From dropping out of drama school to the West End stage, via travel shows, a part on a massive sci-fi series, standup and a real-life love story, Suanne Braun has turned her talents to more things than most. Dotty Winters grabbed her for a chat.
I dropped out of drama school before graduating and got a job as a presenter on South Africa’s first ever independent TV channel. I became really well known, which surprised me. It shouldn’t have surprised me if I’d thought about it – I was on national TV every night – but I hadn’t expected it. I went on to host a travel series for a number of years, which was a fantastic learning experience, plus I got to stay in very luxurious hotels, which I would never have been able to afford. Through all of this I was acting on stage and on film. At 23 I decided to leave South Africa and try my hand in London, New York or Los Angeles, so I set off to explore them all. I hated London ‘cos it was so cold, so I went to LA.
After I got my first job, I thought I’d hit the big time. I was in LA for ten years. During that time I got the part of Hathor in Stargate SG-1. I’ll always be grateful to Hathor – she’s kept me very busy for years.
As time went on it got harder in LA. At 30 you are considered absolutely ancient. And around that time I discovered comedy. My manager was a real bitch. She kept telling me I couldn’t be a comedian. One of the best ways to get me to do anything is to tell me I can’t do it, so I did.
How did you end up in London?
I went back to South Africa from LA, and that’s where I met Chris. It was a remarkable love story, a true fairy tale, which was surprising because I don’t believe in that bullshit. He was based in London, so we’ve settled here. I’ve got used to the cold.
It took me a while to get my groundings here, get a new agent, work my way back up. I ended up playing one of the lead roles in Mamma Mia in the West End. That was an amazing experience. It’s a wonderful show to be part of.
After that I was put forward for a lot of musicals. There can be a bit of a divide between straight acting and musical theatre. That has been a bit frustrating. People see you’ve done some musicals and the blinds come down. We can all do many different things. This is an industry that loves to put you in a box. Sometimes you have to be willing to challenge the box they want to keep you in. I’m really excited about the things I am getting involved with now.
Hathor has really followed you about. What’s it like to be part of the sci-fi community?
I love it. When I took the part I didn’t really know much about Stargate, and I’m not really a sci-fi person. I didn’t know that Hathor was based on an Egyptian goddess. Imagine my surprise when I went on honeymoon and there she was. Sci-fi has a bit of a reputation and some of the costumes are definitely pretty scanty. I was very lucky. The original concept for Hathor’s costume was basically just a coathanger. We had this amazing wardrobe mistress.
The version of Hathor I play is a bit evil, a bit twisted. Men respond to her in the obvious ways but women respond to her differently – they see her strength, her power and how nothing stops her getting what she wants. Female fans like that she is so unapologetically sexual.
Earlier you mentioned how age is treated in show business. What are your experiences as an older actress?
This business has almost no tolerance for women aging. You are rarely told that is the reason though. No one says: “You didn’t get the part. We think you are ancient”. They’ll say, “We decided to go another way”. Then the film comes out and you see that “the other way” is the “24-year-old way”.
It’s a complex issue. I don’t know the answers. Honestly, I’m not sure how to make peace with it – I see actresses changing their faces and bodies because that is what is expected of them. This pressure to change shape and size is really only on women – it can feel all-consuming.
I was on a set recently and I was standing near this tiny, beautiful young actress who was playing my daughter and I immediately felt huge and ancient. I thought to myself, “Why am I even fucking apologising? Why should it matter that I am larger or older than her?” But that instinctive reaction is still there. I wish I could turn round and say, “Fuck you. This is who I am darling, take it or leave it.”
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Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.