The Rebellion of Lafras Verwey tells the story of an outcast who could never accept the realities of life. Although he is a government official, he considers himself a key player in the preparation of a significant rebellion that he believes would change the world. When he takes a young pregnant woman in to live with him, the rebellion becomes even more important to him. Comedy, drama and elements of fantasy are all intertwined in this gripping tale of a man who is willing to risk everything in his pursuit to make the world a better place for all. I spoke to South African screen veteran Tobie Cronje about his starring role as the outcast Lafras Verwey.
Tobie Cronje plays the lead role in 'Die Rebellie van Lafras Verwey'.
How did you get involved with this film project?
Tobie: It's a very long history actually. Chris Barnard first wrote the story in the late Sixties and in 1975 I played Lafras as a young man in the stage play. Back then Chris and Katinka came to see the show and afterwards Katinka for years and years has said she wanted to make a movie out of it. About two years ago the director Simon Barnard, Chris and Katinka's son, said he had an idea of who he wants to play Lafras and it turned out all three of them had the same idea. I thought I was too old to play the character this time around but then Chris gave Simon permission to change the script and made the character much older. The story still works very well. What used to be a storyline revolving around a romantic involvement between the young girl and Lafras, has now changed to where he becomes more of a fatherly figure.
Lafras is a very interesting and complex character, how did you prepare for the role?
Tobie: Even though the story has changed somewhat, I fortunately had the background of the stage show so many years ago. As an actor, one always transfers something of oneself into the character or something from the character into yourself as well. So with Lafras Verwey, I had to find him within myself. It sounds esoteric but it's not really. One finds things in yourself that you see is the same as Lafras, and that is basically how I had to prepare. Simon in filming it also gave me lots of ideas. Because I tend to be a stage actor he toned me down a bit, the character became much more internal, very subtle.
“...As an actor, one always transfers something of oneself into the character...” - Tobie Cronje
Speaking of which, what was it like working with Katinka and Simon on the film set?
Tobie: I was a little nervous to work with the two of them because they specifically wanted me for the part and were even willing to change the script to accomodate me. I was worried that they expected something that maybe I couldn't give, it was a little nervewracking because you think what if I don't deliver? But in the end they made me feel very safe and secure and they both love what I did. As producer, Katinka went out of her way to make things as easy as possible for me. She especially employed somebody, Jaline Connoway - to whom I am forever grateful, to go through the lines with me and help with many other things.
Lafras has been the biggest movie part that I've ever played and it was the most rewarding as well because of Katinka and Simon constantly giving me feedback. Sometimes you work on a movie set where the director is pressed for time so they go as fast as possible, but here Katinka and Simon gave me feedback after every take. I knew exactly what I did wrong and what I did right which I really enjoyed.
You are known more as a comedian, now having done Lafras, are you interested in taking on more dramatic parts?
Tobie: I think one has to think as widely as possible to do all different genres. I was mainly offered comedy when I was younger because I was good at it. Now that I'm older it seems there is a more serious side of me starting to reveal itself which I enjoy but I would never want to not do comedy anymore. Comedy for me is very rewarding, especially on stage where you have an audience laughing at you, it gives you a kind of energy, it's wonderful.