Schelaine Bennett chats about “Lockdown Heights” on IGTV

Born and raised in The Mother City and then to Bo-Kaap, Montana, Heideveld, and Pinelands, Schelaine grew up having a colourful childhood and a passion for the arts. Schelaine Julia Bennett first hit SA TV screens as a presenter. Followed by becoming one of the original cast members on the SABC 2’s live youth show, Hectic Nine 9. The versatile actress and dancer has since had a remarkable career; acting in numerous local and international films & TV series such as Love on Safari (Hallmark USA) Saints & Sinners Season 1-3 (Mzansi Magic), Ingoma (Mzansi Magic), Gold Diggers S2 (Etv) and Knapsekêrels (Kyknet).

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Schelaine Bennett
[Credit: Darcell Kopman]

Her credits include roles such as Zoë Phillips in Generations: The Legacy (SABC 1) and Claudette Roberts in Isidingo: The Need (SABC 3). Her current international project includes portraying Eve in Amazon Prime’s Good Omens. Her upcoming project includes the highly anticipated Red Sea Diving Resort. She plays Leah Frost alongside Chris Evans, Greg Kinnear, Sir Ben Kingsley, and Michel Huisman. She often put on shows at home and thoroughly enjoyed dance lessons from a very, very young age. She also fell in love with Musical Theatre & Drama and attended the Waterfront Theatre School where she studied the three disciplines at tertiary level.

“I started doing TV commercials when I was about 18 years old, and as much as I loved theatre, the energy on TV sets made me hungry for more, and that’s when I really pursued a career in TV and film.”

Schelaine Bennett performed with versatility in music videos local, and international TV commercials. She worked alongside Jamie Foxx and Natasha Beddingfield. She even had the privilege of being back up dancer to MC Hammer. Her desire to work on more local TV/Film productions motivated her move to the City of Gold. “We have amazing stories to tell in this country and I want to be part of telling them!”

Her future plans include traveling, working abroad, AND stepping behind the scenes to produce and direct some of the local, compelling stories. “The South African entertainment industry is so vibrant and I want to contribute to the exciting growth and positive changes in the industry.” “The production value of our feature films and certain TV shows are outstanding. The stories being told are necessary and a lot more relatable to our audiences. A lot more of my peers are working on quality projects and that is inspiring. We are chasing our dreams as creatives and seeing the fruits of our labour.”

On her favourite acting experiences to date, Schelaine Bennett says playing both Claudette Roberts (Isidingo) & Jill Breytenbach (Gold Diggers) was quite an adventure. “Claudette challenged me, my growth as an artist and woman has been beautiful” then on playing Jill – “Apart from playing all kinds of emotions and bringing the layers of the character to life, I got to play with guns, set things alight and do my own stunts with big strong men! I love the action stuff!” she enthuses. Then there was working alongside Chris Evans and Greg Kinnear in Red Sea Diving Resort… words cannot explain the excitement and level at which we worked on that set.

Inspired by women such as Meryl Streep, Shonda Rhimes, Viola Davis, and locally Renate Stuurman and Denise Newman, Schelaine Bennett aims to be a role model for other young aspiring actors. “We’re still fighting the race battle, the stereotypes when we box each individual… I won’t be boxed. I hope to play the sort of roles that show women to be strong, true to themselves, brave, vulnerable, respectful, respected and comfortable in their skin”  “We need to encourage the next generation to love themselves more and to understand that hard work pays off”

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Schelaine Bennett [Credit: Darcell Kopman]

“My advice to young women who want to pursue a career in the industry is to respect your craft enough to be educated in it. In the age of social media and instant gratification, almost anyone can be considered an ‘actor’ and deliver dialogue on screen, but an actor portrays her role understanding every aspect of her character and the story that she’s telling.” “I love my job & am blessed that I get to wake up and play dress up every day”


Welcome to TV Series Hub, please introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi! I am Schelaine Julia Bennett, a South African Actress born and bred in Cape Town, but living and working wherever the wind blows me. ☺ I grew up dancing, doing musical theatre and drama, and danced professionally for many years before focusing on acting.

When you mention acting is the next step, what do you mean by that?

