Born in Pretoria, Reine Swart is an actor and filmmaker best known for her work in the horror genre. She’s starred in Z Nation, Triggered and The Lullaby (aka Siembamba) and directed feature film debut Hex.
Starting her acting career at an early age as Nadine in TV series, Villa Rosa, things kicked up a notch for Swart in 2012 and she hasn’t looked back. Her iconic lead role in the horror thriller, The Lullaby, sees her playing a young mother struggling with postpartum depression. A change of hair colour separates this performance from many of her other appearances. Yet, the simple change signals a breakthrough performance for the actor who is almost unrecognisable in this visceral and unsettling psychodrama from Darrell Roodt.
Spling decided to revisit Swart’s AAMA and SAFTA-nominated performance to find what went into crafting such a passionate and psychotic performance as Chloe…
How did you prepare for the role of Chloe van Heerden?
Chloe was a fascinating character to portray and I really wanted to understand her condition. I did a lot of research on postpartum psychosis. Any article or paragraph from a book that assisted me in understanding how I needed to play her, I printed out and added to a personalized “Chloe” file. I matched specific scenes with real-life occurrences that were similar in order to
play Chloe as best I could.
Being a psychological thriller and focusing on intense emotion, was this a draining experience and what coping mechanisms helped you get through the darkness of the performance?
It was draining and exhilarating at the same time. I really enjoyed playing Chloe, even though at the end of the shoot days I was exhausted. Coping mechanisms would include trying to switch off and forget about her for a moment, even though that’s easier said than done. It’s great to read or watch something that helps you relax between shoots.
What is your process? Do you just slip into character or is there a specific way you access your characters?
I honestly approach each character I do differently. I kind of just go with the flow, but I always make sure I’m well-prepared beforehand, because each director, story and cast member is unique. For me it’s always important to know my lines very well and to be flexible on set, because sometimes the director wants the opposite of what you did and that’s a really fun part, to play around with scenes. I try to “know” my characters well and find ways to make what someone else is envisioning come to life. Generally, before a scene I don’t like to chat to people too much, I just want “peace and quiet”, a time to focus and to be ready once the camera starts rolling.
Postpartum depression is a big subject, which is explored through the horror genre in The Lullaby… was it daunting signing on for this role? What were some of your concerns?
Yes it was absolutely daunting. In South Africa, horror films aren’t that well supported and people are outspoken about how “evil” these films are. So yes I was a little concerned of what some locals would say about the film, but in the end I really like watching horror films and oh man was it fun shooting it. Trying to care what other people think is more exhausting than playing your heart out in a film.
I matured a little and just simply gave it my all. Also the fact that an innocent baby’s life was in danger throughout the whole film, was alarming and unsettling… I don’t like it when children or animals get hurt in films. Thinking back, there were a couple of things that were concerning, but after I started doing research on postpartum psychosis, I was like “I need to tell this story, we cannot judge something we don’t understand”.
There are some dark and disturbing scenes in this film… which one was the most challenging and did anything stay with you?
I didn’t like cutting off the baby’s (aka doll) finger in the film, even if it was just a hallucination of Chloe’s. The idea that someone so fragile can’t fight back is heartbreaking. I’m not sure if it was the most challenging scene, but that one comes to mind first. Then the scene where Chloe kills her mother was a difficult one too.
Were you able to identify with Chloe? Where did you find commonality?
At that moment in my life, no. Now that I have a toddler, yes. To play Chloe, I had to dig deep, research and talk to a lot of mothers. Those first few weeks as a new mother are extremely challenging in many ways. Sleep deprivation is quite intense and you’re so tired some days that you can’t fully focus, but nonetheless having read tons about postpartum psychosis and postpartum depression, I wasn’t afraid to ask for help to try and take a quick nap here and there.
What was it like working with Darrell Roodt? Did he do anything to help you bring out or frame the character of Chloe?
Darrell is a legend and needs no introduction. I was so honoured to work with him and it was insanely wonderful to learn from him. He’s a mad genius who has this incredible natural instinct for storytelling. He did help a lot and worked well with all the cast and crew. He truly has a brilliant mind.
The part required you to have dark hair, did this alteration help you transition – what did the make up department focus on in getting Chloe’s look just right?
It was a lot of fun to colour my hair and transform into Chloe. Mary-Sue was the head make-up artist and she is very talented. Dark circles under the eyes, pale skin… it most definitely helped.
Now that you’ve experienced bringing a child into the world, did anything suddenly make more sense in relation to your character and performance?
What Chloe experienced and felt makes more sense to me now, since having my own child. She didn’t have the love and support that I had, which is devastating to think about as there are other mothers out there in the real world like her. It’s an immense responsibility to have a baby and without proper support, a woman can most definitely break.
The performance resonates as it is… if you could play the part all over again, would you change anything?
I wish there were a few beautiful scenes in between, to show the audience that in fact Chloe wasn’t always psychotic, that she is someone with her own hopes and dreams, although life hasn’t been kind to her. I could have found those moments myself in some scenes and that would be the only thing I would change.
You were nominated for an AMAA and SAFTA based on this all-in performance, has The Lullaby served as a calling card to other roles?
It’s opened up wonderful doors in the world of genre films. Yes, I think and I might be mistaken, that I got roles in the films, Triggered and The Refuge, because of The Lullaby. Which I am grateful for.
The horror seems to have fared better with critics than general audiences, what are your thoughts on this?
I’m not surprised, it could be a difficult film to watch for some in many ways. I think critics appreciate what Darrell and his team accomplished on such a low budget.
I’ve noticed you’ve performed in several horror films and even directed one. What about the genre fascinates you most?
If films were a theme park, horror films would be the most terrifying and exciting roller-coaster rides you can take. I love to be surprised with a jump scare, intrigued by mystery and to be taken away from reality for an hour or two.
Is there a particular role you’d love to tackle and feel perfectly suited to playing?
I’d be delighted to play more villains in productions and in more fantasy productions. Oh and how I would love to play a character like Brigitte Silverbow in an epic series like The Wheel of Time.