AS soon as scribes got wind of Michelle Botes' return to SABC3's Isidingo, the "breaking news" headlines were out. And it isn't at all surprising. As the architect behind one of South Africa's most notorious soap bitches - Cherel de Villiers-Haines - the 48-year-old actress couldn't escape her character.
And her endeavour to detach from Cherel, who was fast being swallowed into an abyss of moral decay, to essay the role of Ingrid Koster, a lawyer, in Binnelanders (now changed to Binneland Sub Judice), proved to be nothing more than an exercise in futility. Three years later, she couldn't deny Cherel anymore than she could stop breathing.
Botes and I met to chat about her overdue return. Dressed in a denim jacket, grey tunic dress and black knee-high boots, she gave me a warm hug and proceeded to tell me about her calorie-laden indulgence of the morning. Truth be told, her svelte figure does a sterling job in keeping her sweet tooth a secret.
We order two cappuccinos and Botes delves into the resurrection of Cherel. But first, I asked her about why she left Isidingo.
"There comes a time when you have to be true to the character. Look, I never, ever thought I would leave. I just felt that what was happening to the character... this is very difficult ground to tread on.
"Let's just say that if it is necessary to leave her for a while to have her going, I would rather have that than to destroy her in being there," confides Botes.
At the time of Cherel's open-ended exit, Botes was a gun-wielding mad-woman. Aside from Anton, the son of Slang Bornman (her hitman) returning to avenge his father's murder, she had only just beat the murder charges for Duncan Haines, whom, as viewers know, she murdered in cold blood.
Did I mention that she was also pregnant?
On her character's dastardly past deeds, which included having an entire family executed, Botes defends: "I am very pro-Cherel. And she didn't have that family killed. She just wanted to give Gideon a fright, but the hitman got it all wrong and killed the whole Vorster family. I have much admiration for her - she comes from a very disadvantaged and cruel place."
As for slipping into the skin of her Machiavellian character, she shares: "I am finding it difficult. You really have to work for it to make acting look easy and that's when you know you have paid your dues.
"The most difficult thing about playing Cherel is that you have to disregard yourself. You can't judge the character. And she works because I can get out of Michelle's way to play her."
Funnily enough, when Botes was signed on to play Cherel, it was for a three-month cameo as someone who was meant to be this "Afrikaans funny girl".
Prior to that, she kept busy in stage productions and Afrikaans series like Arende, Konings, Triptiek and Koöperasiestories, to name a few.
Given the hype around Cherel's return, head writer Ilse van Hemert's work was cut out for her.
"The big thing is how to bring her back," agrees Botes. "Cherel has grown, like all of us. She has been away for a few years and has been through a lot."
Not wanting to ruin the surprise around her comeback, the actress couldn't contain her excitement about working with co-star Robert Whitehead (Barker Haines) again.
"When I wasn't working with him, I missed him so much. We are both Librans and that is why we work together so well," she smiles.
While she has yet to shoot any scenes with Marisa Bosman, who plays Kimberly, Botes is looking forward to it.
"That is what makes this so exciting; it is as much a discovery for Cherel as it is for the viewers. I love playing with women and the dynamics that come with it," the actress offers.
If you are wondering,Cherel is very much the vixen she used to be.
"The beauty of Cherel is she uses romance as a currency. She is older, but still dares to do the things she used to."