Erica Wessels on ‘Good Life’

Good Life is the story of brokenhearted 30-something and oral hygienist, Olive Papadopoulous, who escapes everything she knows in Cape Town for small town life in Greece. When she discovers the remnants of her family home, Olive’s hostile and miserable welcoming committee force her to endure the great outdoors when she’s turned down at the only hotel in the village.

Produced and directed by Bonnie Rodini (Story of an African Farm), this comedy drama romance stars Erica Wessels, Robyn Scott, Leon Clingman, Sven Ruygrok and Nicky Rebelo. Wessels is best known for Alles Wat Mal Is, The Harvesters, Hatchet Hour and I Am All Girls.

A charming, grounded and dependable actor, she’s built her reputation on many strong performances over the years. While a career-defining performance still seems to be on the horizon with her role as Helena Joubert serving as a placeholder, Wessels continues to gain traction with audiences and respect from collaborators and peers.

How did you come to hear of Good Life and did you have to audition?

Bonnie and I did the pilot more than a decade ago. When she contacted me during hard lockdown that she was planning to finally shoot the film I was convinced I wasn’t right for the part anymore. I was now a mother of a 9 month old baby and exhausted. Bonnie was deliciously persistent I finally gave in! And I’m so glad I did! It was really important for me to work again after becoming a mother and in the midst of the crazy Covid pandemic.

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What drew you to the character of Olive and do you think you’d pursue a similar solo adventure if you had the chance?

Olive is funny and a total romantic! A bit of an oddball yet wonderfully honest. She felt close to who I am and I could relate to her story of trying to find love.

The tourist in Greece story echoes movies like Shirley Valentine and series like The Durrells. Did you watch any films or read any books and how did you prepare for the undertaking?

I didn’t read any specific books for this particular undertaking. I think it was the type of story and script that required authenticity and something fresh.

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Good Life was shot during the pandemic. Was it always set to take place in South Africa and your character goes through quite an ordeal – what were some of the challenges?

I think Bonnie wanted to shoot the film in Greece at some point but financially it wasn’t viable. The set and art designer Birrie le Roux did a phenomenal job in created a very real Greek look and feel! She definitely had the biggest challenge of us all in that regard. As actors what was most tricky was pretending that it was a hot Mediterranean summer while in actual fact it was mid Cape Town Winter and absolutely freezing.

Cast and crew also worked with an extremely small budget and all worked pretty much for free in the hope of what it could become. It was sometimes challenging to remind ourselves of the vision we had when things got tough on set.

Olive is a heartbroken dental hygienist… where did you find common ground with the character and did you do or find anything useful in getting into character?

I could genuinely relate to the heartbroken Olive trying to find ‘her match’. In my twenties and a big part of my thirties I went on the same journey! No regrets and it was all fantastic, but yeah, lets just say I could relate.

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Have you been to Greece before and do you have any connections besides this role?

We are planning a trip this year! Can’t wait!

What was your best memory from Good Life?

The relationships built. Friends made. Moments of laughter and frustration shared. What I love about film the most; is the idea that it is this absolute collaboration! With all of these people which are really, really great at their own department. I love the rich dance that takes place on set when all of these things come together! It is utterly satisfying and very unique!

Do you watch your films after the fact and if so, what surprised you most about the final cut?

Mmmm this is a tricky question. We mostly have to because of premieres that we have to attend. But I don’t find it easy. Its hard for me to watch myself. In terms of Good Life, what surprised me the most was that I cried! I got emotionally involved and even though it’s a simple story and I knew the story, I was moved!

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How did you find working with Bonnie on this film and how would you describe your working relationship?

I’ve known Bonnie for many years and I would call us friends and colleagues! I respect her tremendously for taking on this longtime dream of hers during the most challenging of circumstances and actually doing it! Very few of us can say the same. With the smallest of budgets we created something special.

You play opposite some small town oddballs, which character was your favourite besides Olive and what was the atmosphere like on set?

I loved Nicky Rebelo’s character! But honestly it was just a team of fabulous actors!

What’s next for Erica Wessels?

I am busy shooting a thriller series for Showmax in which I am the lead.