A Conversation with Award-Winning Filmmaker and Actor Tammy-Anne Fortuin
By Gabby Etzel and Cathleen Freedman
Gabby Etzel and Cathleen Freedman sat down for a cross-country Zoom chat with the incredible actor and filmmaker, Tammy-Anne Fortuin. Tammy is the realization of the strong female characters whose stories she tells in her films, like Aimee and It's Time, and her passionate approach to her craft is absorbing and inspiring. Read about the multitudes to this talented actor, writer, and director's career (and her spice rack)!
Cathleen Freedman: So, Tammy, your resume spans continents and forms. Can you start by telling us how you got your start in the industry, what interested you, and how you started acting, writing, and directing?
Tammy-Anne Fortuin: So I'm South African. I started in television. First I was modeling–that's basically my entry into the industry. I was spotted and invited to audition for a TV show, which happened to be wait for it… a cooking show! I spent about eight years doing that cooking show! It was this cool little thing where I could interview locals in each town in South Africa and make their favorite dish, and they would teach me something and then we started bringing in South African celebrities, and they would make their favorite dish. It was this really fun 30-minute weekly show.
TF: I came to LA, and I interviewed some of your celebrities of the year. We focused on fashion magazines, entertainment, lifestyle, and that type of thing. And in that process, I really wanted to continue my studies. I initially started out studying law. Ha! I very quickly thought, “What am I doing?”
TF: During one of my press junket trips to LA, I was like, “Okay, I'm going to go to film school.” I was already doing production in South Africa. The production house that hired me for my first TV gig became big in South Africa. I produced for them as well. I was already acting. I did my first feature film in South Africa. So I came here, and I sold everything back home. I packed up and I decided, “Okay, I'm gonna do my conservatory in acting,” and I moved to New York. Then I came to LA to do my degree in filmmaking. I've been working here ever since. My avenue into acting was kind of different because my degree was in filmmaking. I still make movies, and I direct, I produce, and I A.D. any form of production. I think it's just such an amazing camaraderie. Just to be on set, and to tell stories, so I do it one way or the other. I did my internship here with a company called Glasscore Films. I still work with them today. They just become family. We've pushed out several productions.
Gabby Etzel: What a journey.
TF: Fresh out of graduation, I was A.D.-ing a feature film–independent productions, of course. Over the past four years, I produced two videos for the Black-Eyed Peas.
Tammy produced the music video for "Explosion" by the Black Eyed Peas and Anitta
GE: Oh, wow!
TF: So it’s kind of diverse. Right now I’m in pre-production for our documentary, which I will be directing. It’s a hip-hop documentary, that’s about all I can say! It’s based on the Oakland Bay area. I’m working with one of the former road managers of Tupac Shakur and telling his story.
TF: Right now acting has kind of taken off with Malissa Young Management. I've done some really exciting projects with her! The first project I did this year was an indie film–a romcom called How to Make her Cheat. That was already fascinating. It's just about people who do not trust in relationships. I play this jaded lover who's been scorned and hurt and damaged by her previous relationship with a cheating partner.
GE: You are the writer and director of several shorts. Some of these are Aimee, Recovery, Meeting Jenny, and most recently, It’s Time. Each one of these projects proves that there are multitudes to your work. You work in the crime drama genre, and then you're in the family genre, and then you're in comedy territory, and you do a beautiful job with all of them. So as a storyteller, is there a genre or even just a type of story that you favor?
TF: That's a tough one. I like to think I gravitate to drama. But I just always end up with comedy because I feel like the key to great drama is the comedic moments. You know, somehow I always end up with dirty comedies about badly behaved women showing up at your door. There are so many twists and turns. So the genre of dramedy! I would put that out there, I love it. Not so much action movies or anything like that. Even though my first major film I did in the US was a movie called Repeater. I had a very small role where I did stunt work and had to handle guns. I did like this crash course on kickboxing and self-defense, which was really interesting. It was exciting to be doing it, and you feel really badass, but to write it and to actually execute that as a director... I don't know, I'm not inclined to do that. So I would say I gravitate more to drama-comedy and strong, strong female leads.
TF: That's one of the things with Glasscore Films. My partner at the time was one of the first people who gave me a shot. He took me seriously as a chick and entrusted me with organizational things to get my foot in the door. I would do really crappy jobs for really low-paying amounts of money, just to be able to learn. At the same time that I was doing my academics, I had to complete my movies, all of my movies, but most of them were done at film school. It prepares you for the industry because that's the life you inevitably step into. I love the whole female aspect of us just like taking over the world forever and ever.
GE: I’m right there with you.
