By Darren Gilbert

For those who don’t know, what is Alison all about?

This is a film about Alison Botha who was abducted by two men on 18 December 1994 in Port Elizabeth. Her ordeal with the two men only lasted 90 minutes, but the effects lasted for the rest of her life.

She was driven to the outskirts of town and raped by two men (Frans du Toit and Theuns Kruger).

They strangled her, slit her throat 17 times, slashed her abdomen and left her for dead. Miraculously, she survived. This is a film about how Alison dealt with her ordeal and how one can overcome any obstacle. It’s a tale of monsters, miracles, and hope.

You portray a sinister character in Frans du Toit. How did you prepare for such a role?

I have walked a very long journey with Alison’s story. Two years ago, I performed in a theatre production - I Have Life.

Having been in that production, I did quite a lot of research for the role of Frans. In the beginning, I had some complications understanding his motive and why he did the things he did. So I spoke to a psychologist to try and make sense of it.

After the psychologist gave me some guidelines, the novel, I Have Life, became my bible for me to build my character.

I was also fortunate enough to meet Alison in person, who gave me first-hand details of the night she was abducted. She also shed light on unanswered questions I had of her attacker. I then played Frans for almost a month on stage, and this is where my journey with Uga [Carlini], our director for the movie, started.

She saw me on stage and we spoke briefly afterwards. She then phoned me a couple of months later, offering me the same role for her film. We met up and had a long discussion about her vision, Alison, and, of course, Frans. I then realised Uga had more information about Frans than what I had. She also gave me some court transcripts to read. They really helped me mould my character to the fullest.

From reading the book, to going on stage, to acting for the big screen, it really has been a very interesting journey with this character.

Was this one of the hardest roles you’ve ever played in a film?

I think every character you will every play will have its complications. There is no such thing as an easy role. I think the hardest part in playing any role is to find the truth in that character and to play it convincingly. Getting to that truth might be rockier with some characters as with others, but a journey needs to be moulded with each of them.

In the case of playing Frans, there is definitely a sensitivity to approaching a character like this, because you know it is based on true events.

I had to go to my darker side to find his truth. For some people, even thinking about their darker side freaks them out and many will almost deny having one. But the truth of the matter is we all consist of good and bad, light and dark. We as humans just choose to embrace or deny those emotions.

My job as an actor is to go to places like that in order to find the truth of a character. This makes my job exhilarating and exciting, because it takes me to emotional planes that the ordinary person feels guilty to even think about.

I do not feel like a terrible person when embracing my darker side, because at the end of the day, I am just portraying a role.

Are you proud of this film?

I feel incredibly honoured to be part of this film. Not only has it set the bar for the South-African hybrid film, but it brings an incredible message of hope and survival.

It speaks out against rape and women abuse.

This is also not just a South-African story but a global one. To be part of something that big, one can only be humbled.

Do you have any highlights while working on Alison?

There are two moments that really stood out for me.

The first moment was my first day on set. I had just got dressed and had had my make-up done, and Christia Visser – who plays the role of Alison – was sitting in the car that I was to abduct her in. We did a rehearsal and then I was handed a knife that I had to use in order to intimidate her. I was then asked to go and stand behind a tree to wait for the director to say action.

As I was standing there, it dawned on me. I had played this scene out for over 30 performances on stage the year before, and every night I had to visualise my surrounding in order to tell the story. But in that moment, standing behind that tree, I realised I wasn’t standing behind a curtain, waiting for my cue to go on stage.

The narrow dark street, the little yellow Renault next to the church, the knife in my hand. It was a very surreal feeling to see the picture I imagined on stage for so long come to life in that moment.

The second moment was working with such an incredible team. There was so much detail, drive, and passion from every person on set. One always felt there was a sensitivity and understanding to what we were trying to achieve with this film, and that was all thanks to Uga.

She was always accommodating and compassionate. I felt comforted by her knowledge of what her vision was for this project.

Why should someone go see this film?

This is a film that tells the incredible story of one person’s survival against all odds. It is a story about one person’s darkest hour and how they chose life.

It tells of a person who inspires and motivates. It is a story of miracles and hope. If that does not move you to go and watch this film, nothing will.

Alison screens at Nu Metro Cinemas from Friday, 12 August.

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