The Afrikaans film, Susanna van Biljon, to be released on 23 September 2010, will star rock chick Karen Zoid as the leading lady.
The Franz Marx production also features Nico Panagio (7de Laan), David Rees (Egoli), Shaleen Surtie-Richards (Egoli), Anna Davel (Egoli), Wilna Snyman (7de Laan), Marie du Toit (Pens & Pootjies) and a host of other well-known Afrikaans actors.
Producer Franz Marx, who has 22 feature films and 13 series under his belt, is perhaps best known for his two smash hit productions, Agter Elke Man, a prime-time series, and the daily serial, Egoli - Place of Gold. For Susanna van Biljon, Franz again brings together some of the cast and crew that worked with him on Egoli, including director Bromley Cawood (Egoli - the movie).
During 2009, Franz approached Karen with a proposal to play the lead role in Susanna. “I was in an art school and my specialist subject was drama,” says Karen. “I am a performing artist and I have been waiting to do some acting. I actually considered doing some stage work. When Franz asked me to be Susanna, it was not as if I was like, ‘Well, maybe,’ but rather, ‘Yes, Yes!’ Franz asked me if I can remember lines and I said, ‘Yes’. Then he said, ‘A lot of lines?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ And off I went to the audition.”
Karen has released four studio albums, has won numerous awards including Best Female Artist, and has been named by The Sunday Times as one of the top six rising stars of South Africa in 2003.
Both Franz and Karen remain mum about who this mysterious Susanna van Biljon is, or was, and we can’t extract anything more from the distributers at Nu Metro either. All we do know is that Susanna van Biljon is a Susan Boyle-type of story that takes place in South Africa. Susanna is a 40-year old spinster that lives with her bitter and conservative mother, played by Marie du Toit. Susanna has big dreams of being a singer, but she doesn’t exactly look like your typical idol. She has to claw her way through her small town’s preconceived ideas of beauty and negative defeatist attitudes.
There is a fat suit for Karen, as well as a dorky hairstyle, glasses, and a frumpy wardrobe that will render her virtually unrecognisable to her hordes of fans, who know her as a cool rock chick. Her appearance totters somewhere between Ugly Betty and a tamer version of Charlize Theron’s Monster.
“A big part of this movie is about the relationship between mothers and daughters,” Karen explains. “It’s kind of an Afrikaans chick flick but it’s not a dumb movie. Susanna is all about having dreams, love, and family. It will appeal strongly to Afrikaans women but I suspect the men will be dragged along to the theatre with their partners.”
Filming started in March 2010 and took around five weeks to complete. They filmed mostly in Johannesburg, Oudtshoorn, Uniondale, and Cullinan. As to whether Karen was a little intimidated to take the lead next to veteran actors such as Shaleen, Wilna, and Marie, she says, “Luckily I know Shaleen very well. We’ve been in a few productions together, such as Supersterre, where we spent a lot of time getting to know each other and we bonded very well. She is a phenomenal actress and a friend. But working together with the woman that played my mom was a very special experience. Marie has featured in so many films and it was so interesting to hang out with her and listen to her stories of how they used to make films back then. The coolest thing about this movie was the camaraderie between us all. I am used to a brilliant vibe with my band but this is a bond that is formed between about 80 people, spending every moment together. It’s new and it’s great. I loved it.”
As a musician, Karen was perhaps an obvious choice for the role of Susanna but her music does not feature prominently on the soundtrack. Karen co-wrote with Sean Butler the theme song, which she also performs. Sean has worked as a musician, arranger, musical director and record producer since completing his national diploma in light music at the Pretoria Technikon in 1996. Karen also sings a Johannes Kerkorrel song in the film.
“I hope that people will come and see the movie,” Karen concludes. “Whenever something is created in South Africa, it is important that it is supported as this in turn generates more work for everybody.”