Spotlight: Jacques Bessenger talks So Ry Miss Daisy

March 21, 2017

Under direction of Christiaan Olwagen, Saartjie Botha’s Afrikaans adaption of the movie Driving Miss Daisy, has come to the Fugard Theatre stage as the theatre production, So Ry Miss Daisy, starring Jacques Bessenger alongside theatre legends John Kani and Sandra Prinsloo.


In recent performances of the play at the Woordfees, Bessenger impressed in the way he presented himself and held his own in his onstage interaction with Kani and Prinsloo, playing Miss Daisy’s caring yet strong-willed son. So here is a Spotlight interview as supplement to the Theatre Scene Cape Town’s festival review to entice you to go see this production that showcases the power of friendship set at the time of the birth of South Africa's democracy.


Where does your love for acting come from?

I discovered my passion for acting at a very young age, like most actors do. It gave me a voice and a way of expressing myself in a manner I wasn't able to do. From there on it just grew and at the age of 11 all I wanted to become was an actor. I was fortunate that my parents and teachers throughout my school career supported the idea. 


You are most well known as a screen actor, especially with the recent success of Ballade vir 'n Enkeling. What made you return to the main stream theatre?

I was trained as a theatre actor at Pretoria Technikon. I have been in theatre productions in Johannesburg for the past couple of years but most of my work was in television and film. My choice to return to main stream theatre was specifically to work with Christiaan Olwagen. I have a lot of respect for the work he does, so this was an opportunity that I simply couldn’t pass. To be on stage with two iconic South African actors made the choice very easy.


How does your preparation for screen and stage differ?

The main difference in South Africa is the rehearsal process. When working on a film you almost have no rehearsal and rely mostly on impulses and momentarily instinctive emotional responses. In theatre you have at least 3 weeks to discover the text and character. My preparation is exactly that. When working on a film I will make sure I understand the script and character/s and trust my first instinctual choices. Working on a theatre production, I rely on the time at hand to explore and on the director to make choices along the way.


Which do you find more challenging?

It has changed over time for me. Currently preparing for camera is easier. Theatre is now the challenging medium. Because you have time to explore, second guessing choices, overthinking and the possibility of your performance becoming stale are some insecurities I had to face.


What about playing your character, Miss Daisy's son, made you want the role?

Firstly because it is Driving Miss Daisy. And the first Afrikaans version. Christiaan Olwagen, Saartjie Botha, John Kani and Sandra Prinsloo, need I say more. 


How has working with John Kani and Sandra Prinsloo changed/influenced you as a performer?

It imbued in me the discipline and passion it takes to be an actor. They make me want to be better at what I do. 


What about them as performers do you admire most in general, as well as in the context of their So Ry Miss Daisy characters?

Their fearless approach to their work and their willingness to explore and understand the world of the play. Sandra’s courage is very inspiring to observe while she plays the part of Miss Daisy, and John Kani’s beautiful subtle warmth and empathy he works with to fuel his character, still inspires me. 


How do you prepare to take to stage and hold your own when acting opposite these two legends?

Initially it was very intimidating but Sandra and John treat me with such respect and dignity as an actor, it becomes quite natural to be on stage with them.


What has your most memorable moment to date been performing in this play?

Being back stage with Sandra and John just before the play starts is always a memorable moment! 


The play is 1 hour in duration in comparison to the almost 2 hour run-time of the original movie, Driving Miss Daisy. Does the adapted 1 hour play provide audiences with the full story feel or does it highlight certain aspects only?

The play does fly by very quickly; however, it does make you feel like you have been on a journey. Important moments in the characters’ lives are explored, giving the audience just enough information and experience to move on to the next moment. 


Why do you think a story such as So Ry Miss Daisy remains timeless and ever appealing to audiences?

It’s about people, their behaviour and how important human connection is for the sake of survival. We will never get tired of ourselves in this regard. 


What about the story appeals to you personally?

That we only have each other. No matter where you come from, what upbringing you had, true and authentic relationships will pull us through a sometimes very difficult life. 


What does it mean performing So Ry Miss Daisy (adapted as set in the period of Mandela's release), in what is such an historic area of Cape Town within a theatre such as the Fugard Theatre, which itself is also set in history and taking its name from an activist playwright?

I’ve always wanted to perform at the Fugard. It really is a dream come true. Performing a piece which deals with very important topics at the Fugard really shows how far we have come as a country. We are nowhere close to resolving a lot of issues caused by past decisions but because people fought for equality and fairness we get to freely tell stories that are important. 


So Ry Miss Daisy is showing at the Fugard Theatre until 31 March 2017, with tickets available at Computicket. The play is in Afrikaans, with English surtitles.



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