Recently I saw I Have Life: Alison’s Story, 20 Years On at the Auto and General Theatre on the Square. It’s the story of Alison Botha who was brutally raped and disembowelled by two attackers in 1994 – and how she survived and triumphed. I was very impressed with Zak Hendrikz who plays the terrifying part of Frans du Toit the psychopathic rapist. He tweaked the golden thread of humanity in the audience that night and made us think. I knew it would take an exceptional actor to play that part, and I needed to chat with him. And he is really nice!
I’ve seen I Have Life, it was such an amazing experience. Unfortunately it’s nearly the end of the play (it ended on 30 August). I don’t know how you must have experienced doing it.
Well, for us it was quite a different process because we had five weeks rehearsals which is quite a lot of time to rehearse a play. Usually when you rehearse a play you are looking at three to four weeks maximum, but because it’s such a sensitive subject matter and because they had to redo the play from the book they had to rework it. The process was very different and we had to be very sensitive about how we were going to approach the play and subject matter and we had to try different avenues to see what is the best way of telling the story. The best way of portraying what we wanted to convey to the audience that would not distance them, and then also what is the best way for the actors to feel the most comfortable on stage.
I mean it’s, it’s different hey. The thing is when I started rehearsing for Frans, a lot of stuff didn’t make sense, because it couldn’t make sense. We as normal human beings have a conscience and because we have a conscience, we know what’s right and wrong and we will feel guilty about stuff or think about things twice before we do something. And with someone like a psychopath, because that’s what he is, they live for the now. And they don’t have a conscience in that regard. For me it was quite interesting. The only way that I could start connecting with Frans was to embrace my dark side. Because all of us have that light and dark side. It’s just a choice, because we have a conscience. We stop ourselves from going further, and I’ve just go to remember at the end of the production that I do have to go there in order to convey the story, but when I’m done it’s not me. Then I become myself again. So it was very different and it was difficult to connect with him on a character perspective because I couldn’t relate to him, so I had to go and see a psychiatrist to actually go and get some answers. It didn’t make sense to me and the psychiatrist steered me in a direction that I could understand the psyche of Frans a little better.
Ja, I was going to ask how you research that. Seeing a psychiatrist makes sense. I guess Suanne’s part (Suanne Braun plays the part of Alison Botha and you can read our interview with her here), she could actually meet Alison and I guess this is not the same thing.
There was no video footage of Frans. We literally only had Alison’s book and what her words were. We have nothing else of them. For example the court scene that we do, where Frans tells the people that he was possessed by the demon Incubus. The irony is that speech is actually quite comical. It’s stuff that he said in a condensed form. He apologised to the judge for his hairstyle. Not for raping and disembowelling Alison. He apologised for his hairstyle because there’s no adequate facilities in prison to get a decent haircut. He was completely showman in that regard and that was also quite difficult to play. It’s difficult not to play the comedy in that scene, because it is so ironic. These are words out of the court record. He said that he was possessed by the demon Incubus and that he is sexually irresistible to women and highly attractive and heavy metal music made him burn down the building. He was being influenced by bad people at school. Dagga smokers, hippies and surfers. I mean, come on. Surfers. This stuff that he said was actually quite frightening. He always gave the blame to other people. He never blamed himself or took any remorse. When he committed these acts, he said that the demon Incubus did it instead of him. It’s frightening actually to think that people can think like that and not have a conscience, and not even think that they’re wrong. That was my difficulty. I couldn’t relate to that. You’ve just got to accept the fact that we cannot relate to it, because they’re psychopaths and you just have to go there. You can’t reason with somebody like that. Even 20 years later I think Frans is in exactly the same position. I don’t think somebody like that can change or feel remorse.
I think you acted it very well. I was very impressed. You’ve got a fan now. You must have got some interesting reactions – do people want to come up and smack you?
