Nicole Holm: the actress who asks, ‘how does that make you feel?’

Not much of a question for an actress, but a great one from a psychologist. Nicole Holm, local celebrity, is explored in this piece, as is her future.

She stands so close to the audience we can almost smell her. Sweat

Nicole Holm
In the final dramatic scene of 'Diensmeisies', actress Nicole Holm sheds actual tears. She is a talented Afrikaans actress in Stellenbosch, but with plans for a change. PHOTO: Samantha Steele

glistens on her brow – and, regardless of what Nicole Holm wants to do, Solange, her character, does not wipe it off. Diensmeisies is a dark, fascinating production, and Nicole Holm captures its strangeness and absurdity in her very core. ‘How does that make you feel?’ is not a question we have to ask her. We can see what she’s feeling. Nicole Holm is not Nicole Holm on stage; and the stage a constant backdrop to Nicole’s  life.

Martelize Kolver is a good friend of Nicole’s, a co-actor who has spent many years working with her. “I learned an incredible amount from her in terms of dedication to her work,” says Martelize.  They acted together in Diensmeisies for about eighteen months as sisters with an intense, bizarre relationship. “One of my favourite moments with Nicole is from Diensmeisies. In one of the scenes, Nicole has to strangle me. I’m literally saved by the bell – except this one time, the bell didn’t go off. So she’s almost killing me – but what can we do? We have to wait for the audio cue before we can stop. It’s wonderful to be able to work so closely with someone,” laughs Martelize.

It’s “shit-amazing friends” like these, as Nicole describes them, that helped her through an extremely challenging phase of her life. Two years ago, Nicole’s fourteen-year marriage imploded when her husband left her. “We divorced because [Francois] fell in love with another man,” she explained. “He’s still with that man, so obviously that for me was very difficult intially.” Martelize says that she is “in awe of the friendship [Nicole] and Francois have to this day”.

Aside from years of theatre experience, an experience she very much shared with Francois, Nicole also acted in Known Gods, a local drama that ran for three years. Her television experience left her with only the certain knowledge that she will most likely not work in that medium again. “The salary [from Known Gods] was not quite nice, dis blerrie nice. But the actual work? It’s not in the least comparable to theatre work. I was frustrated every single day,” Nicole says, sipping a gin and tonic with fat beads of condensation sitting on the glass, half a lemon squeezed in. We are in Die Mystic Boer, within hopping distance of HB Thom, a theatre frequented by Nicole. Theatre is personal and controlled – television is neither. She can’t forget feeling absolutely powerless while filiming Known Gods, forced to  leave mostly unrehearsed scenes to the post-production team. Nicole remembers, slipping into Afrikaans, “So vir my was daar baie cringe moments, baie.”

“TV is not like a stage production, where you are really sort of intimately involved with people for very long hours,” says Nicole. One person Nicole has been involved with is Juanita Swanepoel, a director and a friend of hers for about fifteen years now. Juanita directed the acclaimed Jan en Jorie. Nicole’s role as Jorie won her the prestigious Fleur du Cap award – the highest acting honour available in the country. “You’re always looking and thinking, what will Nicole do to top it next?” says Juanita.

Nicole does not plan on topping that, however. She plans on leaving the business instead. “I suddenly realised I could go on like this now for the rest of my life, but I’m running out of energy,” she confesses. When not on stage, Nicole teaches at both Northlink College and the University of Stellenbosch. “I got to the point last year some stage where I realised that actually I can maybe not call myself an actress anymore. I’m basically maar a teacher”. She’s tired of the business, tired of the energy it takes to be an actor, tired of the constant money concerns. As Juanita says, “To be an actor in South Africa is something of a luxury.” Nicole doesn’t want to teach – but she can’t afford to act full-time either. “So what’s the light at the end of my tunnel? Would the end be to get a soap, and to go up to Joburg? Not ever. That’s the thing, not ever.”

Psychology is Nicole’s new career plan, one which she has carefully mapped out: “The picture I have in my head is to have my own practice from home, make a shit-load of money, and then do two plays a year. That’s the romantic idea.” She is now in her second year year at Unisa, and says that unless it suddenly becomes boring, she plans on being Dr Nicole Holm – not a character, but for real – in about seven years time. Martelize says, “I told her it’s high time that she gets paid to do what she does for all of her friends anyway.”

The personal quality Nicole loves about theatre is the quality that will make her a good psychologist. Linda Blockland is a clinical psychologist working with honours and masters students at the University of Pretoria. “I’ve had quite a few actors came through the programme, and I think that potentially it can be quite a good match,” says Blockland. She thinks that actors often make great psychologists, despite the seemingly unbreachable gap between the extroversion needed for an actor, and the introversion needed for a psychologist. One is a performer, a talker, and the other is a listener. “For clinical or counselling psychology, anything that has a creative side and deals with language is useful,” Blockland says.

And Nicole is warm and sincere. She empathises with her characters as she does her friends. “I think she’ll make a wonderful psychologist,” says Juanita, “She’s interested in people and what makes them tick, the same as she is in her characters. But I don’t think she’ll ever leave the theatre.” Nicole states it quite clearly herself: “I think I might die if I stop acting.”

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