Back in 2014 when she launched YouTube series Suzelle DIY, actor, writer and producer Julia Anastasopoulos had no idea that the success of her online show would encourage her and her husband and creative partner, Ari Kruger, to open Sketchbook Studios, a now award-winning production company.
“Growing up, I was constantly drawing and making things. I loved drama, art and music and my creative side was nurtured by my parents and teachers. I studied drama at UCT and also pursued a career in design and illustration for many years,” says Julia, who recently completed shooting Sketchbook’s mockumentary TV show, Tali’s Wedding Diary, for Showmax, which premieres in December.
We chat about her TV show, character development process and the stories she believes are worth telling.
Suzelle DIY has become a household name. Initially, did you intend on building a brand or did this happen organically?
The initial concept was more of a fun experiment than anything else. We loved the character and were interested in experimenting with YouTube as a platform, and so it just developed on its own.
What makes Suzelle such a likeable character and do you think your new character, Tali, will have the same appeal?
We all love and appreciate Suzelle because she is able to bring us back to basics and teach us something simple and useful. Her comedy lies in our ability to identify with her in some way. She is a mirror for our own vulnerability, which is why I think so many people love her. I really hope that Tali will offer the same kind of balance. Although she is a character that is more immediately “unlikeable,” my hope is that an audience will find her as lovable by being able to see themselves in her.
With Tali’s Wedding Diary, what kind of story are you telling?
Tali’s Wedding Diary is a comedic love story (with a somewhat tragic undercurrent) told in a mockumentary style. It looks at themes surrounding the pervasiveness of reality TV, the madness of the wedding industry and the pressures and hype of social media.
Comedy is central to you work. Does this come more naturally to you as an actress as opposed to more serious roles?
I love exploring the weirdness and complexity of comic characters, so I have always been drawn to more comedic roles. That being said, I feel most of the wonderful comedic characters are actually quite tragic in many ways, and finding their “realness” – which for me is where the comedy lies – is sometimes harder than finding that of more serious characters.
How you develop your characters? What does it entail, and how do make sure they’re not just stereotypes?
Finding the Suzelle character was a very organic process. Interestingly, the Tali character has been around for much longer than Suzelle but we had never had the opportunity to develop her in the same way. Where Suzelle got better and better with each episode, we had to almost throw Tali into the deep-end of the series without that lengthy period of organic development. But Tali really did come alive in the scripting process, and I filmed a lot of practice videos and vlogs of myself as a character exercise.
Looking particularly at film and acting through the eyes and experience of a womxn, what stories do you think are important to tell?
It is important to tell stories that are uniquely your own. The more specific, weird and personalised, the better. We have to remain true to our textured selves in our storytelling. As a womxn, I think it is even more important to boldly charge forward with our eccentric characters, stories and ideas, especially in the world of comedy.
Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring actresses and creative womxn who are eager to create their own work?
Use whatever resources you have available to you right now and just go for it. Even if you just start something as a fun creative exercise or as a way to practice your craft and put yourself out there. You will eventually find your audience. Our philosophy really is the same as Suzelle’s – DIY, because anybody can.
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