I get that. Gaynor I get that the whole time. I actually take it as a compliment. The one thing that women do is they look at me and say “You”. With disgust. I’m like hey guys, I’m just portraying a character. But it means I did a good job. Even when I get out of the theatre they still can’t differentiate between the fact that I played a role. There’s some sort of disgust afterwards. Which is rewarding for me as an actor, because it means I’m doing a good job but it also just shows what kind of a person Frans was, that people would react to him like that. He loved the fact that people felt revolted by him. It meant that people knew who he was. It was fame. He made public statements during the court hearing saying that he was possessed and that he was going to get an exorcism. He absolutely lived for the limelight during the trials. I think it was a power thing as well. If women get disgusted by him he knows that he’s got the upper hand. He knows that they’re terrified of him.
We have it inside us in some degree.
I’m sure most of us have it in some degree. It just depends when that sort of snap happens. Can you hold yourself back? We all have it inside us, it’s there.
Frans has got a wife and children.
Yes. He apparently made a deal with the demon Incubus to give him a son. Frans said the demon answered his prayers and gave him a son on his birthday. This he said was a sign, and he was to bring up his son with Satanic beliefs in order to praise the demon for answering his prayer. He had been in Witbank and then he moved down to PE and met Natalie and had this son.
I’m assuming that his wife Natalie could not see through him.
He was an absolute master manipulator. He had Natalie, his wife at the time wrapped around his finger and the only way that you can do that is by manipulating somebody so much in order to think that they need you in such a way that you cannot do anything without them. That’s how clever and manipulative and cruel he is – all those ugly words. I don’t know how the hell he got it right. For somebody like that to actually get your wife, going to the court trials and she sat there through the trials after she heard all the things, he raped a pregnant woman, raped another woman, what he’s done to Alison. She still supported him. But it just shows you how clever Frans was. That’s why he also believed he was possessed, though I think it was absolute lies, but I think he felt like he personified the demon Incubus because Incubus had his way with women and stuff like that. And I think to a certain extent he did believe that women were highly attracted to him, though he had to take it by force.
What other ways did you prepare for the part? How many sessions at the psychiatrist did you have to go for?
Have you done a part before where everyone’s going to hate you?
I think you’re too young to remember the incident concerning Alison as it happened or do you?
I remember it, not as it happened, I remember seeing the Carte Blanche interview, in 1995 / 6 just after the incident. The year during the trial or after. I remember watching that as a kid when they showed that on Carte Blanche and I remember the story. When we got the brief for this audition I knew what it was about.
You’re reminding a new generation.
The nice thing is we’ve had a couple of schools coming in. And then we had Q and A. It’s a good thing, these themes are very relevant. There is a message of hope. People do leave the theatre emotionally drained, but to an extent it’s a weird balance between that and feeling positive. That’s what we’re trying to say although all of these things can happen, there is a light, seize it embrace it. Specially for the youth, it’s imperative that guys see the show and how one must respect women, but also for women that girls have been through situations like that, to tell them that it’s okay. And with the questions and answers that we’ve had, it’s been very interesting to hear what some of the questions and so on were and it’s actually quite ironic that our best response has been from schoolkids that see the show. I think there’s an age restriction of 16. Grades 10 – 12.
I would think one of the best things for the girls, you can arm yourself. Don’t just trust anyone. What got to me is all the lying –
The irony is he was not an unattractive guy. He was a good looking normal Afrikaans bloke. And the fact that he was so manipulative and so reassuring made him even more dangerous. Those psychopaths walk with us. One of the arresting officers in Alison’s case, Nadia Swanepoel had already arrested Frans before they made the final arrest with Alison, and then she knew about the two rape incidences and that he was released on bail. She said she saw him in one of the malls and she said she got the most terrifying feeling knowing that this guy looks so average and normal but she knows what he’s done.
That’s what’s nice about the play, you are making people aware to look between the lines. You expect a rapist to look evil.
And they don't. And it’s also strange because you get different kinds of psychopaths. You get the psychopaths that are violent but you also get financial economic psychopaths. Political psychopaths. The majority of people in parliament could be because they need to make certain decisions that other people with conscience cannot make, because you will feel bad. A political psychopath will make decisions without feeling any remorse and those people are most terrifying. Other psychopaths in business make ruthless decisions. It’s not just violent psychopaths. There is a different way of operating as a psychopath – violent, financial, economic. It’s just like from a conscious perspective you think differently. People always think that a psychopath is someone who goes out and murders and kills. No. They are everywhere. It’s those ruthless people that make any quick decision whether it be financial, political or am I stabbing a woman tonight or not.
