She's the face behind the loveable Suzelle DIY, now Julia Anastasopoulos is getting ready to introduce the world to Sandton poppie, Tali. Channel24's Herman Eloff sat down with Julia and her husband Ari Kruger to talk about their hot new project.
Cape Town – There’s no sign of Suzelle DIY’s Afrikaans-English accent, nor her signature bolla. The YouTube sensation’s iconic leopard print outfit with neon pink accents has been swapped out for a stylish black ensemble. Instead of her dark tresses there are now trendy blonde highlights.
As I sit down with Julia Anastasopoulos poolside at the stunning One & Only hotel in Cape Town I try feverishly to find a glimpse of the quirky YouTube star that stole the hearts of so many South Africans.
But she’s nowhere to be found.
Instead, sitting in front of me is a sophisticated, smart and super-friendly Julia – the real woman behind the fictional character.
THE WOMAN BEHIND THE STAR
It’s a sunny Friday afternoon in the Mother City and Julia and her husband, Ari Kruger, have agreed to meet me to talk about their latest project. This new venture will not only see the birth of another online star, but will undoubtedly leave Suzelle DIY green with envy.
It was announced just last month that Ari and Julia’s latest brain child will become the first original series to stream on the South African internet TV service, Showmax. Tali’s Wedding Diary will be an eight-part mockumentary that follows Sandton princess Tali as she copes with moving to Cape Town whilst planning her extravagant wedding.
Having had a glimpse of Julia’s latest creation I was stunned by her transformation. Her chameleon-like ability to transform from one character to the next is evidence of her talent and unique ability to create characters so uniquely South African.
Although a brand new character there’s something eerily familiar about Tali. Everyone knows a Tali in real-life. She’s a total babes, who freakin’ loves social media, pouts a lot and has a nasally high-pitched tone that holds onto vowels. Once you hear her speak you’ll know exactly what I mean.
[DID YOU KNOW: Julia is also an artist. Her illustrations can be seen on the walls and windows of a few MyCiTi bus stations in Cape Town.]
BRIDEZILLA AND ICY WEATHER
According to Ari and Julia they’ve played with the idea of introducing a new character for a while but it got set aside for a bit as the couple themselves tied the knot earlier this year. From there the concept of the show blossomed.
“We had the character for a while. We knew Tali was going to be the next character but we just didn’t know in which context she would exist,” explains Ari.
Julia adds: “Whilst planning a wedding we found that there was so much comedic material. You meet the funniest people and situations and for some reason everything is heightened. We definitely drew a lot of inspiration from planning our own wedding. So the two concepts just sort of came together perfectly.”
As Ari and Julia sit in front of me it’s been exactly two days since filming of the series wrapped in Cape Town. The crew and cast, which includes a few familiar online personalities, traversed the recent Cape Town storm and icy weather to film a summer wedding for the show.
“We filmed mostly in-and-around Cape Town in some amazing locations and everyone was very keen to assist. We basically shot in all the locations Tali would actually go to if she was a real person.
“The weather was definitely one of the biggest challenges we faced. Shooting in winter has its perks because venues are able to give lower rates because they aren’t too busy. But then on the other hand you’re shooting for summer in winter. Every single day we had to shoot outdoors was just the coldest. It just got colder. We had a very wet, cold crew,” Julia explains.
“But also everyone else is filming in Cape Town in winter. While we were filming, about 10 other big projects were also filming at the same time so even just getting gear had its challenges,” Ari adds.
“We actually had to reshuffle our shooting schedule when the big storm hit. But it all worked out. When people watch the show they won’t even know it was winter.”
“Now that we’ve just come out of it, it feels like a really amazing project to have done as a married couple. It’s our first big project together,” Julia explains.
“We even developed a shorthand with each other,” Ari adds.
[DID YOU KNOW: In 2008, Julia designed a Peg Light and received an award in Eskom's Energy Efficient Lighting Design Competition.]
FRIENDS, FAMILY AND SHOWMAX
The couple also roped in the help of friends and family to get this very special project off the ground. Julia’s sister, Stephanie, was not only a stylist for the series but also stars in the mockumentary as Tali’s sister.
“She’s never acted before, but she’s definitely supposed to be in front of the camera. Julia and Stephanie’s real-life relationship is basically the same as Tali and her sister’s on-screen. Except they don’t really have those Joburg kugel accents. Steph was so good. She nailed it,” Ari explains Stephanie’s casting.
And yes, even Ari makes a small cameo in the show along with some other famous faces. But you’ll have to tune in yourself to find out who they are.
With 22 million combined views on her Suzelle DIY YouTube channel it’s almost a no-brainer that this spin-off project would quickly find a broadcaster to call home. And Showmax wasted no time bagging this deal.
Ari explains: “We didn’t know what we were going to do with the series. But after shooting the pilot we felt that this project needed a longer type of format. We wanted more characters and proper production. We then decided we needed to do it for TV with a decent budget. We needed buy-in from someone who got the vibe."
Julia adds: “We heard that Showmax was looking for original content and we decided to send them a proposal as well as the pilot episode. We positioned it as Suzelle’s next project. And they got back to us on the same day. It happened very quickly and felt almost surreal. Working with Showmax has been a bit of a dream come true.
“They really are on the same page as us. They’re not trying to make our vision fit into their vision. They let us make it as authentic as we needed it to be. They gave us creative control. What’s amazing about Showmax is that they really want to create South African content. They want local content with nuanced South African characters. I think South African audiences also feel a real sense of ownership when it comes to local characters. Especially with Suzelle.”
[DID YOU KNOW: Julia is a pescatarian and doesn't eat meat. Not even in a braai pie.]
SUZELLE IS NOT GOING TO BE HAPPY
But Ari believes the magic behind the show lies fully in Julia’s talents: “Julia has this amazing ability to create characters that resonate in a seriously meaningful and recognisable way. I don’t know how she does it. The characters resonate in a way that is exciting and people want more of it. It becomes this addictive thing.”
In fact the characters become so life-like that people are often disappointed when they find out that Suzelle only exists on-screen and not in reality. According to Ari they always try to introduce the characters as if they’re real. This was their approach when they created Suzelle and now Tali. They wanted both to be as real as possible.
“There are a lot of people who still believe that Suzelle is a real person. But I guess in a way the character of Suzelle has become a real person. I wake up next to Julia every morning and I don’t see any trace of Suzelle, but when I edit the footage…Suzelle appears on screen in front of me. I don’t for a minute believe that it isn’t Suzelle in front of me when I watch the footage. The character is so real that she has become a ‘real person’,” Ari explains.
And Julia agrees: “Actually we all talk about Suzelle in the third person like she really exists. She is real for us and I think for a lot of people too. In fact Suzelle is not very happy about this, by the way.”
Tali will ultimately live in a very different world from Suzelle. Gone will be the pastel colours, animal print and handy DIY tips. Instead Tali will see the birth of a completely different but equally funny new internet star…and you’re totally going to love to hate her, babes.
[MAKE A NOTE: Tali’s Wedding Diary will premiere on Showmax in December 2017.]
Special thanks to The One & Only Hotel Cape Town for hosting the interview.