Film lifts SA actress to new level

2007-02-01 00:00

BONNIE Henna, the South African actress who plays Precious Chamusso, Patrick Chamusso's wife in the film Catch A Fire, more than holds her own with the bigger name American actors in the cast, Tim Robbins and Derek Luke. The film opens locally this weekend and is expected to generate a great deal of interest.

It tells the story of MK operative Patrick Chamusso, played by Derek Luke. It covers his life before being wrongly arrested and tortured by police, his flight to Mozambique to be trained by MK and his return to South Africa as a saboteur. He was eventually captured and sentenced to 24 years on Robben Island, serving 10 before he was released in 1994.

While the film may well be a big break for Henna, she is no stranger to the screen. Aged 13, as a schoolgirl at Greenside High in Johannesburg she was spotted by an agent and given a role on the television series Viva Families. She then went on to work as a presenter on Teleschool, Zapmag, Technics Heart of the Beat and Limits Unlimited.

She became a well-known face with a lead role on Backstage in 2001 and then went on to star appear in Gaz'lam and the local detective show Zero Tolerance. She has hosted the talk show True Life and appeared in two Canadian television series. She also starred opposite Taye Diggs in Drum and appeared in a Danish film, Zero Gravity.

But Catch a Fire has lifted her career to a new level. “At first I was so afraid I would blow this and they would fire me,” she says when I ask what it was like working on the film.

“I didn't sleep the night before the first read through. But Tim Robbins was so easy to get along with. When it was over, he just walked over to me and said: ‘Weren't you terrified in there? I know I was.' It made me realise we're all human.”

She says that both Robbins and Luke were terrific to work with - they had no attitude of “I'm an American, so I'm great”, is how Henna puts it.

And on her side, she was careful not to come over as a know-it-all co-star. She helped Luke with his accent for the odd word but only when he asked. “I think he is awesome - I know how difficult it is for me to do an American accent,” she says.

“What has it done for me? Well, I have an agent and a manager in Los Angeles now. And when we went on press tour in the U.S. with the film, I got an awesome write-up in the New York Times. So now, if I audition, they know who they are dealing with.”

Henna reckons film is the medium that works best for her and that is the line of work she wants to follow. “You can take time with film. I don't think people who have seen me on TV will recognise me in the film. It's not like working in a cramped studio - TV is a boot camp.”

She also wants to go on working on films that tell South African stories. “Our stories speak to a part of me and we understand them better. And once the telling of our history is over, we should turn to the huge fund of contemporary stories that we have here.”

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