I studied all three disciplines – dance, musical theatre, and drama. Dance was always my first love because I had done it my entire life, then I got to a point where I wanted a different challenge. I did many international commercials in Cape Town and these served as little acting jobs and I wanted to do more of that. So I started gearing my focus towards the acting side of things and bowing out of the dance industry and here I am, a few years later.

How did you get a break into the industry?

My first notable ‘break into the industry’ was as one of the first presenters of the Live, teen’s magazine show – Hectic Nine 9. I spent two years with the show before heading abroad to dance in a Broadway-styled show. I then came back to SA, tried my best to make a living as a performer in Cape Town. After three years of trying, I decided to move to Johannesburg… which proved to be the best move! I landed a role in Mzanzi Magic’s Saint & Sinners and the rest, as they say, is History.

You have also been on “Generations: The Legacy,” it is like a rite of passage for South Africans?

Yeah, it definitely is. I had such a wonderful time working on the show.

Other roles you have had in international productions are Good Omens (2019) and The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019). How do you land the roles?

I was lucky enough to be called to audition for both projects.
The Good Omens audition was so much fun, we literally played out crazy scenarios, like in an improv class and that was it. I laughed so much when I received the call to confirm that I had booked the role of EVE… the filming process was even more fun!

Then with The Red Sea Diving Resort, I did the audition and forgot about it… as I try to do with most auditions so I don’t overthink any of them.
Little did I know the magnitude of the film… I only found out more about the principal cast, the movie etc when I landed in Windhoek airport and almost lost my mind – Chris Evans, Gregg Kinnear, and Sir Ben Kinsley. Red Sea was a fantastic experience, I really pray to be part of more international projects.

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Schelaine Bennett
[Credit: Darcell Kopman]

Moving on to COVID-19, How did it affect your career personally?

It definitely interfered with all my travel plans☹, but more importantly, it’s pulled me and all other artists from any paying work…soo many projects have been put on hold. It’s affected the industry as a whole and is putting artists under a lot of strain to try and survive without their normal income. That being said, it has allowed for me to be more creative and explore art in many other ways.

How are you dealing with it, do you have any coping mechanisms?

I have had moments of mild panic- I am at my parents’ house, I am based in Johannesburg but I happened to be in Cape Town when the lockdown started, my gran and her sister live with my parents. For me, initially, I was very nervous for them and also for my dad because his health hasn’t been amazing. I bought everyone hand sanitizers, anti-bacterial hand wipes and I think I made everyone wash their hands a gazillion times every day. I have relaxed into it now but I am very vigilant with the elder two. I think I went from mild panic, being a little overwhelmed to choosing to be hopeful and positive because I do think we need a lot of positivity & information to be spread at this time. So I’m being more positive and encouraging people to stay at home, wash their hands, smile etc.

 

Your current role, Lockdown Heights on IGTV, an amazing thing because no one is doing it. How did it begin?

The President announced the lockdown I think on Monday evening, a friend of mine, Ayanda Mckayi, messaged me on the Wednesday evening asking me if I was going to be busy during the lockdown. My immediate response was “who is going to be busy?”

He called me up the next morning, explained the concept, I was like “cool, let’s do it.”

LOCKDOWN HEIGHTS started out as a fun passion project, it exploded on social media and we gained audiences from all over Africa and other parts of the world

How does it all work? How does the engine run?

We have a fantastic writing team that churns out scripts daily. We generally have under 12 hours to get an episode ready to be viewed.
So the actors receive the script, we then either video call or make videos to communicate with whomever is in the same scene to work out location/eyeline, make sure our lighting matches as well as it can then we go off to film our individual scenes. Everyone the sends their scenes to our phenomenal editor (who also happens to be one of the actors) and he pieces the puzzle together and then uploads it onto IGTV and Facebook.

Amazing! So what is “Lockdown Heights”?

It’s an online show on IGTV and Facebook, it is about a group of individuals who live in an apartment block and it’s basically their experiences during the lockdown. These experiences are filled with all kinds of drama, scandal and intrigue! Definitely not a boring time during lockdown.

What role do you play in it?

I play the role of Tamara, we have a brother and sister combo, and her brother, Damian, lives in the apartment block. Tamara decided to come back to South Africa the minute she heard there was this global lockdown happening. Damian had his own plans for lockdown and then Tamara arrived “hey I am here,” it threw a spanner in the works for him. Tamara is free-spirited and all over the place, but also quite deep. We eventually discover that Tamara had a love affair with one of Damians’ best friends who lives in this apartment block. And a deep dark secret that they had been keeping for years.

