Jan-Barend Scheepers On His The White Line Character & The Acting Gig
In the upcoming Namibian feature film by Desiree Kahikopo The White Line, Jan-Barend Scheepers plays Pieter De Wet, a young Afrikaner police officer in the early 1960’s Windhoek.
Under the circumstances of the era, Pieter is forced to make difficult choices that will have ripple effects in the future for their unborn child.
Namib Insider did a Q&A with Scheepers;
Tell us more about your character in The White Line film.
He is a complex character, who struggles with the contradictions between his beliefs, heart and the society (and its laws) which he finds himself in, and especially, has to uphold because of his profession. He feels torn, but cannot see a way out of what is expected of him. He is somewhat of a victim, who has always been subservient to the larger powers around him, which dominates his life; including his abusive, patriarchal father, a dominating and conniving sister, and obviously the accepted Afrikaner culture and its tyrannical expectations on which white men must conduct themselves. Thus far, he has gotten through his formative years by keeping his head down and trying to follow what is expected of him. This is why the police force initially seemed like a good fit. However, now that he has become older, he starts to have questions. He cannot ignore the truth of his heart and what he sees as blatant injustice against the basic good in all people.
Without revealing much, what is your favourite line the film?
“Hoe is jou hart so vol haat? Veral teen eimand wat niks aan jou gedoen het nie? Mense wat jou net hulp en groot gemaak het? Jy vergeet dat dit die eienste mense is wat jou al jou morele waarde geleer het.”
What is The White Line experience like for you?
It was amazing to work closely with so many highly functional creatives. I was very impressed to be in a space filled with very large personalities, however, everyone was very aware of themselves and emotionally conscious. As with any project, there are occasional tensions, and I was so impressed with the manner in which people considered each other, articulated their frustrations and could let the steam off. Comparing this to my usual industry, being that of construction, it was a breath of fresh air. In construction rampant ego is often very unconscious and emotionally unaware. Resentment and frustration bubbles easily and there is seldom a chance to let steam out and calm a situation. Normally, in construction, this is only done with a lot of drinking at an occasional on-site social event, which is better than nothing but has toxic and high-risk aspects which we are too easily accustomed and willing to ignore in Namibia.
What’s the biggest challenge about taking on this role?
The other lead roles were being done by really amazing actors and actresses. I was very aware that I had to step into some very big shoes to do justice to the role I was given alongside these incredibly professionally crafty-people. Additionally, my spoken Afrikaans is very informal normally and I really had to work on adopting a more ‘conventionally’ spoken Afrikaans.
What do you love about this character?
That he is a white man dealing with a great struggle and hopes to follow his heart, despite the risk and the cultural expectations on his shoulders.
What do you hate about this character?
Hate is a strong word, but in the end, he was not strong enough to… well, I don’t really know what options he had? Was it martyrdom? Was it exile? I don’t know. I do not envy the position he was in, but he was not ready in his own journey of personal growth to take on the challenge life presented him with.
How is this character like you? Or are you two completely different from one another?
Good question. I myself have had to wrestle with the cultural expectations and taboos of being an Afrikaner man in Namibia. Having been in several mixed-race relationships, I know to an extent the difficulty of dealing with my community’s condescension, judgement and even the ‘it’s just a little joke’ type jabs that I still get for having crossed the ‘white line’. However, I cannot for a second claim to know the depth of my character’s struggle. It was a bubble of Afrikaner Nationalist Propaganda. I am not part of a family who suggests that crossing the ‘white line’ is unacceptable. In fact its one of my greatest privileges that I have always been supported and even encouraged to follow my heart despite my partner’s ethnic background. So I can say I have an idea of what Pieter’s journey and struggle entails, but I am fully aware of how much easier life has been for me, comparatively growing up in an independent Namibia.
Besides yourself, which actor in this production is going to blow people away?
My lover in the movie, Sylvia (played by Girley Jazama)…. Wow. How absolutely humbling and rich it was to have the privilege to share the screen with an actress such as herself.
Who’s the funniest person in the cast, in real life?
My character’s brother in law, Jan, played by Charl Bota is an absolute clown! Permanent jokes and he kept us all smiling.
When did you first start acting?
My mother forced me (kicking and screaming) to attend drama class at the College Of The Arts when I was 6 years old (1993). But not long afterwards I fell in love with it. I continued acting until 17. Unfortunately, being a teenager, and struggling to fit into what is considered ‘manly’ in Namibia, I stopped drama for almost 13 years. I am very, very glad to be back.
