Meet: Deaf writer and actress Sophie Woolley, in South Africa!

Posted on March 22, 2013



Two weeks ago, we brought you the latest episode of Sophie Woolley’s hilarious web series, Deaf Faker, in which she plays a hearing journalist called Charlotte Loud who is trying to find out about ‘the deaf way.’ Sophie is currently away in South Africa so we decided to ask her all about living abroad, her writing, and of course, playing Charlotte Loud… 

What are you doing in South Africa?

I was thinking of doing this interview in character as Charlotte Loud in which case I’d say “I’ve come here to try and forget,” following the thwarted romance in episode 6. But speaking for myself – I’m here for the sunshine and adventure, to see more of the world. My husband has work here for a while and we’ll explore Southern and East Africa- Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

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Do you miss Blighty?

I seem to be missing a really shocking winter but I also miss my family and friends, the transport infrastructure, the Typetalk and the subtitled TV. But mainly I think I live in the right place right now. It’s very dreamlike and beautiful, as well as a place of tragic news stories and extremes.

We have to ask, what did you make of the Oscar Pistorius situation?

South Africa is full of ‘you couldn’t make it up’ stories like this. But usually about people who weren’t well loved heroes. Apart from the shooting of Steenkamp, it is tragic that one of the country’s few national heroes has disgraced himself in such an unbearably terrible way.

No one I know here seems particularly interested in talking about it. They sort of shake their head sadly and change the subject. Someone said the gun thing was to do with a hangover from farming culture. I’m following the story anyway. Including the debates about race that come out of it – nationally and internationally.

How deaf aware is South Africa?

It’s been a pleasant surprise. You’d think it would be really scary and hard but it’s lovely! It’s much less stressful than London in one sense, people seem laid back and calm, and open and friendly, so the reaction on telling people I’m deaf isn’t annoying here. Everyone seems to have seen it all before. They don’t get nervous or go weird, or impatient or anything like that.

Perhaps it’s partly because there are 11 official languages here and so people are better at communicating. On the other hand the accents, particularly the strong Afrikaans accent can trip me up. But The brain is an amazing tool, I’ve got better at lipreading the accents. But I still cannot understand most of what is said, without a lot of repetition and questions – but I have that in the uk as well.

The constitution of South Africa is pretty progressive so there are laws about equality here. But the money isn’t there to make the equality come true. Imagine living somewhere with no free decent hearing aids, Typetalk, no subtitled theatre or film screenings, no generous funding of deaf arts and (apparently) just 47 registered interpreters in the whole country! but South Africa does have interpreters on the TV news. Some of the programmes are in Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans etc so will have subtitles. I don’t have a TV though.

Pick n Pay, the national supermarket here, likes to employ deaf people I think, as there is a Deaf guy at my local and someone at my sign class said there was a Deaf guy at her one too.

What are you writing, and has being away affected your work?

A radio sitcom and a stageplay. Writing is easy. Of course the face to face stuff is impossible but I’ll be back in due course to get stuck in.

Will there be any South African influences in future episodes of Deaf Faker?

Prince Harry recently visited Lesotho in Southern Africa and was photographed dancing with some deaf school children – a blatant attempt to manipulate my sympathies towards him by standing near some cute deaf kids.

Ideally I’d do an episode where Charlotte Loud is doing a charity visit to a deaf school to try and impress the deaf community back in UK, in particular Matthew Gurney. She would look really good surrounded by lots of photogenic deaf kids who want to be on TV. And who can blame her? She will far look more impressive than when sitting next to a polite deaf bloke who doesn’t really like her.

She can hang out with a bunch of South African deaf kids and have a bit of a cry about how shockingly amazing the children are (who knew?) and be so moved it will change her, just as meeting Matthew changed her. But for now it’s a pipe dream. I don’t know if I’ll have the resources to make this idea a reality.

How do you think the character of Charlotte has progressed?

Story wise, I hope it comes across in the episodes that Charlotte is having to adjust her perception of deaf people as she goes along. So I’m not just laughing at a daft hearing person, Charlotte is hopefully someone who will become more vulnerable, more complex. I’m not sure about likeable, I’ve not played her as such.

But I see the narrative arc in that way, a character moving from ignorant prejudice to an increasing knowledge and understanding, initially inspired by an attraction, as well as the usual narcissism and self consciousness common to our generation.

It’s late and scorchio here in Cape Town, and I’m rambling and there is a massive, hideous looking insect climbing in through my window…

We shall just have to see what the reaction is to the latest episode. Caroline O Neil and Mark Williams the director-producers did an completely brilliant job on the last two episodes. Check out the final shot on episode 6, it’s beautiful.

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