How did the role come about?
|Zak Hendrikz and Suanne Braun. Source: Twitter @SuanneBraun|
Some of those people in the audience, they can freak out. I bark at the woman in front of me, if she has popcorn in her hands, the popcorn would have been out of the box.
It was terrifying actually.
Sometimes you get like a laugh or a giggle there, but it’s because those people are so uncomfortable in the situation that they don’t know how to react. I know they’re not laughing at the fat that it’s funny. They are laughing because they don’t know how to deal with this uncomfortableness.
Someone said that there’s so much rape statistics in South Africa, you almost become desensitised but this is someone’s story in your face.
It reminds people about what happens around it. It is just a statistic but people forget why is it such a big thing. What happens not only to the person but the people around them. It affects not only one person, it affects a hell of a lot.
Someone like a psychopath, somebody can be moulded to become somebody like that with abuse, but they’ve done extensive studies and a psychopath gets born with a deformity in their frontal lobe where the emotions sit, so it’s actually been scientifically proven that a psychopath does think differently. Yes you can hone a psychopath with love and care and nourishment to make him a better person but you need the support structure, and if you don’t have that then you get someone like Frans. He was probably one of those people, all of us as boys bullied animals but then we felt bad and at some point we stopped, but he’s one of those that would have done it, enjoyed it and dissected it. Which is not, I’m not saying it’s fine – they just think a little bit differently and he did burn the school down, I think when he went to the army, he fought on the borderline in Angola and I think that’s where he just snapped. The love from his parents could have helped, but clearly that was not enough, Either it being too little or the wrong love, Frans still turned out the way he did. Usually with a psychopath something triggers him to go to that different / dark place, and I think for Frans is was when he went to the Border war. That’s where he snapped, that where he saw the brutality of war, people dying, and maybe he thought it was ok, normal. I am not saying his parent failed, I am just saying it must be quite different brining up a child that’s got these tendencies, and still try and show them the right path and hope they will be ok. If I ever have children, one must remember that your actions as a parent will stay with your children for the rest of their lives He was 26 when he attacked Alison so he should be 46 now.
How have friends and family reacted to this role?
My mom came to watch again last night. She’s great, she’s been very supportive of my career. It’s nice for her to come and watch her son, regardless of the content and stuff. She also understands the process and she knows that it’s a compliment if people want to bliksem me, so she’s okay with it. I don’t know, it’s very cool that my friends come and watch. Somebody also said it’s awesome to see that I can embrace the dark side but still walk away with integrity and still be myself after something like that. It’s quite awesome to know that my friends who are actors as well see me in a role like that because I think they all know how difficult it is to portray a character like that. They as actors know how difficult it is to do something like that. It’s quite rewarding when your fellow performers speak to you in such high regard, saying that you did a great job but you’re still a great person. I’ve had very positive response. We do it every single night and we’ve had a rehearsal process, so we’re in a completely different place to somebody that watches the show once for the first time. But it’s also weird for me going to people and saying so did you enjoy the show? Everybody is like sort of – they can’t say they enjoyed the show. It’s a weird balance between feeling disgust and feeling positive. You enjoyed it but you feel disgusted. Isn’t it flippen fantastic, that you can tap on all those emotions with one show? It is rewarding for all of us actually.
Women are sometimes drawn to these dangerous guys.
Can I tell you what it is? People are attracted to a dark element because we know it’s dangerous. Because we know it is within us, but we make a conscious decision not to go there. When you see somebody that’s got that badass quality – it’s refreshing. I think it’s sort of intriguing to be surrounded by it or to become it or have a part of it. We hold ourselves back. That’s why the bad boys usually get the most action. That’s the irony. We think it’s wrong but we’re attracted.
What would you say your bread and butter is or your first love?