Do you have a preference for theatre or film?
Both are amazing for their own reasons.
What do you think is the most important characteristic to have as an actor?
To be able to fully embody the life of another. To adopt the struggles, doubts and frustrations which has moulded the character. To believe you have experienced it yourself.
Describe your acting style.
I don’t even know, but I guess method acting. Being someone who reads widely on psychology, I try to break my character down into their psychological aspects and pathologies.
Who is your favourite all-time actor, dead or alive and why?
I’ll give two, as the first one is a bit lame: Sir Anthony Hopkins and the second is Christoph Waltz. Just the subtle gestures and eye movements which add so much power to their characters and scenes. I have so much respect for them.
What do you do when you are not being an actor?
A lot. Life is meant to be lived to its fullest. I am a renewable energy Project Manager and Project Developer at InnoSun Energy Holding, where I build solar and wind farms across Namibia. I also love history, psychology and philosophy. I am very interested in Politics, Economics and trying to work out how we are going to develop Namibia. Finally, some people seem to think I’m able to throw some of the best farm parties in Namibia, but that’s just what they say so I can’t comment 😉
This ‘n That
What is your basic temperament?
I’ll use the five trait personality model: A few years back, I would say I was:
Very high in Openness
Very high in Agreeableness
Very high in Neuroticism
Quite Low in Conscientiousness
Very high in Extroversion
But now, after several intense years of personal work and growth, I have evened out a lot. I have reduced my Agreeableness and massively reduced my Neuroticism (fewer people-pleasing), while I have made huge strides in improving my conscientiousness.
Where do you get your news?
Mainly Aljazeera, The Economist, YouTube. However, if a New Era or a Namibian newspaper is around I’ll give it a scan.
What is your favourite sport? Do you follow it professionally?
At this stage, it is simply Yoga, so it’s not really something to follow. I’ll watch rugby if it’s an international game and I’ll watch soccer, but only during the world cup.
How do you feel about ageing?
Hahahaha. Great question. I am lucky being male, I guess. So, I recently decided to take my time and worry less about the rat race. I don’t feel a need to have kids before I am 40. I just started using a face cream for the first time in my life… hahaha. I plan to stay out the sun, eat healthily, exercise regularly, build amazing connections with those around me and permanently commit to learning and growing. Mental health is one of the central pillars to long term well being in my opinion. I and my group of friends recently decided we are going to live to 130. That means staying relevant. Not aiming to retire. Doing what you love. Building one’s community. Always learning. Adopting a lifestyle of ‘life cycles’ rather than that of a career. I was massively inspired by a podcast series a friend of mine, Erik Salamon, helped with: The 200 Year Old | A Future-facing Podcast | Sanlam.
What are your favourite TV programs?
Game of Thrones.
What outdated slang do you use on a regular basis?
“Coolio” and “Schweet”
What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting tired of?
The King’s Speech starring Colin Firth.
When was the last time you got to tell someone “I told you so”? What was it about?
I try not to do the ‘told you so’ thing. It’s a bit arrogant and it undermines my belief that everyone is on their own journey and as long as they commit to growth, I cannot fault you on where you are. However, if I had to stretch for an answer, I’d maybe say when Donald Trump got elected. Not that I hoped for it, but it was clear that the loud-left-leaning narrative and commentators were being so arrogant and condescending that they had likely alienated much much more people than they could have possibly imagined. Which seems to have been the case.
What movie, meme, or video always makes you laugh no matter how often you watch it?
‘How Animals Eat Their Food’:
What’s the worst thing you’ve eaten out of politeness?
Tarantula in Cambodia.
If you built a themed hotel, what would the theme be and what would it be like?
It would be in Mongolian yurts in the plains between Lüderitz and Aus. Everyone gets to ride horses and attempt to do mounted bow hunting of springbok or Oryx for dinner.
What’s the dumbest thing someone has argued with you about?
Once a very intelligent Namibian public figure privately argued with me that SWAPO never won the armed liberation struggle, as they had lost many time more soldiers than the South African forces. I suggested that the number of lost lives do not determine whether a side wins or loses, but that it is purely based on the final strategic outcomes. When he argued against this and said it is nonsense, I replied: “I guess you believe that Germany beat Russia in the Second World War, seeing that Russia lost almost 10 times as many soldiers.” He was quiet after that.