With a four-decade career in the South African entertainment industry, the star of kykNET's Cas Oppie Kassie, now streaming on Showmax, has plenty to tell us about being a comedy star ... and coming out of "die kassie".
If you’re a South African with a sense of humour, you more than likely know who Casper De Vries is. While his four-decade career in entertainment includes credits as an actor, painter, composer and director, he’s best known for tickling funny bones and splitting sides - often being the thorn in the side of prudish convention.
The always entertaining, often controversial Casper De Vries talks to us about his career, his passions, how his family tree served as inspiration for his best-loved characters, his latest TV show, Cas Oppie Kassie, and, of course, how he eventually came out of die kassie…
What was your very first movie?
I was lucky enough to be involved in movies right from the start when they were distributed by Ster Kinekor and my very first movie role was in a Schuster movie called Oh Shucks, Here Comes UNTAG! One of the movies I starred in I haven’t seen ever - Alec Comes To The Rescue - and then there is a movie I made about a guy who made porno in his garage where I played the dominee.
But I don’t think that movie ever got further than the producers. It wasn’t controversial - it just wasn’t very good. I was very fortunate with movies like UNTAG, Sweet ‘n Short, Konfetti, Egoli: The Movie, Nothing For Mahala and Snaaks Genoeg (Funny Enough).
Before all this, I did a few TV things that I dearly want to see again but I can’t seem to find them!
Let’s talk about those very early TV shows you can’t get hold of.
De Vries was one of them and that is where the gist of my sketches started to form. There were also America’s Funniest Home Video-type inserts and a talent show, all rolled into one delightful, chaotic episode. I also starred in What If?, an educational show for children where I played an alien, and to this day people ask me about that show!
There are many highlights. Stage-performance-wise it would have been performing my solo show at the London Palladium in England between 2004 and 2006 in front of 2 500 people every night, mostly South African and mostly Afrikaans.
Not to take anything away from my South African theatre performances but the Palladium is a grand, old, well-known institution. To have a sold-out show there, three years in a row on a Sunday night was fantastic.
This led to a lot of international offers. You’re right about Cas Oppie Kassie - it was fantastic to work on this show. We had the absolute best people in cameras, editing, final mixing. Oh, and another highlight: I received the Comics’ Choice Lifetime Achievement Award. It was wonderful getting a nod from my peers in the industry.
Where do you draw your inspiration from for your character sketches and straight-up whack ideas?
The inspiration for my recurring characters comes from my culture - things I observed as I grew up. Oom Kallie Marie, for instance, is one of the very first characters I created because I heard this old oom talking about his family on a tape my father was listening to while researching the De Vries family tree in South Africa, which I found amusing.
Greetje Appelmoes is another early character and was inspired by my mother who is Dutch and I find the Dutch language very funny and rich, right next to Afrikaans. Gretje is basically my mother after three tots of sherry. Hanno is a common Afrikaans alcoholic who messes up but is still a lovable character for many. Blertsie is inspired by Egoli, and Montelle was a way for me to come out as gay and introduce this culture within a culture.
If you hadn’t become an actor, what would you be?
That’s actually an impossible question to answer because I can’t imagine not doing what I’m doing. There’s a huge variety of things that I taught myself - you produce music yourself, edit yourself and learn how to master and produce a DVD yourself. It is not just acting, movies or TV.
I taught myself how to produce and edit a radio show. This is the way I was brought up - I had to believe in myself and do it myself. So I guess I would have probably ended up somewhere in the entertainment industry, running a video store. Remember those? Maybe I would be running Showmax! It’s unimaginable that I wouldn’t be in the entertainment industry.
I’ve got lots of ideas and a lot of sketches and characters that didn’t make it into the series because there wasn’t enough time. I do hope we can continue because I’m extremely excited to do more stuff. I think Cas Oppie Kassie met the standard I’ve always wanted.
There is room for improvement, of course, but it has more to do with money than anything else because sometimes you’re bound by a budget. But we’ve achieved what we aspired to and the talent that I used, you know, the camera people, the editing people - they’re all so talented!
What was it like coming out as gay as an Afrikaans celebrity?
The very first thing I wrote was for our group cabaret at the University of Stellenbosh back in 1986, and there was a song I wrote about being gay which a lot of people maybe didn’t understand. The lines went: “Johnny is gay and therefore full of sorrow / Because Johnny will only be born tomorrow”.
I was telling people you’re not choosing to be gay. You just are. I guess I was ‘coming out’, but only to my friends because it was still taboo to say you’re gay. That would be the end of everything. Those days, you just didn't do it. As mentioned earlier, I eventually introduced Montelle, a gay character, to sort-of start to deal with it because gay people have a wonderful sense of humour. Gradually it became easier. Programmes like Will & Grace, for instance, made it easier. You still get some homophobic people but I don’t care. At all.
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