Tammy-Anne Fortuin's "Aimee"
CF: So you're from South Africa, and now you live in LA. I'm from Houston, and I live in New York, and Uber drivers were always mortified when I would tell them that Houston is a lot like New York City.
TF: I love Houston.
CF: I’m curious. For you, are there some surprising similarities and interesting differences between living in these two places?
TF: It's completely different. At the time I moved over here, which is about 10 years ago, South Africa’s film industry was not as booming as it is now. It was a lot smaller. Cape Town is exceptionally beautiful. It's a small little piece of heaven on the tip of Africa. The weather is great. The food is great. It's a warmer culture. LA is fast-paced. It can be very intimidating at first because everyone is so far removed from each other. I think that if I hadn't come here for film school, where I made all my friends and learned the ropes of filmmaking, and entered a network of people, it would be much tougher to get around and get your foot in the door. So that helped me a lot. People will always say the grass is greener on the other side, but I believe both of them have unique qualities and are amazing in their own right. It is just very different. The portions are larger. I love food, and I always gauge a place or rate a place by its food portions. They are much larger in the US. I don't know how people do it!
TF: Over here, I’ve made my own little family, my friends… I miss my family back home in South Africa because I’m the only one over here, but I get to go back. It's just a plane ride away. (A very long one). South Africa is a beautifully diverse, eclectic country. It's got a lot of problems. But it's also got a lot of advantages. People are super talented. It's an emerging market for film. It has a lot to offer.
TF: I walked into a callback on Friday. And the director was saying to me, “I just got back from there, and I love that place, what are you doing here?!” I gave him the same explanation and he was like, “you’re right.” If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
CF: One of my favorite bands actually is from South Africa. Beatenberg. Have you ever heard of them? I'll send you some of their stuff. You're gonna love it.
TF: Oh, wow. Okay, yeah. No. Shows I’m out of the loop. I am so not the cool girl.
CF: No! You've done Black-Eyed Peas work! I've always been interested in globalization and localization within media. You're someone who is well-versed in American and South African markets. I would love to hear further elaboration on the similarities and differences in the film industry and art-making processes between the two continents.
TF: I was scheduled to do a production there, and then COVID hit as well. So that kind of killed that dream. I will definitely go back there. I think that because a lot of films are taking off in South Africa, and a lot of production houses and companies are going there to shoot because of the affordability aspect in terms of locations. It's just a lot easier in South Africa. Cape Town is our filming capital. It's this type of city where you can actually create several locations or countries in one. We have our port and our harbor, the mountains, it can be European… It can be anywhere onscreen. We've got a really good talent pool of actors over there as well for local hire. It’s a booming industry, rom what I hear–You saw My Octopus Teacher, right?
CF and GE: We have!
CF: I never thought about Cape Town being amorphous.
GE: What can we expect from your upcoming your most recent short comedy, It’s Time? Do you have any past works that you can compare it to? Are there any new elements that you're especially proud to show off that you can tell us about?
TF: We literally just finished. That was a COVID project during the lockdown because we were all going stir crazy and a friend of mine said, “Come and do this movie with me. Let's produce it. I want you to direct me.” So she wrote this cute piece, and it is really strong because it's just seven pages long. In total, they’re like nine minutes of running time on screen. It’s really about death, because we were dealing with this whole cosmic shift during COVID. She just thought, “Let’s make a really nice dark comedy about death coming to visit you in a hospital room. We won't make any reference to COVID, and we won't wear any masks. But we'll just do it in one location.” Three actors. Death comes to visit this woman and she refuses to go.
GE: There’s our strong female lead!
TF: Yeah! She just refuses to go, and she tries to outsmart death. The moral of the story is you probably can't. So live while you can and do all the things you wanted to do now because soon it will be too late. I think that's the thing that people took from COVID as well. It was pretty fun. Also, because I got to work with a friend and she's really great in the film. Leticia Castillo. She's a New York-based actress, and she just delivers one of the most exceptional performances I've seen on screen.
GE: I’m definitely looking forward to it.
TF: It was just such a pleasure to make. It was just so nice. Just to be back. You know, everybody was doing the six feet thing. But it was just really good to be back on a set.
GE: I would also love to know anything that you can tell me about working on Silicon Caesar, which is a retelling of Julius Caesar as a sci-fi story that deals with artificial intelligence. Man, what a synopsis.
