By TVPlus1 February 2023
Edwin van der Walt on Donkerbos: “All Braam wanted to do was help”
Actor Edwin van der Walt talks about his experience playing one of the pivotal characters in the chilling Showmax Original series Donkerbos.
Spoiler alert! Don’t read this story until you’ve have watched the first six episodes of Donkerbos!
“It was intense, this role,” says Edwin. “During the auditions for Donkerbos, I had no idea my character, Braam Pieterse, would be the killer (as revealed in episode 6). “All I knew was that he was a teacher, was sympathetic, and loved his brother. It was only when the creator of the series, Nico Scheepers, contacted me to offer me the role that he told me Braam is the killer. I was shocked! Knowing that I was drawn even more to the role. But to keep things as authentic as possible while we were filming, I put the fact that Braam was the murderer out of my mind completely, like he was innocent. That way I would not give away any clues in my performance, right until the end of episode 6 when it is made clear Braam is the one responsible for the deaths of the seven children.”
In episode 7, viewers got to learn more about Braam and how he was brought up as an orphan. Abandoned, abused, and forgotten, his life was hard up until he built a special bond with fellow orphan Sybrand (Wilhelm van der Walt), who became his brother. The two even built a life together after they aged out of the system.
“That episode with Braam’s backstory, I feel was a gift from Nico to me and the audience,” says Edwin. “Usually, we as actors must create the backstory for our characters on our own, in our heads. But here we got to see it and that helps us better understand why Braam did what he did, even though it is wrong.”
“All he wanted to do was help,” explains Edwin, as he picks through Braam’s damaged reasoning. “From Braam’s experience in the system, the orphanage, he knows what kind of hell that is. And that is why he didn’t want to report the abuse that all seven children were victims of, by those who were supposed to love and protect them. If he did that, the children would have been taken away from their parents, the abusers, and then just put in another hell. He wanted to give them peace, and that is why he didn’t murder the abusive parents.”
Throughout episode 7 we saw the various triggers that led Braam to “give the abused children peace”, as he calls it. But the main trigger was the death of Thomas (Caleb Payne), the boy who ran through the bush.
“Braam didn’t kill Thomas, as one would think. He really tried to help Thomas, who was terrified of going back to his house, to his father who was beating him. He was running away from Braam when he thought that Braam would take him back to his abusive home, he slit his wrist, which meant he was already bleeding out, and when he fell, and the branch pierced his abdomen, his fate was sealed. There was no more time to be saved. When he died in front of Braam, he saw the peace on Thomas’s face. All was still, there would be no more pain, and that was the trigger that led Braam to kill the other seven children and give them peace.”
Behind the scenes
On set between the scenes, Edwin and Wilhelm made a lot of jokes with each other to keep things light while filming a dark story. “I remember shooting a scene, I don’t think it made the final cut, where we kept on stuffing our faces with biltong,” Edwin remembers, laughing. “It’s right after Braam picks Sybrand up from the psychiatric institution. They drive in the car and eat biltong as they talk and catch up, but as soon as the scene cuts, before we do a reshoot, me and Willa (Edwin’s nickname for Wilhelm) would really enjoy the biltong, prompting the props guy to add more biltong for the scene. It was such fun.”
Working with actors Erica Wessels (Detective Fanie van Wyk) and Sanda Shandu (Detective Tsedza Tshivenga) was also a highlight for Edwin. “Erica and I have been friends for years, just like Willa. She is incredible in the role of Fanie. And Sanda is such a pure, joyful human being. The way he channels Tsedza while filming and then goes back to being the cheerful Sanda is so inspiring.”
And in the explosive finale?
“All the loose threads … come together, and some shocking developments in Braam and Fanie’s stories will have the viewers gasping for air. But in the end, the viewers will get more clarity and I think they will be glad they watched this deep, dark story to the end.”
PS. Edwin’s acting portfolio is stacked with critically acclaimed hits; see him in the movies Die Pro, Hollywood In My Huis and My Father’s War, and the series Fynskrif, Sara Se Geheim, and another Showmax Original, Troukoors, all streaming on Showmax.