We speak to the local star taking over Hollywood about her two breakout roles

Jodi Balfour (Photo: Getty)
Jodi Balfour (Photo: Getty)

Cape Town - Channel24 spoke to South African actress Jodi Balfour who has had breakout roles in several international TV shows including Quarry which aired on M-Net, The Crown and an upcoming BBC/HBO co-production. 

Balfour, who was born in Cape Town, studied at UCT and made a name for herself in the short lived series, Bomb Girls. She has since moved on to new heights. 

Can you tell us more about your character and what is her relationship to Quarry from the first episode?

Her relationship with Quarry is a complex one. Joni is a fiercely independent but incredibly loyal woman. To find someone trying existing and having a happy life with those qualities could be quite a feat in especially Memphis in 1972. The role of women in the 70’s in the South was much like the role of women in most parts of the world, in that you were expected to be a doting housewife. And here we find her, she’s got a job at a newspaper, she’s been self-sufficient for two consecutive years, when Mac has been away in Vietnam. Then he comes back after a second tour and they try and come back together, it presents quite an interesting, complex situation. They love each other fiercely but so much has happened between them while he was been away and in him deciding to do a second tour. There are layers of complexity in these two people coming back together. 

See a trailer for Quarry here:

You seem to be drawn to strong female characters like Joni and your character in Bomb Girls, is that by design or by chance? 

I am drawn to them and now more than ever, where I have chance to be a little more picky than back in the day with the roles I play I tend to push on female characters who are just seen as appendages to the male characters. I must say though, when Bomb Girls happened, it was really just happenstance and luck that I booked Gladys who was a complete firecracker and a feminist. In those circumstances I am drawn to those characters because I have those qualities. But now I am certainly drawn to those characters and feel like it’s an exciting time for female characters and female driven stories.  Joni is a particularly interesting one because she is there because she is the title character’s wife but she is so much. We really get to see their world through her eyes on many occasions which I loved. 

You have mentioned the difference between when you started coming from South Africa versus now working in North America. What would you say are the differences between the two industries?

It’s a tough one because the two industries are very different. There is so much money put into the North American one so I have to look at it through that frame. My experience working in South Africa was so positive and all the shows that shoot in South Africa rave about the crews and South African production companies. It’s the coolest, everyone is so stoked for the job, we all love what we do so much. So that certainly is a very prominent memory in my mind of working in South Africa. Really the biggest difference in working in The States is opportunity and I think that is a consequence of the amount of money that is put into the entertainment industry in North America. The more TV shows and movies there are the more roles there are for actors. 

Speaking of the variety of work there is right now, are you working on anything else right now? 

I am actually I just finished a short stint on a Netflix series called The Crown, which is one of my faves at the moment independent of me being on it. It’s quite exciting I got to play Jackie Kennedy; it’s very surreal as a South African but so much fun. JFK is played by Michael C. Hall who South African audiences will know from Dexter, which is really fun. That was such a dreamy experience; I finished that a couple of weeks ago. And now I am working on BBC/HBO co-production called Rellik, which is killer spelt backwards which is very ominous. A bit more about the show: it’s another crime drama and it’s really cool. It’s told backwards. It was such a well written script. It’s by the people who did The Missing; they are really good at doing mystery. 

That show sounds incredible, like totally breaking the mould.

Ya it will be, I think.

Back to your role on The Crown, Jackie’s accent is pretty idiosyncratic, how did you manage to get it right?

(Laughs) It was one of those situations where I was so happy to get the role and then you go straight to the reality of it like ‘how am I going to do this? This is terrifying; I have been setup to fail. Everyone is going to be watching and thinking I am shit.’ But you know what their support structure on that show is amazing. They have an entire research team at my disposal if I wanted. They would send me clips and video clips, just general info on Jackie. And then also I worked with their dialect coach, his name is William Conacher, he is just brilliant. He is the same guy who did Churchill with John Lithgow and The Queen with Claire. 

And just as a quick bonus question, is it true that you own a coffee shop in Vancouver?

It’s true that I did. When I first got to Vancouver me and few other South African friends sort of had itchy hands and wanted to do something so we started a coffee shop. It’s called Nelson the Seagull in subtle reference to Nelson Mandela. When my acting work picked up I stepped away from the coffee shop but my friends are still a part of it.