Lee-Ann van Rooi on playing Farah, cyberbullies and deleting Facebook.

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At 18:30 on weekdays, many families find themselves getting ready to be transported to the world of Ruiterbosch and see what the characters’ latest antics are in the popular soapie Suidooster. Recently, viewers have been introduced to Farah, now the second wife of AB, who along with his first wife Mymoena, is navigating the dynamics of polygamy.

Hie is wattie aktrise wat Farah speel, Lee-Ann van Rooi, te sê het oorie karakte, twinnag-twinnag en mense wattie die veskil tussen ‘n aktrise en ‘n karakte kan vestaan ie.

How has your 2020 been so far? Was there anything you planned to do this year, but couldn’t due to the lockdown?

Well, I do a lot of theatre work and there’s been no theatre. So, shows that we did last year like Hoe Change Hulle and Rokkie – we couldn’t perform them. We thought about putting it onto an online platform, but we would have liked to do a physical performance before we take it online. Both of them are very important pieces of work, especially for brown-skin communities. Rokkie has to do with transgender identity and Hoe Change Hulle is about the brown-skin man in our communities and questioning their role and functions.

I normally also do a bit of teaching at UCT and with the universities being closed down, it kind of put a damper on moving forward. Not just for acting teachers, but also for students, whose learning had to go online and that added its own challenges. It is really difficult to try and act online when your partner is perhaps in another province, but we managed the best we could. However, if lockdown had not happened, I would not have been able to do Suidooster, so there is also a method and madness to everything. I have been approached for other roles before, but I was always busy and not able to make it. So when the Farah storyline happened, I thought it was quite interesting and now had the time to do it.

Congratulations on your role in Suidooster! What do you enjoy about playing Farah and the storyline around her character?

It’s an iconic storyline; typical threesome within a relationship and working out those dynamics. Also looking at and approaching polygamy within our society, as it doesn’t just happen within the Muslim community but also many others. I think in every community that it happens there’s always the “side woman” or the “side chick”, whether it is legal or not. So I think here the preposterous thing was making sure this woman is legally married and what that arrangement would entail.  I enjoyed playing Farah, but mostly I got to enjoy playing with Cedwyn Joel (AB Samsodien) and Jill Levenberg (Mymoena Samsodien) because they are both awesome actors and I haven’t worked with them for a long time. It is actually the first time Jill and I share a performance platform besides radio. So telling the story of a very real situation in a very real way is important. Obviously, people are upset for very real reasons, because it probably happened to them or they actually were involved in it. So the response means we are doing something right!

While there have been entertaining reactions, there have also been many strangers who have started spewing hate towards you, Lee-Ann, when they have been upset about the character. How have you been dealing with these types of keyboard warriors?

Look, you can’t control what other people say or how they say it. You can only control yourself. So I have tried to just manage it as much as I can. I deleted the Facebook app off my phone because that seems to be where that demographic seems to sit on. I will not be logging in anytime soon. It is upsetting when you think to yourself, “Argh man please, can’t you see it is not me, the actor? And that it is a character that I play?” But then people also get so worked up about stuff and call me by my character’s name in the streets. There are just some areas I won’t go into anytime soon to avoid public confrontations, nor have I worn a doek in a while!

We are sitting in South Africa where there is so little help to us as actors. They call us “celebrities”, but we do not get treated as such nor do we get paid like those in America. We also don’t have the same rights as they do, so it doesn’t matter whether you’re an A-lister or not, you just kind of plod along and try and make do with whatever you’ve got. I’m not saying it is right, but I do say that there needs to be a lot of support when it comes to actors; when they need to consider the mental health and physical wellbeing of actors.  Hopefully, something else will happen or they’ll start calling me by a new character’s name. South African audiences really need to be educated when it comes to stories or storytelling. They are often glued to TVs and rarely get out and experience some of the other characters you play. So they only know the ones they see on a paid channel or open TV.

What social media etiquette do you wish everyone had?

I think it is the etiquette in general. People are so quick to judge and point fingers from where they’re sitting and there’s a certain sense of safety and anonymity that comes with social media. This makes them feel like they can say whatever they want and how they want to. So people should be more mindful of what they say.  I have also had lovely compliments and people telling me to not worry about the idiots trolling on the internet. People can say what they want, maa hulle betaalie my rent ie!

Being in this industry for about two decades, you have played many characters across TV, film, theatre and web series. What are some of the characters that you would still like to play?

I don’t know whether I would like to act for very much longer, because it is a really tough job, and also unsupported. We very rarely get things like UIF or maternity benefits. Medically, we have to sort ourselves out. We are not looked after when it comes to healthcare at all. Buying any property is also difficult because we are considered to be contract workers.  So it becomes incredibly tricky. I have also put in twenty years in the industry so I think it is time to start bowing out gracefully and see what else there is. Until there is another great story that comes along and I fall in love with the character, and I’m like YES this story needs to be told.

What makes Lee-Ann van Rooi happy?

Peace. Peace makes me happy. Finding peace in my relationships, family life, home life. Just general peace! There’s no need to be nasty, so just be lekke and relax!

 Finally, what is your favourite Kaaps word/phrase?

My goodness, there’s so many! Ek is mos vannie Kaap af so there’s so many we use every day. “Wanne dan?” – that’s my favourite saying! I use it when I’m asking people to meet up or when is ‘something’ going to happen, so we can start organising.

So ja mense, alhoewel Farah julle bôs warm maak, moetie jou social media gebryk ommie mense agterie karakte af te briek ie en just be lekke!