Shana Mans is an up-and-coming South African actress, best known for playing Izette in the local TV series drama, Suidooster. Her first feature film leading role finds her playing Rachel in Dust a slow-burning crime drama thriller. The dystopian film is directed by Pieter du Plessis and will be closing the Durban International Film Festival. Spling caught up with Shana to find out more…
How did you come to be involved in Dust?
The old fashioned way. I auditioned for Dust in March 2019 and didn’t hear back until late August. (Less than a week before we started shooting!) I had already dismissed the idea of booking this film by the time I got the call, so it was a great surprise.
Can you tell us a bit about Rachel… and did you resonate with her on any level?
Rachel is a fighter. She has a strong heart and knows what is right. When I read the script, I immediately felt a connection with her. Her need to protect Isaac resonated with me especially, because I am an older sister too. It’s an inescapable feeling, the need to protect your siblings. You’ll do anything to keep them safe.
What do you feel you brought to the part?
I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m hoping I brought sincerity to the part. If you are affected by
Rachel, I got that right.
This is your first leading role in a feature film… what were your initial or lasting impressions?
I love this saying: “ask for what you want, and be ready to receive it”. When I booked Dust, I had no idea if I was ready to handle it. The schedule, the intensity… it was tough, but we made it. I’m so lucky to have Dust as my first feature. Not many first features get to have the power team that
Dust had. I’m so happy it’s getting the spotlight it deserves.
How did you prepare yourself for immersing into Rachel’s world?
I read the script for the first time four days before shoot day 1. It was a whirlwind of getting to my hairdresser to go brunette, packing to fly to Johannesburg, a fitting, meet and greets and table reads. I decided to know Rachel’s story and to know my schedule. From there I took it day by day, the way that Rachel does in the story. I figured it out just like she did.
What did you find most challenging about playing Rachel?
One thing that was difficult to keep in mind whilst on set, was to not seem too familiar with the other characters. I had such a good energy with the rest of the cast and we had a very light atmosphere on set. Rachel is quite cautious, so that was challenging at times, to keep that estranged feeling towards the rest of the cast.
The gritty drama has a heavy and tense atmosphere… did you feel this on set?
Not at all. I think because the scenes were so heavy, we needed the relief off-screen. Kaz (Caleb) is a funny guy, he is always full of jokes and kept the atmosphere very light behind the scenes. I really appreciated that. We also had young Christian (Isaac) on set a lot, so we really tried to make it an enjoyable experience for him. When the camera was rolling, though, the intensity was tangible.
Was there an extra effort to protect actors on set in light of the film’s subject matter and #MeToo
We had a very small, endearing crew. Our production manager, Christianne, checked in with me all the time. She really looked after me. I had a few stunt scenes and a few revealing scenes… and she would come to me and ask me how I’m feeling and how she could make me comfortable. The cast and crew were professional and respectful. I felt safe and looked after every step of the way.
Dust grapples with toxic masculinity and examines modern feminism… was it daunting gearing up for this role? Where do you think Rachel fits in?
I have always felt very strongly about gender equality. When I read Dust for the first time, I saw Rachel as a strong young woman who knows she is worth as much as any man. Above it all, she is a survivor, a fighter. It was especially empowering to play this role in these times. It’s simple. We need to tell stories like this.
What was your favourite memory from shooting Dust?
I was just so excited to be on set every day, to be pushed emotionally and physically. I did my own stunts and loved it! Tough question, I really can’t play favorites here.
The pandemic has been a massive shake up… how has it affected you and what’s next on the horizon?
The pandemic has been a roller-coaster of emotions. One day you’re asking “What am I doing with my life!?”, and the next day you think “I can use this time!”. I learned that these feelings are normal and used the time to practice to slow down my thoughts and put my energy into things and thoughts that strengthen me. To be ready when my next opportunity arrives, whatever that might be.
I’m not sure what is next for me, but I can tell you this: I’m ready!