Private schools are back this week, even for 2018 Fleur du Cap Best Student nominee Tristan de Beer and Troy: Fall Of A City actress Shamilla Miller, two of the stars of The Girl From St Agnes, Showmax’s first original drama, coming 31 January 2019.
They play Jason and Jenna, a couple who go to St Ambrose and its sister school St Agnes respectively, prestigious single-sex boarding schools in the Midlands.
When Jenna’s best friend – and Jason’s ex-girlfriend – is found dead at the base of the old mill it sparks an investigation that will expose much more than just the murderer…
We caught up with them to find out more about their characters in the whodunnit, whether the dark drama reminded them of their own school experiences, and what advice they’d give to anyone starting high school this year…
Tell us about your characters in ‘The Girl From St Agnes’
Shamilla: I play Jenna. She’s one of three best friends of the girl who died. She’s the Miss Perfect of the school. Perfect grades, well spoken, well groomed. But she gets nervous, she gets panicky, if things don’t go her way. She needs everything to be just so.
Tristan: I play Jason Clayton. He’s a guy who’s grappling with his own identity. He’s trying to make a name for himself and figure out what he should stand for. He crosses the line and does some horrible things, but he’s not a one-note bad guy.
What drew me to the character was the realism of it and the questions it raises. What makes a person do these acts? What has raised them to be that way?
It’s spooky to think that I could have been Jason. It was like looking at a mirror and saying, ‘This could have been me.’ If I didn’t make the friends that I made. If my mother had sent me to a different school, with the same values as St Ambrose. If my mother hadn’t raised me in such a wonderful way. I could have been a very different person; I could have been that guy like Jason who uses his power and his standing in life to talk down to people. It’s a creepy feeling.
Did St Agnes and St Ambrose remind you of your own school experiences?
Shamilla: Not really. I went to a public school – Hottentots Holland. There wasn’t a lot of bullying. There were groups of people but everyone kind of kept to themselves within their cliques. There wasn’t really drama or fighting that I was aware of.
But the teenage girl things – the way they were there for each other and also the way they fight – I resonated with that.
Tristan: I was very fortunate to go to Westerford, a co-ed school which had gone through a progressive awakening.
But I had friends who went to schools that were more like St Ambrose. With these traditions that are just there, that feel like they are part of the vibe that no one can break. Where the older years look down on the younger years and treat them as lesser. Where appearances are everything and what’s real is hidden. I’ve heard many horror stories of violence and aggression in these spaces.
What advice would you give to people starting high school?
Tristan: When you’re a teenager, pearls of wisdom from someone older than you are the last thing you want to hear.
How do I phrase this without sounding like an old teacher? It sounds like a motivational post on Facebook, but find out who you want to be and what kind of life you want to live, and pursue that dream to your fullest ability. Try to avoid falling into the traps of what is cool or popular or the thing that will get you the most friends, or followers, or likes. Be someone that you would look at and think, ‘That’s a good person.’
Make yourself happy and you can make other people happy too.
Shamilla: Dance to your own music… Be yourself and try not to judge everyone else because you are insecure. I feel like that’s where the base of bullying comes from: a place of insecurity and judgement.
If you’re being bullied, persevere and push through. Wipe it off your shoulder – it’s not going to be forever.
But I know if someone told me that in high school, I’d be, ‘Whatever,’ because high school feels like forever when you’re in it.