TF: Right! The director was really, really cool. Chuck Griffith. He was just fantastic. He had such a vision. It’s just so funny because when I auditioned for that, I had assumed I didn't get the role. I missed an email with them actually confirming that I did! So I didn't even show up for when I was scheduled to do my audition, and then they rescheduled. So it was kind of freaky! That was one of the first things I did with Malissa. It was really cool. I play Gabrielle Tucker, and she's one of these hothead news reporters, which was really cool for me because I've been doing that on-camera reporting for 10 years. So that was really nice. Except this was just about AI and more politically driven. I made some of the coolest friends: Richard Neal and Johnny Santiago, just fantastic actors. We're still friends today. After shooting that very first little short with Chuck. Yeah, it was just really cool. The storyline was amazing. It was fresh. It was bold. I really loved it. I love my character as well because assumes that she's in charge. She's running the show over there. She challenges Caesar on absolutely everything. He's saying all the BS that people would normally just suck up and take because he's a wealthy businessman. She just doesn't take that. That was fun for me as an actor.
CF: I heard from Gabby that you've had several very big film bookings lately in a really short amount of time, so congratulations! I think you touched on this while talking about Silicon Caesar, but what are some of your like audition processes? How do you go about auditioning? Do you have any rituals that you do? Give us the nitty gritty.
TF: The most important thing is to do the script analysis when I get my sides, and just try to understand what it is that they're looking for. Because that's given to you through the screenplay, right? So I do my little scene breakdown. Many times in this industry, you don't get a lot of turnaround time. So there's not a lot of time to prep. So I always literally feel like I'm flying by the edge of my seat. I'm always like, at the last minute, submitting that tape, because I've used a large amount of time for prep. What am I wearing on camera? How would a character wear her hair? What is her dialect? How does she speak? Is it slow, is it fast? How does she sit, how does she stand, how does she walk? All of those things matter.
Photo by Alanna Gilbert
GE: I think it is super cool when actors have stunt and stage fighting experience because as a martial artist myself that kind of like hits a niche that I love to talk about. I'm interested, did you have any martial arts experience prior to gaining stage fighting experience?
TF: I did combat training and stunts when I was in New York in my acting conservatory. So they prep you for that. You understand how to take a punch, how to roll. You know all of those things, basic stuff like a gun and gunshot wound or things like that. But for the technical aspect of it, I went in and prepped with like real hardcore specialists. These guys do like all of the stunt work in movies. So everything was just so, so fast, and they were just so attentive to the fact that I was just an actress because this is different. I'm not a stunt person, I'm an actress! But it was fun! I did Krav Maga with them and I continued that for a while after, but then again, COVID hits, and I never picked it up again. I'll go back at some point. I used to drive out to Van Nuys to do the kickboxing over there, which was really awesome.
TF: Rolls and tumbles and falls and getting hit by a car and all of those things. How to handle a gun, and how to block a gun in self-defense. It was really informative and interesting. It's a good way to spend your time so I can totally see why martial arts is fascinating to you. I'd love to do more of it as just a hobby. Because [stage fighting] is very specific–how the camera is going to catch it. Sometimes it looks really stupid when you're just doing it for a camera because there's a certain way to angle your body and how to take or give a hit. But it's fun. Never a dull moment.
TF: I like really good stunt women. I’ve met some fabulous people like Cecilia Johnson. She’s doing some major movies right now where she’s doubling for major stars as a stunt woman. It’s fascinating, the amount of knowledge they have and how they manipulate it for the camera to make it look spot-on.
CF: From martial arts, we’re going to get into culinary arts. You hosted the award-winning celebrity lifestyle cooking show Roer in South Africa, and I have two questions for you. Do you have a favorite recipe from your time on the show and secondly, do you have any behind-the-scenes stories from those days, especially from a producing standpoint, that were particularly interesting?
TF: Firstly, I love food, so there’s rarely an instance where there’s something I don’t like. I have taken so many recipes because we’ve also published two cookbooks since then. The funny part is that I really didn’t spend any time in the kitchen before that show, which was really intimidating when I got to my audition and had to open a little can of tomatoes. I was tested to see how I work with my hands. I kind of learned as I went. It was something that kind of evolved because I love food so much.
Tammy on "Roer."
TF: I grew up in restaurants. My parents owned restaurants when I was younger so I would waitress and I’d be around food, they would cater and I would be around food. But I’d be eating it or serving it, not making it! Now, I added the “making” part. I make a very good potato gratin. I do a really good Pasta Fagioli soup. Mussels in white wine, I’ve made everything from curry to steaks… South Africa is really diverse and you never know what a guest is going to make and what you’ll have to do, as well. That’s why I stayed on there so long. It involved food, people, and good wine.
GE: That’s all you need.
TF: Right? But it was time to move on, grow, and take the next artistic challenge.
CF: Being a host and a television personality surely requires you to tap into different performance skills than you would for a character you’re portraying in a short film. What are some of your secrets to being a good host?
