Van der Merwe, or simply Van, has long been the butt of South African jokes, in the same way that the Irish use the character of Paddy in their jokes.
It was this connection that motivated director Bruce Lawley to shoot a film about the fictional life of Van der Merwe and his struggles as a staunch Afrikaaner.
Set on a farm in South Africa, the film centres around Van’s dilemma after his daughter, Marike, returns home from England announcing her engagement to a British medical student.
Angry and concerned with how his family will respond to the news of his daughter marrying an Englishman, Van attempts to sabotage the wedding.
The film stars comedian Rob Van Vuuren as Van and also includes appearances from the likes of Kurt Darren and Barry Hilton.
Rob told TshisaLIVE that he was immediately drawn to the character and story.
“I met Bruce to discuss the film and right there and then I knew that I wanted to be a part of the project. I grew up listening and telling Van jokes and to see them evolve from that into a full story was just amazing. I auditioned and was honoured to be offered the role,” Rob said.
The character brought about a number of challenges for Rob, including having to undergo a physical transformation.
“The role meant wearing a fat suit for several hours a day and having to wear the trademark two-tone shirt and tiny short. I also had to cut my hair down the middle to give the idea that I was bald with small patches of hair. It was challenging but extremely exciting to act out,” Rob explained.
He promised that the film would bring audiences to tears with laughter but hoped that they would also see the deeper messages behind the jokes.
“It’s about tolerance and family at the end of the day, and I really hope that audiences will see that when they go and watch the film. Sure, they will laugh and hopefully see Van in a way that they didn’t expect, but at the heart of it this is a story about a family trying to find itself and each other, ” Rob said.
Van Der Merwe opens at cinemas nationwide on July 28.