My bread and butter is musicals, I did Starlight Express, Rocky Horror, Liefling, Reik Na Die Sterre. That’s what I do but first and foremost I’m an actor. I wanted to study musical theatre because I wanted to expand my craft. I was like I can’t just be an actor, I have to be more. I’m so thankful for it because it’s been keeping me very busy. It’s so nice for my friends to come and watch me in a piece that’s got substance, just character driven – no singing, dancing, don’t have to put on my tap shoes.
|Zak as Simon Wolmarans in Droomkind|
I was watching your show and thinking this could go to London.
We just shot a promo video for the show which will probably be edited in the next month, and then Suanne, has already set up meetings in London and there’s talks of us going to Cape Town and Grahamstown which is not confirmed yet but we’re pushing for it. It’s going to happen. The show will have legs. With Suanne on the other side having the connections, she is going to drive it. And Maralin our director on this side, the two of them will be driving this project from both sides of the globe.San Francisco festival has shown an interest in the show. We’ll send it to all the places and stuff overseas to the festivals and sees who bites. The subject matter is still relevant. It’s not a South African story per se. It’s a human story. It’s very relevant, it doesn’t matter where it is in the world. There’s definitely room for it overseas and it will intrigue people. I believe this show will travel.
How has it been attended?
I think it’s been very well attended for the kind of show it is. Being in Sandton it’s a different market. I think we would have attracted different audiences if we were at the Market Theatre for example but regardless of venue and what kind of audience member we had the response that we’ve got from the show is universal. It doesn’t matter who or what race you’re from, everybody feels basically exactly the same after they’ve seen the show. Regardless if they loved it or not. There are some people that have gone through something similar to that but they haven’t had solutions. And then this gives them hope. So regardless of what your opinion is at the end of the show it leaves an impression. That’s what theatre is supposed to do. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, the audience responses will be the same. It’s something that needs to be told. It happens all over.
I saw Suanne tweeted she will feel bereft after it’s over. Well hopefully it isn’t over.
I don’t think it’s over, but also it’s quite strange, certain shows you can do for a couple of months. A show like this, you can’t really do a longer run than a month, month and a half. We’ve been doing the show for a month, but we’ve had a five week rehearsal. I think it’s a good thing, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that we’ll stop for a while because I know Suanne is emotionally drained after every show and after such a long run you need a break. But we all feel, we hope this is not the last time. We still want to do the show again. We know we can make the product better, we know what works and what doesn’t work because it’s a new play. We will and can make the product better. This is the first draft. We don’t have the luxury to go and have previews at little small towns before you have a proper opening in Joburg but we can at least for Cape Town if we are going to do it take experiences and tweak. Regardless the product, the fact that people still walk away riveted and emotional, it means something to them, the story still is being told.
The theatre itself was so good, I guess it was kind of minimalistic but the whole thing was seamless for me and the setting was perfect. I guess roles like Liefling are going to be less stressful.
I can’t play a worse role than this. Unless I play the devil himself. I think this is the defining sort of bad guy.
What’s up directly after this for you? I know you’ve got Liefling, Ballade vir ‘n Enkeling.
The next thing that I’m starting to shoot Ballade next week. I’m doing that then I’m doing a corporate gig for Namibia and then I’m doing Liefling where I’m doing the role of Kobus, one of the romantic leads. In Ballade it’s Gavin Greeff. It’s a movie after the series in the 90s. I’m playing the new version. Leon van Nierop was the original writer for the series and he wrote a book as well and he rereleased the book on Tuesday and he is also the writer for the movie. So it was his brainchild from the 80s and he’s redone everything. The original writer has written the movie and the book. That’s cool having the original guy involved in the movie. It’s also weird seeing the original guy who played my role and what they went for now. Because I look extremely different to that guy. The character in the movie is the director of a gossip magazine called Montage. He’s quite high up, dresses very smartly very suave. Also a manipulator. Likes to be in charge, powerful.
And in the 90s, it’s this guy with a mullet and leather jacket. It will be released 24th March and Liefling starts 11 December at Montecasino.
You can follow Zak on Twitter at @zakhendrikz and you can buy a copy of the book I Have Life here.
You can sign the official petition to keep the attackers behind bars here