Born in Cape Town, South Africa, our latest Femme on Fire first gained popularity via New Zealand TV show Diplomatic Immunity back in 2009, just 10 years after emigrating from South Africa with her family. Now she’s gone on to star in some of the biggest shows on television like Spartacus, CSI and the upcoming season of Single Ladies. We caught up with the gorgeous Lesley-Ann Brandt during a fitting to talk about her latest role: Lani in the independent film Drift. Obviously we should start by talking about your recent film, Drift. Did you have to do any surf training for the film?

*Brandt: *I did! I was doing another movie at the time in Los Angeles, but because Quiksilver was really involved in the production they got some of their pro surfers to train the actors. I worked with pro surfer Strider Wasilewski. I don’t think he’s pro anymore, but he definitely used to be. He does a lot of big wave surfing, so I went out to Malibu and settled in Point Dume, which was great because the water is small enough for first-timers to get a feel for it. But it was a whole different story once I got out to Australia; the water was so much bigger over there. But I used to be a lifeguard in high school in Cape Town, so you could say I’ve got a background in water. [laughs]

* *So tell me a bit about your character. Was it a character you connected with a lot or was it a completely new kind of character for you?

Brandt: I definitely connected with her in a lot of ways. While researching, I looked at who was around in the ’70s as far as female surfers, and of course Rell Sunn, a Hawaiian surfer who passed away from melanoma when she was quite young, who was virtually the one who started the Women’s Professional Surfing Association in Hawaii, came up. She was one of those women you imagine when you think of female surfers: beautiful, tanned and gorgeous hair. She was surfing with the boys at that time; it was a very male dominated sport. I related to her, being a bit of a tomboy myself. I was very athletic as a kid, and having grown up in Cape Town, South Africa you have a real kind of affinity with the beaches and water. And when I was older I moved to New Zealand it was the same thing: beautiful beaches and lots of surfing.

So my character in the film is very in touch with the earth, and her father is good friends with Sam Worthington’s character and he’s like, “Take my daughter and look out for her because I don’t want her here because she’s getting in trouble.” [laughs] I know, this guy thinks that traveling around the world with this guy is a good idea. But Sam and I’s characters roll up into this town and meet the Kelly brothers and we stick around for a bit. It was an interesting time because it was right when surfing was teetering on that line of not just being a recreational sport. It was becoming the multibillion-dollar business that we know today. One thing I took away from it all was that in the research that I did I realized that these guys that are now making huge amounts of money traveling around the world and surfing are all very much still in touch with nature. There’s something very calming about just bobbing out in the water on a surfboard. Even when I was in Malibu, [I would be] just kind of sitting there and a school of dolphins would go by. It takes you out of your own little world, which can be crazy. You’ve done some modeling as well. Why do you feel it’s important to celebrate the female body?

Brandt: Coming from modeling, where I have curves and I was surrounded by girls of all different shapes, it’s so hard sometimes for women, particularly in our industry, because there’s an emphasis put on looks. I think women like Christina Hendricks and Sophia Vergara, Jennifer Lopez and all of these beautiful women who have come out and have made it with their curves show that the ideals of beauty are changing. What one person finds attractive is different to someone else and we need to celebrate that and have more women represented on television and film. We don’t all look like stick figures, you know? We just don’t. I have friends who are really skinny and it’s not because they don’t eat, it’s just their body type. We need to celebrate them too. It’s just different forms of beauty. For me, I always want to be healthy and I am aware of what I look like on camera, sure, but I don’t kill myself trying to appease someone else. I want be healthy, I want to look good and do what I need to do. I just started training with Jeanette Jenkins, who’s this great trainer who works with some huge names. She says that she always feels women need to have a little something on them, you know? A little something to grab on to. How did you like working so closely with Sam Worthington?

