THE BIG INTERVIEW: Out of the wings, Horley takes flight
Dylan Nicol Horley is waiting for me when I arrive on time for our scheduled interview. Over a cup of coffee, he speaks about what he might write in his biography one day. Back at work, I find an e-mail from him to thank me for meeting him. A well-brought up, clean-shaven, dapperly dressed 23-year-old man, I thought. He is also an ambitious one with a clear idea of what he wants to achieve in his life.
After seeing Horley on stage in playwright Craig Higginson's Little Foot at the Market Theatre recently, I was intrigued. Set in the Cradle of Humankind, targeting a young audience, the story brings together our ancient past and our present-day democracy.
Horley plays one of the young friends who spends a New Year's Eve in the caves at Maropeng as part of an annual tradition.
All the acting is good, but it is Horley's commanding stage presence that demanded my attention.
Earlier this year, he played Doug Cambell, a young rebel conscripted to the South African Defence Force in Anthony Akerman's Somewhere on the Border. In this role, Horley is convincingly bullied for two hours a night for 10 weeks. Too young to have experienced being a white conscript fighting for an apartheid government, he read literature about that time and was trained by an ex-bombardier for this role.
"I found it hard. There were times, after shows, when I cried. It was intense and traumatic. Those guys really had a tough time."
Ex-conscripts congratulated him on his performance, although some said that the real experience was far worse than anything that could be captured on stage.
Horley graduated from the University of Cape Town's drama school last year and has since done what many young actors would love to have achieved: he has performed in two successful stage productions in the first six months of his working life.
He gives the usual bumf about discovering his love for drama in nursery school. But it's what happened later that is endearing.
"I really struggled with primary school. I had to repeat a year. But, in high school, I took drama as a subject, and it changed my life. It transformed everything and became my life."
He matriculated with distinctions in speech and drama, art and English. It's obvious Horley takes his work seriously, and sees mistakes as steps to success. It is an ethos he sees in his self-employed parents.
His current role as Wizard in Little Foot is a disturbing one. Wizard, who has been in the UK for the year since he and his friends matriculated, introduces his old school friends to a new love, Rebecca. This irrationally upsets the group's dynamics. Coco, who is clearly in love with Wizard, devises a devious and dangerous prank with grave consequences.
To get into character for Little Foot's Wizard, Horley watched YouTube videos of people losing their minds while on hallucinogenic drugs.
"It's a difficult world to recreate honestly. Being Wizard was about understanding drugs and understanding why he has such deep-seated malice."
Horley used images of accidents and a graphic image of his "father" being shot so that he had a clear idea of Wizard's emotional world.
Little Foot, he says, is "about how the youth of South Africa is affected by our dark history".
"Each character is an individual with a unique background. But it doesn't matter how you were raised, you can't escape South Africa. It's firmly entrenched in your being. But without opening up to each other, you'll not reach redemption."
At various intervals during Little Foot, the ancient chorus asks: "Are you what we wanted to be?"
The audience is left wondering whether civilisation has made people kinder and better than they were three million years ago.
Although Horley's big ambition is to be in film, he doesn't fit into the class of young actors the Oscar-winning actress Judi Dench once criticised.
"Probably the majority of young actors want to make a big impression in TV or film straight away. I wish that young people now - and it's not very fashionable - learnt a bit about our fantastic heritage of theatre and the people who've gone before. Learnt a bit about the history of the theatre because it's phenomenal," she said referring to English actors and their stage tradition.
Here Horley is learning from the best. Having read award-winning theatre director and playwright Malcolm Purkey's work while at university, he is delighted to be working with one of the masters of local theatre.
I say goodbye to Horley, impressed with his ambition, his hard work and his clarity.
"When I am on stage or in front of the camera, that is the only place I want to be," he says.
- Little Foot runs at the Market Theatre until August 19