TF: Being yourself is the number one thing, which can be quite daunting, but it’s the most effective way to get a message across if you’re trying to tell someone a story about what you see and what you’ve experienced. That’s the most essential part because that’s the most unique thing about you. There’s only one person like you in the world. If people like that, then they do, and if they don’t, they don’t. It’s simple.
Photo by Alanna Gilbert
TF: I’ve always loved the human experience. I’ve loved reporting on what other people do. I’ve loved trying to find out somebody else’s story as well as having a sit down with actors and musicians and designers… It’s unique and it’s a privilege, actually, to be hosting and interviewing people because you really get a peek into their lives and essence or sense of who they are. You give truth, you get truth, I’d say.
GE: Now we’re going to move onto our Absolutely Anything questions, which are questions you’ve probably never been asked before, and will probably never be asked again.
CF: You have the opportunity to direct your dream cast in your dream film. What is the genre, who’s in the cast, and what’s the film’s major theme?
TF: Oh! Probably Elizabeth Moss.
Elizabeth Moss in "The Handmaid's Tale"
TF: A gripping drama about women’s reproductive rights.
GE: Oh man, let’s make it happen. Next question. Do you have a favorite costume you’ve ever worn for a role?
TF: Probably the green dress I wore for Silicon Caesar and a pair of Louboutins I got from my first feature called Babalas. I was gifted the dress and the shoes, so that’s probably my favorite.
Tammy as Gabrielle in "Silicon Caesar."
GE: If you were an MMA fighter, what would your walkout song be?
TF: An MMA fighter! I’m gonna be cheesy and say “Eye of the Tiger.”
GE: No, that’s good. We need cheesy in this world.
CF: So, you’re hosting some friends from back home in Los Angeles. Walk me through an ideal day's itinerary. Where are you taking them? What are you showing them?
TF: Oh, everybody always wants to go see the damn Hollywood sign! I've been there so many times so I'm probably gonna have to do that again. The last person came to visit me, we went for lunch at the Ivy which is also a really popular hot spot. People always want to spot celebrities. So we’ll do the sign and the beach. My closest friends love surfing so it would probably be the beach. A great lunch spot, the Hollywood sign, and dinner at my house because I like to cook and I like the host. Some people love coming here and actually doing the tour buses. I'm not into that. The best I do is the Hollywood Sign. I'll take you up there once! Right now I've gone like six times to just go see this damn sign from a distance but anyway, people are fascinated by it so I'll just play along. My parents, whenever they come, we go to the studio tours and see all the major studios in Burbank which is great for people who are into film. Otherwise, beaches, great restaurants, shopping, or drive to the hotel where Pretty Woman was shot. Everybody who doesn't live in L.A wants to go and see those little landmarks, and the Santa Monica Pier. So how about we just do that?
CF: Sounds like a good day!
GE: As a former cooking show host what is one ingredient every well-stopped kitchen should have?
TF: Only one! That's so tough. Probably good olive oil. That's probably the base of everything but I mean I swear there's never enough garlic. Salt and onions. I love flavorful food so my spice cabinet is really extensive, filled with things that I will never use but I just keep buying them because I love trying out new things and then I forget they're there so I really need to do some spring cleaning in my spice cabinets. The base of any good dish for me is always olive oil. Garlic. Onion. Boom.
CF: If you were to teach at your alma mater New York Film Academy, what film would you absolutely have in your lesson plan?
TF: I almost want to say one of the greatest films ever made like Citizen Kane because I just got a lot from that. Oh man, there are so many good movies. Let’s stick to something more recent. Did you see Parasite? That would probably be more up to do date because times are moving so fast and filmmaking has evolved so much. It was just a brilliant, brilliant film.
CF: As inspired by the podcast "My Life is a Film Festival," we ask a lot of film professionals how they would plan a film festival featuring the films of their lives. Not films that you've made, but the films that have had the most influence on your creative and personal life. There are different parameters for this and it's a total of 11 different movies you have to pick.
Tammy-Anne Fortuin's Life as a Film Festival
1. The first film you remember seeing
2. The first film you loved
3. The film that made you want to do what you do
4. Favorite cinematic experience
5. A film that had the most impact on your work
6. A comfort film
7. Scariest film you've seen
8. Funniest film you've seen
9. A film that makes you emotional
10. A film you're looking forward to
11. Honorable mentions
Tammy added that she would need a whole film festival for Stanley Kubrick alone, and should that ever happen, Gabby will be right there with her in the front row.
CF: Well that sounds like a brilliant festival lineup to me. That’s all for the Absolutely Anything questions. This has been such a pleasure, what a lovely way to spend the day!
TF: Thank you guys for having me!
Watch or listen to our full interview with Tammy-Anne Fortuin below!