We couldn’t get enough of the brilliant local TV series, The Girl from St Agnes – a proud Showmax original. With loads of twists and turns, and excellent performances by the largely female cast, the series is a 2019 must-watch. It tracks the tale of a Midlands schoolgirl, Lexi, who dies under very mysterious circumstances, and whose death sparks a search for the truth.
We caught up with the cast to find out more about their experiences on the series.
Jane de Wet plays the lead schoolgirl, Lexi. Nina Milner plays drama teacher, Kate and Tessa Jubber plays schoolboy mother, Philippa.
Here’s what the three women had to say…
Q: Tell us a bit about your characters and why you were drawn to the series?
Jane: Lexi is a vivacious, confident and popular 17-year-old girl, not unacquainted with the art of manipulation. She knows how to work any audience, irrespective of their age and status. She’s smart and fierce; hungry for adventure and life experience. But, despite her tough exterior, she feels deeply and, much like any teenager, grapples with her own identity.
Nina: Kate is the drama teacher who doesn’t believe Lexi’s death was an accident. I wanted the role as soon as I read in my character synopsis that I’d be solving a murder. I’ve always loved detective stories and so does my family – I grew up on sleuth stories. Years ago, I even made myself an Agatha Christie sweatsuit just to be on Team Agatha for life. I considered getting her signature tattooed a few times! So playing Kate made so much sense – just for the surreal humour in being bale to engage my family’s favourite genre in this way. Me, solving a murder. It wasn’t something I ever even dared to want.
Tessa: It’s the concept of the alpha mom in a community. We all know her; what edges her into that role? And the idea of the golden child who can do no wrong. These are the things that grabbed me about playing Philippa Clayton, as well as getting to work with power directing team Catharine Cooke and Cindy Lee. It’s not so much me choosing the role as them agreeing to cast me. I’m really happy they did!
Q: What was the atmosphere like on set? Was it quite dark and intense, or did all the girls have fun and become like a family?
Tessa: There was tight focus. At the first publicity shoot, while we were waiting for our character portraits to be taken, everyone was absorbed in their scripts, doing preparation work. And that level of commitment lasted the full two months of filming. For the first half of the shoot, in Ixopo, we were working, living, eating in one place and I think this boosted the on-screen dynamics, especially among the younger actors, the school kids. They hung out a lot and it looked like things got quite intense at times. For me, being away from home was helpful as I could focus on the work. It was a little harder in the second month, back in Joburg, making sandwiches and ballet buns for my own kids in-between days on set.
Nina: It was definitely serious at times. This was the first acting assignment that I had to take this amount of responsibility for, psychologically and professionally. It’s a big, complex role. I was so nervous and so insecure for the first half of the production. But the friendships I formed with the crew and my fellow cast members were enormous, radiant highlights.
Jane: The atmosphere in Joburg was distinctly different to that in Ixopo. After leaving set in Joburg, the actors went back to their respective homes where they could “shake off” the day’s work and bring a fresh energy the next day. It meant we got to know each other not only as characters, but as people, each day becoming more and more familiar and familial. In Ixopo, however, the boundary between set and home life was vague and ambiguous. We couldn’t get away from the physical setting for three weeks, so we couldn’t get away from our characters’ worlds. Tangled up in a dark tale, the atmosphere became intense and, at times, quite dismal. Yet, I believe that it was exactly the challenge of remaining positive and sane under these conditions that brought us even closer in the end.
Q: How does it feel to be in this South African Showmax original?
Jane: It’s such an honour! The absence of a solid platform for English-speaking SA actors to tell stories and create art locally means there’s so much talent that remains under-utilised and unrecognised. I am so aware of the fact that this is ground-breaking work; that we are pioneering a new route and formula for SA television. It’s exciting!
Tessa: It’s a ten-year highlight for me. And it feels good that people I know are watching the show. It’s hard to have the conversation where you tell someone you’re an actor and then try and come up with something they may have seen you in. Argh. So this is a relief. If someone hasn’t seen the show, they’ve probably heard of it.
Nina: I hope we took a worthwhile step for the industry in SA and I’d love to be part of helping our productions reach new heights in the future.
Q: What are some of your highlight moments from the show? Either behind the scenes, or in the series itself.
Tessa: It was early on, one of our first nights in Ixopo. We’d shot most of the Valentine’s Ball and it was about 4am and we moved onto a scene between my character and Lexi. It was a scene with a lot of motion and switching of positions, and we ended up in a kind of fine dance with the production director and the assistant cameraman – all swirling around each other playing the scene, crafting the shot, and keeping the picture sharp. That’s the kind of organic film magic I love. It was also quite cool when the school boys started singing “Jason’s mom has got it going on” between takes one day.
Jane: The shoot was one big highlight of my career. Becoming a functional little family unit with my fellow Capetonian actors (Nina, Ty [Keogh], Tristan [de Beer] and Karl [Thaning]) was definitely a major highlight. Sharing a living environment gave me the chance to learn from their acting approaches and methods and life experiences. We had so many good times together.
Q: What do you want audiences to take from the series?
Tessa: A reminder to stay awake. Examine your motives. Love your children.
Jane: The Girl From St Agnes is first and foremost a mystery drama, designed to grip and entertain! I wish for audiences to immerse themselves in the story, developing empathetic relationships with the characters. I want them to be a part of Lexi’s world, to experience her life. As a by-product of their immersion in a dark, yet realistic tale, I want people to think about the topics and issues that are addressed throughout – sexual fluidity, racism, toxic masculinity, homophobia, stereotyping… These are all very relevant and relatable issues in our society that we ought to talk about. I hope The Girl From St Agnes will initiate dialogue of this nature among audiences.
Watch the trailer here:
By Features Editor Stephanie van der Plank