I am so pleased to share this new interview in my Woman at Work series…. South African actress Jeanne Neilson is best known for her role as “Jill” in Faith like Potatoes. Since then she has appeared in films such as The Deal opposite Meg Ryan and William H Macy, Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove and various German, British and South African film productions. Find out more about her career via her IMDb profile or her website: www.jeanneneilson.co.za
When did you know this is what you wanted to do?
When I was growing up, I never thought that I would be a screen actor, I think there was a part of me that felt that that type of thing happened to other people. At the right time in my life a sense of calling and a realisation of a desire and talent came together and I just stepped into it!
What did you study – was it in this field or something different?
Totally different! My twin sister and I followed in the foot steps of our parents and older brother and went the Stellenbosch. She and I did a BA and majored in Sociology and English. Good fun!
What was your first job in the industry? and what path has your career taken since?
My first acting job was actually as a fashion designer called “Layla” in Egoli! I was in 3 episodes and it gave me an opportunity to learn how to work with cameras. I hadn’t trained in acting at all so this was great experience for me. After that I did a short film which made me fall in love with the film mediium, and since then I have done numerous local and international features. My first major role was as “Jill” in Faith Like Potatoes and others include The Deal with Meg Ryan and William Macy, Free Willy, The Heart of Christmas. I’ve just wrapped on film called Heatstroke with Stephen Dorff (Blade) and Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) and am set to do another SA film in September.
What have been the highlights?
The highlight most definitely has been what I have learned about myself. I didn’t realise when I first started acting that the most profound part of my job is what it would teach me about my own character and human experience. Lawrence Olivier said it best when he said: “I don’t know what is better than the work that is given to an actor – to teach the human heart the knowledge of itself”
What’s the best part of your job? What is the most challenging part?
The best part is being part of a team of people who all are dedicated to their craft and working hard to tell the same story. From the make up artists to the sound guys to production runners – you’re aware that you are an equally special part of little bit of magic that’s being forged by a dedicated team of people. The most challenging would be the ‘down times’, when you’re not working and it feels like it’s all so far away. That’s when having friends who know you well, and also friends in the industry is invaluable – they help keep you focused!
What is your typical day, or maybe week if days are very different? How do you fill your time between roles?
Wow, I really don’t have a “typical day” or even “typical week” at all, but broadly speaking, during the summer my week will be filled with commercial castings and every now and then a commercial shoot. There are often films being cast or shot during summer so that may be on the menu too. In winter it’s off-season (no commercials) in Cape Town and so is often very quiet. I am kept busy however in between it all with acting workshops and my work as a board member of the South African Guild of Actors. I also volunteer as a Care Clown at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, and my niece and nephew keep me busy when I see them during the week!
What are the “secrets” to your success?
I think that seeing what I do, and my life, as an unfolding journey has been an important part of me being able to thrive in a career that is so unpredictable. I feel that living my work out this way has also led to some of the success I have had in that I am present to not only my acting, but everything that makes up who I am and so I am all the richer for it as a story teller.
What do you do for fun in your down time?
Both my husband and I love reading so we spend a lot of our free time reading where ever we are over the weekend, or on the other hand we love spending time with friends and family and this often happens over meals in our culinary-rich Cape Town!
What do you still want to achieve for your career?
I would love to be so established as an actress that Dominic and I can live here in Cape Town but work and travel the world. As for films I’d like to do? There are too many to list, and I think I will always be passionate about story telling through film and so will never have an end in sight!
Jeanne lives in Cape Town with her husband Dominic Wilhelm, is the proud sister of commercials director Anton Visser and the splitting image of her identical twin – Jax Howie. Currently Jeanne and Jax are taking part in a project collaborating with Prof Tim Noakes called Twin Noakes. The concept is for these genetically identical twins who have been diagnosed with high cholesterol to follow different diets for two months. Jeanne is on a high protein diet and Jax high carb – follow this very interesting experiment on the Twin Noakes blog.