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We Talk to Tayla Schaffner

Jozi Girl Flying SA flag in Hollywood

by David Simmons

Tayla SchaffnerThe age-old question that most of us find rather difficult to answer is: Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years? In the words of South Africa’s latest export, just like many young and upcoming actors, the answer would be to make it in Hollywood or Broadway. This is however not a dream destined for many, but both these options feature quite boldly in the chapters and journey of local actress Tayla Schaffner. Not known to many South Africans yet, Tayla, who with a touch of luck and huge amounts of perseverance, is making a name for herself on International soil, making South Africa proud. Stage and Screen had the privilege to meet this rising star up close and personal…

At first glance, Tayla Schaffner presents herself with collected calmness and a maturity which is often rare at the age of 21. Her warm and embracing personality captured the true sense of her energy, effectively setting the tone for the rest of our conversation. My goal was to find out who Tayla Schaffner really is? Most recently, Tayla wrote, directed, produced and starred in her own short film When it Rains, which brought her international acclaim.

Born and bred in Johannesburg, she graduated from St. Mary’s School in Waverly. What her goal in life would be, was clear, and without doubt. “I was desperate for a career in the arts, but didn’t quite know how to attain it.” She reminisces: “From even my primary school days, I loved entertaining my family and friends”, she explains with keen fondness, remembering her childhood days and many years glued to the small screen in awe of movie stars and the characters they embody.

Later in 2009, naive and impressionable, Tayla was treated to a musical production of Cats, staged in Johannesburg. During our Facetime call, she stared into thin air, fondly sketching the theatre setup that made its mark on her.  It was clearly definitive, as she illustrated how dark it was, how the energy manipulated her emotions just before the lights dimmed, announcing the roaring start of the show. Vividly, Tayla recalls how overwhelming her experience was, acquiring an immediate appetite and fondness for the stage. From that moment, she knew that acting, whether in front of an audience on a theatre stage, or in front of a camera on a Hollywood movie set, was going to be her forte in life.

After graduating, Schaffner’s drama teacher approached her with the news that the New York Film Academy was auditioning potential students, an opportunity she never thought would knock on her door. Tayla auditioned, and after a call-back, together with the school’s positive interest in what she had to offer, she was awarded with a full talent scholarship! “Having been accepted to the UCT BA program, which only recognises 30 hopefuls a year, I knew that international opportunities like these don’t come often, so I grabbed it without looking back!”

Then at the tender age of 18, she knew that life in New York would be her biggest challenge to date – the Big Apple was a place where dreams can come true, and crash, with success and disappointments manifested in all shapes and sizes. Says Tayla: “The New York scene is cut throat and overwhelming but most importantly, eye-opening!”

During her time at The New York Film Academy, Tayla was cast in an Off-Broadway production of Antigone by Sophocles. This in itself was proving yet again that the standard of our local talent is on par with our American counterparts. “I had to literally pinch myself every second day when I went for rehearsals as opportunities like these don’t come around often”, Tayla says humbly.

Tayla then moved to Los Angeles just before her 20th birthday to complete her Degree. Using the tools she acquired from The New York Film Academy, When it Rains got produced as part of her final thesis project. Winning multiple international awards, including Best Drama Short at the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, Tayla’s world has certainly taken a 360 degree turn with Hollywood roles continuing to keep her respected in the industry.

“Rejection in Hollywood can be incredibly demeaning, but if you believe in yourself and keep pushing on you will reach your goals in no time” – a confident statement from someone who has experienced the scene in both New York and LA: “To be current and enticing to producers you have to keep on working…. If you don’t you won’t be interesting to casting directors!”

One last question beseeched an earnest answer: Would you ever return to South Africa? She answered with full confidence: “The one place where I would most definitely return to, would be Cape Town. I would love to give workshops and offer my knowledge to young hopefuls in the industry.” Tayla speaks with a sense of admiration, admitting that it would be selfish of her not to share her skills and knowledge she built up over the waters. With a keen passion towards kids, one of her goals is to enrich the young talent South Africa has.

Tayla speaks humbly with enormous passion for the arts. Still carrying a strong South African accent which made our conversation more home-grown and relatable, she made it very clear from the start: If you want to reach your goals in life you have to keep forging on and pursue everything that comes your way!” Says Tayla: “I want to offer something different than an Instagram account with lots of followers. I want to offer my talent.”

From her first acting job in a documentary, Wall Street English, to the success of her short film, Tayla continues to find roles that are both inspiring and authentic. Currently, Miss Schaffner is working on a film called Inner City with Hollywood veterans Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, which will hopefully be feature in South Africa in the not too distant future.

Tayla has a daily mantra that has never halted her from reaching her dreams. “Don’t stop at ‘I tried’, you just better make it happen!” Ringing true on a daily basis and never forgetting where she came from, Tayla is making a life for herself and forging a successful career in sunny LA.

Proudly, I can confidently predict, that one day, this actress may also pay homage to her home country during an Oscar acceptance speech….

Get a glimpse of Tayla’s talent on this video on her Youtube channel:


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