Everyone is having a challenge balancing work and home life? How do you switch on and off?

A weird thing for me-especially filming LOCKDOWN HEIGHTS at home, is that I am not on a set per se, I am so used to wake up at 4.30 am and getting ready to shoot for 4 to 12 hours depending on the day. So, I sometimes need to remind myself that it is not working time, that I can relax and be a human being. I need to consciously create balance. I am so passionate about the project and the industry as a whole, and constantly need to remind myself to do other things that I enjoy like cooking, painting?

I am assuming that since the lockdown got extended, Lockdown Heights got renewed?

Actually we are about to start filming promos as we are starting our second season as of tomorrow evening.

What is going to happen in the 2nd season without spoilers?

Unfortunately, we are losing one of our lead characters because he has to focus on some other work, but we are bringing in some amazing actors. One of my ultimate favourite South African actresses is joining the cast, I am so excited, she is phenomenal and she is one of the greatest teachers when it comes to the craft as well. A lot of scandals are developing, a lot of exciting storylines. Our writing team is very creative and have loads in store.

Have you thought about putting this on Youtube? What about pitching it to networks to (hopefully) make it a series in South Africa?

We are constantly speaking to networks and other platforms with regards to collaborating. We have been approached by one or two different platforms to possibly have the show on their site – it is just a matter of us finding the right one that works for us and the show.

The benefit of lockdown and coronavirus is that people have time and more creativity is coming out.

Totally, and we are forced to challenge what we normally do as performers to create. I do think it is very important for us, in the industry in general, to start creating. No one really knows what the next 6 months to the next few years hold for the entertainment industry.

What advice would you give to others who are also affected by this in South Africa?

I am aware of the fact that this period of time is very different for everyone and different people are going to need to do different things. I completely respect the fact that some people want to spend their time binge watching series for the duration of the lockdown – and that is totally fine. I try to squeeze in an episode or two of whatever I can when I can, but for those who want to push work and growth, I do think it is vital for us to start creating. Often we rely on broadcasters or someone else to hand us work, whereas now, we have so much time – so write, record performances, collaborate online with other artists, create! I think it’s time to explore different avenues of performance and growth.

Why should people tune into “Lockdown Heights”? I mean at 8 pm you go out to your balcony and celebrate and salute the essential workers, and at 8.30 pm “Lockdown Heights” airs. Why should people watch it?

It’s important to support local – number one. We are telling great stories – number two. We are working with some phenomenal talent – number three. And also it’s a good form of escapism which I guess any TV show generally is and it is a relevant form of escapism because these people are in a lockdown experience – so it is relatable which is great. And because they must just watch!

Your latest movie is Monster Hunter, how would you describe the movie? What role do you play?

It’s based on the very popular action video game. It’s fantastical, action-packed and very entertaining. I play the communications officer that guides the team from the air (plane).

Having had experience in international productions already, what other shows are you hoping to be on?

Ultimately, I’d love to work on any international show. Definite favourites – Grey’s Anatomy, This is Us, Insecure, Killing Eve…. the list is endless.

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Schelaine Bennett [Credit: Darcell Kopman]

Where do you see yourself in the next few years?

I definitely want to be playing on the international field a lot more and find myself working and living abroad and locally. I’d also like to pursue the avenue of directing and get in as much travel in as possible when I have free time.

What do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?

I eat a lot, which I am trying to watch. Yesterday, I rediscovered my love for painting, so I did one complete painting. I started another one, I do enjoy reading and watching series and movies, especially watching series and movies – I love that, I guess it is my work. I watch to be entertained, to learn and to be inspired. And cooking, but when I cook, I eat so need to watch 😉

Anything else you want to say before we end?

Basically, just want to send out a message of positivity, love and light and encourage everyone to just be mindful of those around them. Stay at home, wash your hands and stay safe. We’ll get through this together. x


You can catch Lockdown Heights every night on IGTV at @lockdown_heights_sa


Connect with Schelaine Bennett on social media:

Twitter: @Schelaine

Instagram: @schelainebennett

Facebook: @SchelaineB