Brandt: It was great; all those guys were! I was really lucky because I was probably the only character that got to do a bit with everyone, which was really fun. I mean, you’re stuck in Margaret River, Australia doing this, which is three hours outside the nearest city. We got to know each other really well in that short amount of time. And we were in wine country, so there was wine and delicious food flowing most nights; we really bonded. The film was a real labor of love: everyone from the crew to the director to the producers, we were all there for love of the project, not necessarily to make a ton of money. I think that’s the best thing about independent filmmaking: it’s really about storytelling. So that’s what I really liked about this film and the script. What’s your favorite memory from set?

Brandt: We had a scene in the first or second week of shooting, and a lot of the time we’re waiting for the sun to hit perfectly for the shot, so the guys and I were sitting on our boards out in the ocean and we literally at one point all kind of turned around and said, “Holy shit, this is our job.” We’re pretty lucky, we’re pretty fortunate. It definitely beats a nine-to-five, that’s for sure. You’ve worked in a lot of different genres. Which has been your favorite so far?

Brandt: Spartacus was kind of like a movie for television; it’s a period piece, so you’re kind of in the world which is very glamorous and decadent. Great costumes and the languages are different. I really enjoyed that. But recently I’ve started to do more film and I enjoy knowing the story outright and creating from there. With TV it’s a little different because you’re getting scripts episode to episode so you’re growing with your character and creating it while you go, but with film you have this story immediately. And even with what’s on the page it can change when you’re on set, so I find that process really fulfilling for me creatively. Could you tell me a bit about your role in Killing Winston Jones? From what I’ve read it looks hilarious.

Brandt: That was definitely a highlight for me last year. I’ve taken away some really great friendships from that film and I’m really grateful for it. We were in Savannah for three weeks working with Hollywood royalty, really, Richard Dreyfuss and Danny Glover, and it’s crazy! I watched them when I was a kid! It’s a really great ensemble piece. I started in comedy on a New Zealand show called Diplomatic Immunity, so it was really good for me to flex that muscle again. And watching Danny Masterson, Jon Heder and Tyler Labine, who all have this insane comedy living inside them, come alive…I learned so much from that, it was fun. It’s going to be a good one. It’s in postproduction now so we’re hoping that the producers will get it ready in time for Sundance. What’s your favorite…

*Food: *Anything with hummus!

Drink: Danny Masterson got me hooked on sipping really expensive tequila because you don’t get a hangover. You can drink so much and the next day you are all good so it’s my new little secret on set right now. [laughs] I’m like okay, I’ll share one or two with you, buddy!

Worst pickup line: Probably, “You know who you look like? Halle Berry.” But recently in Atlanta I had this guy come up basically for his friend. So he didn’t even come up to me. He goes, “Yo. My boy’s really feeling you, can I give you his number?” and I’m thinking he can’t even come over here and talk! I’m not even on the market so it doesn’t really matter, but I was like, “Wait —you’re sending your friend to do the dirty work?” Lame!

Most embarrassing moment: So before I started acting I worked for Red Bull in New Zealand and I was one of those girls who drove the Minis with the giant cans; we had to go out to these events and hand out Red Bulls. And we were told to not give a can to pregnant women. So of course this woman comes up and asks for one, and I for some reason thought she was pregnant and I said, “I’m so sorry but I’m not allowed to give it to pregnant or lactating women.” I said lactating! No idea why. And she was like, “I’m not pregnant.” And I just said, “Oh my god, I’m so sorry, have four!” I was mortified, absolutely mortified.

First memory of Playboy: Going around to my boyfriend’s house back in South Africa and finding Playboys in his bed. Scrolling through to figure out what it is and seeing these liberated, beautiful, exquisite breasts displayed. I felt very inferior since I have very small breasts. And a few years ago I helped find for my friend these vintage Playboys from the ’70s, and I loved the women. They still had like a rug down there, they weren’t like…Okay, I say bring back the bush, man! Maybe not fully, but have a little something there. It’s more womanly!