Danielle Goodall makes her feature film debut in Dust. A new talent in the film world with theatre and TV experience, she plays Elma in slow-burning crime drama thriller, Dust. The dystopian film, set to close the Durban International Film Festival, follows the story of a young woman whose family find asylum at an isolated farm. Goodall stars alongside Shana Mans, Michelle Bradshaw, Kaz McFadden and Gustav Gerdener. Spling took the opportunity to find out more about her debut…
Can you tell us about yourself and how you became attached to this project?
I grew up in Johannesburg, studied in Pretoria, and spent many years just dipping my toe into the acting world. My family and I all made the decision to move to Cape Town and with this transition I submerged myself completely, taking on acting full-time.
I was very fortunate to find a proactive agent. They contacted local motion pictures and I was given the opportunity to send in a self-tape audition. Well they liked what they saw and flew me back to Johannesburg to shoot the film. It was literally one of the best days of my life getting the news that I got the part of Elma. I was going to be in an actual movie!
Can you tell us a bit about Elma… did you connect with her on any level?
Elma is an incredibly strong woman even though I don’t think she even realises it. She fights to survive and not just to stay alive but to ensure her unborn child has a chance to survive and thrive. After she learned the true nature of her captors, it’s true she felt defeated, but she did the next best thing- fight for her child and her sanity in the most despairing circumstances.
Elma and I had an easy connect – grief. Elma’s entire family was murdered, taken from her in the most horrific way. Three months before being cast as Elma I lost my mother to cancer. It’s the most painful experience one can have, to lose a loved one. It becomes about navigating life without them and the hole they have left behind… Elma and I were in that same space.
This is your first role in a feature film… what were your initial or lasting impressions?
Firstly I was over the moon when I was cast in Dust! I think I had many random outbursts of excited squealing over the next few days of preparing to fly. Then finally arriving on set, after my first day of being unsure of where I should be, what I should be doing, I fell right into set life and loved it. I was on set every day, even when I wasn’t shooting, I didn’t want to miss a second of this incredible experience. I can’t wait to do it again.
How did you prepare yourself for immersing into Elma’s world?
There wasn’t actually time for much preparation too far in advance, but through reading the script and then having the table read of the script, it gave me the chance to imagine her world, her new reality, and place myself in her shoes. Getting the chance to ask questions about Elma and Pieter’s vision of her also helped me to understand her frame of mind better. Then it was about jumping in and letting Pieter’s writing take over the action and emotion, letting it become completely spontaneous in that moment.
What did you find most challenging about playing Elma?
For starters, the belly was definitely something to get used to. I did however completely embrace it and started belly-bumping everyone. Otherwise the most difficult thing for me was surrendering to Elma’s helplessness. It’s always a difficult thing when you yourself work so hard to make sure no one sees when you are feeling vulnerable and to then let yourself go completely for Elma. It was difficult, and I hope I was able to be vulnerable enough to do Elma justice.
The gritty drama has a heavy and tense atmosphere… did you feel this on set?
Definitely. As soon as the camera started rolling there was always this palpable feeling in the room. Then Pieter calls cut and we’re all smiles and jokes again. Set was light yet busy and focused with everyone working so hard to prepare for each scene.
Was there an extra effort to protect actors on set in light of the film’s subject matter and #MeToo movement?
Pieter is an incredible director, if there was a sensitive scene being shot he was very mindful to check in with actors making sure we felt comfortable, and there was never an audience. He made sure we understood that we could voice any concerns and they would be acted on. Our producer and project manager were also always on hand checking in with everyone just in the general sense. It was a great environment to be working in.
Dust grapples with toxic masculinity and examines modern feminism… has being involved in the production shaped your perceptions?
I would say the film has opened my perceptions rather than shaped. I find this subject very difficult to talk about because there are so many sides and influences as to why the way things are now. To start peeling back the layers is a far more in-depth conversation, nevertheless, men and women are at odds and the status quo needs to change so that we all feel safe without needing a protector.
What was your favourite memory from shooting Dust?
I have a lot of amazing memories, but I have two favourites. I sat in a chair for nearly 2 hours getting scars applied to my back and I just loved the whole process and the end result was beautiful… gory but beautiful. Really gives one so much appreciation for set make-up and prosthetics and the amount of work that goes into it.
My other favourite memory is getting to shoot some blanks out of a Glock handgun! I felt bad ass. Super hard core. It was a lot fun and a highlight for me as it’s something completely unusual and out of the norm for me to do. That’s why I love this job, you get to do things on set you might have never even thought of doing on any other day.
Did you get any advice from fellow cast or crew that stuck with you?
I got a lot of advice throughout shooting, small tidbits here and there that I’d like to think just got absorbed. It’s not the advice that stands out for me though, it’s what I observed. My fellow cast members all have such a strong sense of how they take on each scene, each moment with so much focus and deliver such stunning performances. It inspires me to do better and be better every time.
The pandemic has been a massive shake up… how has it affected you and what’s next on the horizon?
Well it’s been an absolute drought when it comes to auditions and work which has been very difficult, savings only go so far. I am very fortunate to have such an incredibly loving and supportive family who are giving me a helping hand until I can get on my feet again.
The pandemic has given me a lot time to reflect on what my next step should be, it’s not an easy time but it’s the best time to make those big changes and leaps that perhaps I would not have considered before. While I’m still mulling it all over I want to get more creative in smaller projects, start expanding and discovering more about my craft and my industry.