Given the chance to interview the incomparable Kim Engelbrecht, I did not pause for a second, disregarding any work commitments I might have had that day. Frankly, I would have taken a sick day or fabricated an excuse just to ensure that this extraordinary moment happened.
At that moment, I must confess, I found myself in awe while seated next to a woman whose career has consistently ascended since her debut on South African television screens as a presenter on the local youth programme Take 5 in the 1990s.
Hailing from Belhar, a historically disadvantaged coloured community in Cape Town, Kim conquered the hurdles posed by prevalent social issues, channelling her focus into other pursuits, “I think I was intensely supported and there were a lot of things for us to do. We would go to the library, walk everywhere – swimming, squash practice. So, you would involve yourself in all these sorts of sports things and that is how I kept myself busy as a kid. I had a great childhood. I think because of the way I am. I had my head in the clouds, I was floating through life.”
When questioned about the aspect she genuinely cherished most about her community, Kim confidently expressed, “I was raised and supported by my community. Your neighbours become family. You were raised with a strong sense of togetherness that is what makes communities like Belhar special, and I am proud of it. Belhar has also been a training ground for other well-known South African performers.”
Benefiting from an incredible support network that steered her path, Kim went on to engage in auditions before entering her teenage years, “I used to go for auditions, my first film was when I was 12. I saw an audition in an article that asked for someone who could act and swim. Luckily, I used to swim at UWC (the University of the Western Cape). The university was a walking distance from my house, and I also had a friend who was part of the swimming team. So, my dad took me to the audition, and we had to swim, and I won that race.”
Having secured an entry point, Kim went on to progress in her television career, featuring in other noteworthy shows, “I was doing a kiddies show on eTV called Craz-E. I even auditioned for Backstage because it was a great show to be on at that time.”
However, her most significant portrayal as ‘Lolly’ in the renowned soap opera, Isidingo, solidified Kim’s reputation as one of the finest talents in the South African acting realm, “I was on Isidingo for 12 years. But I also did other things as well. You know how it is when you act, you do other things as well. I was doing theatre while I was on Isidingo. I also got to go to the United States while I was on Isidingo, and I came back.”
Since then, she has garnered widespread acclaim as one of the nation’s most experienced and dependable performers. When questioned about her approach to selecting projects and the associated sacrifices, Kim discloses, “I think it’s easy to choose my work because a lot of things come my way because I audition for everything and then I just see what sits with me, what resonates with me and what is similar to something I would also like to say. And, what challenges me as well and takes me out of my box and makes me uncomfortable. And I really have a cool team. I have an awesome manager that helps me and guides me when I make decisions. I have people that help me and know who I am.”
Having received two South African Film and Television Awards and a nomination for an International Emmy Award, Kim continues to thrive in the local scene, while also venturing into opportunities abroad.
In contrast to numerous South African artists who, upon engaging in international projects, frequently opt for permanent relocation abroad to concentrate on securing opportunities there, Kim has not followed suit, “I got to the point where I realised that I do a lot of work here. The same way that I can do in the U.S or Canada and in the UK as well. This industry is fleeting so you go with the flow and see what works for you. I go where the work is.”
Another characteristic of Kim that I find admirable is her complete mastery of self-tapes. For those unfamiliar with the term, self-tapes involve setting up a camera, standing, and auditioning with someone off-camera, with the resulting tape submitted for consideration. Essentially, it is an audition conducted independently. This skill allows Kim the flexibility to secure international opportunities at any time, even when she is in South Africa, showcasing her adept navigation of the system.
“I get a lot of auditions coming my way and I do a lot of self-tapes if I am out of the country. If I am around, I do one-on-one auditions. Self-tapes are an opportunity to read the text and interpret it in your own way. That gives the director an opportunity to see if you can understand texts.”
With a substantial tenure in the industry and a slew of upcoming projects, Kim eagerly anticipates the return of Season 2 of the television drama series “Reyka,” scheduled to hit screens in January 2024. A brief glimpse into the plot – In 1994, 12-year-old Reyka Gama (played by Kim) is abducted by Angus Speelman (Iain Glen) who sexually assaults her for four years. Eventually, at age 16, Reyka manages to escape, with her abductor caught and sentenced to prison. The series alternates between Reyka’s past and present.
“I think with Reyka, they gave us a lot of time to immerse ourselves in the show. The first season, we shot it for about five months and the second season, we shot it for about three months. So, I just completely immersed myself and at that time it was the only thing I was thinking about. That was the only way that I could do it. And, we were given extensive character bibliographies on the show, in terms of who the character was and their backstory.”
Discussing the distinctiveness of Season 2 in the series, Kim mentions, “It’s very different from the first season because in the first season it is set in the cane fields of KwaZulu-Natal, she (Reyka) was on the hunt for a serial killer, and you were introduced to her and her past and how Speelman controls her. With season two, she is in a new environment, and she has a new precinct. You get to meet brand new characters and it is set in the Durban harbour. I know there are a lot of shows to choose from, but I hope the viewers love this show as much as they loved Season 1.”
Kim further underscores her hope that the storyline will have a meaningful impact on communities, particularly those throughout South Africa, where abuse and sexual assault are prevalent, “This is a delicately told story of Reyka, a woman with a difficult past. Throughout the series you see her trying to overcome the demons that she carries because of someone else. I am hoping that this series makes one very aware of how deeply this kind of trauma impacts a woman and how hard it is to find oneself again.”
As she continues to showcase her remarkable talents, Kim offers valuable advice to aspiring young artists on navigating the industry and ensuring a lasting presence, “I think persistence will help you. Just keep going, do not be discouraged easily. Be like water, go with the flow and enjoy it!”
Indeed, we shall flow like water… And, reflecting on my conversation with the esteemed Kim Engelbrecht, the key lesson here is to persist and recognise that life does not always have to be overly complicated…
Reyka premieres on the 11th of January on M-Net at 20:00.