Fun-loving and passionate, Christia Visser is an ever-rising star in the movie firmament. She broke into the industry on the Afrikaans circuit with Hollywood In My Huis and Ballade vir n Enkeling, but most recently has starred in hybrid doccie Alison and Whiplash adaptation Tess, both of which were released in 2016. This year she stars in The Recce, currently in post-production and set for release later this year. We find out what makes her tick.
Some of the recent films you’ve done are heart-wrenching stories. How you get into character for difficult roles, both from a mental and physical perspective?
I work mostly on instinct, so I start from the inside out. I need to find what my character wants, needs, thinks, feels. Once I have that, the instinct kicks in and the physicality joins up. I do research to understand where the character comes from, with Tess, for instance, I had the privilege of talking to some sex workers, and with Alison I had the privilege of talking to her. I always have to understand why. There is no judging your character, there is only understanding.
Perhaps you can explain in more detail your process with Tess and Alison. How did they differ from each other in terms of preparation? What was your initial response when you saw the final cuts for the first time?
Tess and Alison, although similar in subject matter, are two completely different films and experiences. Alison is a hybrid feature/documentary style, I had no dialogue and could ‘cheat’ some of the emotional aspects thanks to close ups and short takes. It was difficult as I was portraying a living person, and it was so important to me to do her justice. I had to trust – trust that I was cast in similarity; that she or my director would speak up if something wasn’t true to that night’s events.
With Tess it was a completely different process. I prepped for about two months, one of those rehearsing in the actual space we would be shooting. We didn’t rehearse any emotion, only blocking and feeling it out so that I could feel what felt natural in her space. I had a long emotional journey with Tess, the film is based on facts, but Tess is a fictional character so I had to let her find me, I had to have patience, and I had to open myself up to some dark realities. Tess had to get completely under my skin.
Both of these films touched me in a profound way the first time I saw them. You never quite know what to expect, you pour your heart and soul into a character and then you let them fly. These films, both tragic, Alison inspiring and Tess hope-filled were worth it, through and through.
Find out more about Christia Visser in this month Issue: