Emma van Heyn on Showmax romcom Matilda & Matthys

22 February 2024

Emma van Heyn on Showmax romcom Matilda & Matthys

In the Showmax Original romcom Matilda & Matthys, the actress and singer Emma van Heyn stars as an ambitious young writer who goes on a series of fake dates with a super-rational tech entrepreneur as research for her novel. 

Matilda & Matthys is the debut film from writer-director Bibi Slippers (an award-winning poet and SAFTA-nominated screenwriter for Hotel), who wrote the part of Matilda for Emma after seeing her in Twintig Tone In ‘n Hangkas at Silwerskermfees. 

Watch the trailer for Matilda & Matthys

Rozanne Els spoke to Emma to find out more: 

Were you able to relate to Matilda? 

Yes, I was a lot like her when I was younger. In that period I was very anti-boyfriends. I thought they were the biggest waste of time. I became more and more ambitious and very goal-oriented. I just thought a man wasn’t going to help with that! (laughs). 

I think, at that stage, and much like Matilda, I was afraid of being hurt and going through the rollercoaster of life in terms of relationships.

Where we do differ is that Matilda says what she wants. She is someone who makes decisions quickly, whereas I, as Emma, am a total people-pleaser. So I was able to learn a lot from Matilda in terms of that; not trying to make everyone around me happy all the time. It’s something I’m actively working on.

Unusually for a South African film, you break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience in Matilda en Matthys? 

What’s genius about Bibi’s approach is that she made both of the main characters break the fourth wall. It created a balance between the two characters. I don’t think I’ve seen that in film, or at least, very seldom.

The audience basically becomes another character in the relationship, who understands you better than anyone, and it’s your character’s space where they feel it’s safe to debrief, to share their thoughts. So it’s not just a camera; it is an extra relationship that you build up in the room and you feel it as an actor.

How did you and Adrian go about bringing the special relationship between Matilda and Matthys to life?

It was so nice how Bibi did the casting; it was a great group of people and it was a lot of fun. People were laughing all the time. There was a lot of joy on set.

Adrian Steyn and Emma van Heyn in Matilda & Matthys

As for me and Adrian; he is just a wonderful person! I would say vulnerability and trust were a big part of how we went about it. If you express vulnerability and you feel you can trust a person with your vulnerability, that trust helps you to play more and more.

What was also incredible is we used whatever time we had to practise our lines or to explore further. It is nice to experience such an equal commitment. The more we played, the more fun and exploration it unlocked. We became incredibly close because of that and the chemistry between the characters blossomed out of this friendship that I will cherish forever.

And the other players – was there anyone you particularly enjoyed working with?

There are actually so many incredible moments with various people! 

Emma van Heyn and Pietie Beyers in Matilda & Matthys

Pietie Beyers, of course. I worked with him on Twintig Tone in ’n Hangkas, and he’s always a treat on set. It was really fun to be able to work with him again, although this time with him as the alternative love interest. He is always fun, and a wonderful person; we are good friends. He truly is a gem.

Kevin [Smith] and I had some deep moments on set. He is a true empath; it’s as if he looks through your soul and understands it; I feel that’s what happened between us. We have shared many tears between us, whether we are talking about music or things that happen in life or just being witnesses for each other. It was just a very special experience to work with him.

And Bertha (Le Roux-Wahl)! She is so good at holding space for a person and she is so open to acknowledgement in the most beautiful way. We just had so much fun playing together.

What was it like working with Bibi, both as a screenwriter and as a director?

It was a truly beautiful experience to be able to climb into Bibi’s brain, from start to finish.

As a screenwriter, she is just a phenomenon with words. When I read the text, I realised there are so many layers of stuff happening. It’s a story within a story within a story. She is a genius with words. 

Then, as a director, every single day was a surprise! Everything she did and what she suggested – from set building to the concept to how we’re going to play with this scene – it’s just quintessentially Bibi. She has these quirks about her, and with every scene, every time, there was a delightfully surprising experience that almost felt like a gift. There is always a childlike excitement involved – that’s actually what she brings out of a person when she directs and when she creates. With every scene, there was just this curiosity of, “What are Adrian and I going to step into next?” It really was a playground of fun and excitement. 

What would you say are the most prominent themes of the movie?

The most prominent theme for me is how heartbreak can lead to self-sabotage, how trying to avoid sadness actually leads to a one-dimensional experience of life. To take on life, you must be able to walk away from hurt, move forward, and be open to the next chapter and what will happen next. Just keep moving forward.

Why should people watch Matilda en Matthys? 

It’s a feel-good, terribly charming story that people can easily relate to, but it’s more than just a romantic comedy. When I watched the film, I was completely dumbfounded. I was literally in a state of emotional shock for like 40 minutes after watching it. It was a tearjerker for me, which you wouldn’t expect, especially when you’re in the movie! (laughs). I think it is surprisingly unique and, frankly, a work of art. 

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