mother. The nanny sort of raises her child.

“The turning point is when her husband Francois accidentally shoots her little boy. She goes to very dark places to rediscover herself.”

In the series, the couple relocate to a remote fishing village to deal with their grief. As we know, secrets in a small town have a nasty way of surfacing.

She reveals: “The script was such a good guideline of where I was supposed to go. We had John Trengove (Intersexions, Hopeville and The Lab) direct the first three episodes. He was such an amazing force of nature. He had such vision for the show and where he wanted to take the characters.”

The other two directors on the series, which was shot extensively in Arniston in the Western Cape, being Jozua Malherbe (Wolwedans in die Skemer and Geraamtes in die Kas) and Denny Y Miller (Scandal).

Touching on Karen’s journey, Strydom offers: “There is forgiveness that needs to take place. She first needs to forgive herself for not being there for her child and not spending enough time with him. And, second, she needs to forgive her husband for shooting their child. There are many negative emotions that cause a lot of conflict.”

By the way, this is the second time she is working with Venter – they worked on his rom-com Konfetti, which releases on April 4 and stars some of the industry’s biggest names: Casey B Dolan, Nico Panagio, Kim Engelbrecht, Casper de Vries and Terence Bridgett.

Strydom was cast as the maid of honour, Martine Voster, in the movie.

“I have a small part in there,” she points out. “He is a very nice actor.”

She continues, “With Swartwater, they have chosen their actors so well. The village and the people give the series a very authentic look. It is shot in such a beautiful location. The story is beautifully written. The directors are amazing. Overall, it is a fantastic ensemble effort.”

With her eye on the film market in the Mother City and her husband drawn to the Cape Town scene and relocation, that could become a reality for Strydom in the near future.

In the meantime, the easy-going and vivacious actress says viewers will enjoy Karen and Francois’ journey of “rediscovering and refining their relationship”.

Blessed with such humility and professionalism, it is little surprise Strydom is so favoured in the TV landscape. And so her strides continue to lengthen.


• Swartwater airs on SABC2 on Tuesdays at 7.30pm.