Burning up Hollywood

2013-03-24 10:00

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There’s a new South African creating a buzz in Hollywood and she’s destined to become the next ‘it girl’ in film. Clayton Morar calls up Lesley-Ann Brandt, the hottest SA export since Charlize Theron, for a chat

Over the years, many South Africans have left these shores and moved to LA to pursue a career in Hollywood – some with little success and others with a quick realisation that “making it” in Hollywood isn’t nearly as easy as what is sold to us in magazines and on reality TV.

But one South African-born, Hollywood-based actress is aiming to fly the national flag high as she awaits the release of two major Hollywood films in

international theatres this year.

Cape Town-born Lesley-Ann Brandt is the lead actress in the Australian and US co-produced feature film, Drift, starring alongside Avatar hunk Sam Worthington. This is a major feat, considering she moved to LA just three years ago.

If that’s not all, Brandt wrapped up the production of the dark comedy, Killing Winston Jones, last December, starring alongside seasoned greats Danny Glover and Richard Dreyfuss, as well as Jon Heder and Danny Masterson.

She plays the daughter of Glover’s character and the love interest of Masterson’s character, and the film is directed by Avatar and Dodgeball star Joel David Moore.

So how has this unknown South African beauty, whose looks many might compare to that of Oscar-winner Halle Berry, managed to capture the attention of Hollywood casting agents?

After matriculating at Pinelands High School in Cape Town, the actress emigrated with her family to New Zealand in 1999.

Brandt, who started out modelling prior to venturing into acting, says she has always known she was not camera shy.

“It came relatively naturally to me as I was always a bit of a performer. TV commercials seemed the logical next step,” she says.

“When we arrived in New Zealand, my parents paid for some modelling shots. I started booking work pretty much immediately. Really, I owe a lot to them. They have always supported me in whatever I wanted to do.”

It was while working as a model in New Zealand, and after doing countless TV commercials, that local casting directors encouraged her to pursue acting.

She then enrolled for acting classes, a move which has clearly paid off.

The acting world was first introduced to Brandt in the internationally acclaimed Starz TV shows Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, where she played the role of Naevia.

“Working on Spartacus was an experience I am grateful for, for so many reasons. Not many foreign actresses have their second acting gig air on US TV and have that show be a major hit.

“The first season was incredible, we had no idea what it would turn out like, but everyone on that production knew it was going to be good.

“I credit the writers and show runner Steven de Knight?.?.?.?producer Rob Tapert for taking a chance on a show that really doesn’t apologise for what it is: bold, bloody, sexy in your face.”

Following the success of this role and the acclaim, Brandt chose to leave the show after scheduling conflicts and production delays.

Sadly, the star of Spartacus, Andy Whitfield, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and passed away in September 2011. So the role had to be recast.

Brandt was in Australia working on Drift when she received the news of Whitfield’s passing.

She says: “It was a sad day. I had been keeping in touch with him via email to check on his progress.

“I am so fortunate to have had the chance to work with him, he is my Spartacus and his legacy lives on, as a devoted father and husband, and a phenomenal artist.”

Cracking Hollywood is no easy task, but the tenacity of this young actress has served her well.

“I first came to LA just as Spartacus: Blood and Sand was about to air in the US.

“It took a bunch of meetings with managers, agents and casting directors before returning to New Zealand, where I was offered a guest role on Legend of the Seeker.

“I returned to LA and was offered a supporting role in an independent feature, Insight (starring Christopher Lloyd), and decided to move here permanently.”

According to her, living in Hollywood is “exciting, tough, liberating, free and ridiculous all at the same time”.

She says: “I’ve just finished working with Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss, how crazy is that? It is a very different culture to New Zealand and South Africa.

“Almost everyone in LA works in the business in some way or another. What I’ve discovered since moving here is these huge names we, and I include myself because at some point I did and still do, put on pedestals are in fact normal like you and me. I like that.

“The key to living here, though, is surrounding yourself with good people and I’m so grateful to have so many wonderful people in my life and with each job I’ve done, I’ve gained some good friends.

“Adopting my Husky, Eli, also cemented LA as home. Nothing like the responsibility of caring for a dog to remind you that while you might be working with acting legends, you still have to pick up poop!”

Last year, Brandt featured on US TV shows such as CSI: New York (a recurring role), Chuck, as well as Memphis Beat (alongside Jason Lee), and had lead role in US TV movie Zombie Apocalypse, starring alongside Ving Rhames and Taryn Manning.

She says she’s excited that Drift – a film which was shot on location in Margaret River, Perth, Australia, in 2011 – will premiere this year.

The film is set in the 1970s and is based on the surf culture as it moved from a hobby into the professional sport we know today.

It follows two brothers who eventually set up a major surf label. Brandt plays a Hawaiian surfer, a skill she had to learn for her role.

Referring to Killing Winston Jones as one of the greatest experiences of her career to date, Brandt says she is thrilled to have worked on a comedy, which is where she started.

“Most people don’t know that I actually started my acting career in comedy in a little New Zealand show called Diplomatic Immunity. So it’s been lovely getting back to those roots and flexing that muscle.

“Comedy is a lot harder that it seems so on Killing Winston Jones, I spent a lot of time watching other actors’ work,” she says.

In Killing Winston Jones, Brandt plays the role of Virginia Carver and the love interest of Ethan (played by Masterson).

“She’s been away for a while but returns to come take care of her father. Ethan and Virginia have loved each other since they were kids, but life got in the way, they grew up but their feelings never changed. We’ve all been there, right?” she says.

Brandt regards working with Glover as a “career highlight”.

“We hung out between takes and discussed South African history and politics. I learnt about his involvement in the movement against apartheid. It’s something I’m very passionate about so I jump at a chance to discuss and learn.

“He’s also been to visit South Africa 34 times and has much love for the country,” she says.

Brandt adds she hasn’t visited South Africa since 2007 and is keen to see her friends and family “soon”. “I do miss Cape Town a lot. I have so many friends I am still in contact with who support me all the way from Africa.

“I totally appreciate that for my family and friends over there, my life can seem surreal so I enjoy the craziness with them.”

»?Check out Lesley-Ann’s website at Lesley-annbrandt.com or follow her on Twitter @LesleyAnnBrandt

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