The Whale Caller is a visual masterpiece by Zola Maseko, the director of The Life and Times of Sara Baartman. The film is based on the critically acclaimed book by Zakes Mda, and tells the bittersweet love story between a man called Whale Caller, a whale called Sharisha and a woman called Saluni. In this moving story, Saluni tries to teach the alienated Whale Caller to open up his heart to people again. Ahead of the screening in South Africa, we chatted to the talented actress Amrain Ismail-Essop about playing Saluni in The Whale Caller.
You play the role of Saluni in The Whale Caller. Saluni is a complex character – how did you prepare for the role? And what about the character speaks to you?
You know, I am a huge believer in synchronicity. I find that the parts that speak to me deeply the most seem to find me, or I them. I experienced a devastating heartbreak just weeks before auditioning. I was able to tap into that raw pain, a pain we all experience at some point. So in preparing for the role, I opened myself up to all of the wounding and just allowed it. I just allowed it to flow through. I love Saluni – I love her passion and her insane moments of inhibition. Yet I was drawn to her so magnetically because of her girlish vulnerability and her struggle with living with that. She’s a complex person and I loved that.
The Whale Caller is one of the most celebrated African novels. Did you feel a lot of pressure taking this role on?
Yes, who wouldn’t? However, at some point I accepted that I was cast to play her, my vision and proposal in the audition was what resonated, and that it became my duty to honour her and trust myself. I also believe that if I stayed true to the emotional story of her and surrendered myself to her journey that hopefully the audience would find that connection too. The imagination is such a powerful part of all of us. When a person like Saluni possesses the reader, which she will, how can one really top that?
Tell us about your experience in the production of the film: what was it like working with Zola Maseko and Sello Ka-Ncube?
Passionate. Here are three people that are completely in love with a story. Zola is deeply introspective and understands the sensitivity of the piece. Sello is graceful and calm. Both were deeply committed and when dealing with a story like this, one that challenges all your barriers to pain, the only people that you want to work with are people as committed as they were. The schedule was gruelling, however, with a team like we had (crew and cast), we made a beautiful film.
You have been involved in theatre and film as well – do you have a preference between these two?
No. They are so different. I am theatre-trained and still find myself learning in film. I love storytelling, so both mediums provide creative avenues to express myself. I go through phases, though, preferring one to the other.
Other than acting, what are some of your other passions in life?
My daughter. Being blessed with her is my passion. I love tennis and nature, so I spend most weekends on the court or by the sea or on the mountain. I love adventure but haven’t had the time to go on as many road trips as I used to, I hope to do more this year. I love people, so any opportunity to engage and be mutually inspired really fires me up. And I am a darn good Backgammon player, although my sister may say otherwise. Lastly, I am passionate about astrology and am currently studying it.
If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Passionate, complex, strong-willed.
We featured Amrain in our July edition of Marie Claire. Grab your copy to see the latest happenings in local film and music.