Vanessa Haywood (born 1978) is a South African actress, model, television presenter and businesswoman best known for her role as Tania van der Merwe in the cult science fiction film District 9, in 2009.
She was also a contestant on the M-Net reality competition Survivor South Africa: Maldives, in 2011.
Vanessa grew up on a farm in Mpumalanga, South Africa and spent most of her childhood running in wheat fields and covered in mud.
When her family moved to the city (Pietersburg), her mother encouraged her to do some finishing courses and enter beauty contests. She was painfully shy and her mother thought that this might help.
It did...she completed a few finishing and modeling courses, and went on to become Miss Spring, Miss Bushveld, Miss Tropica, Miss Valentine, Miss Cameo, Miss Pietersburg and many more.
After high school she had a short stint at studying Chiropractic Medicine in Durban but due to terrible violence on campus that year, she decided her life had to change course. She went on to study marketing and business management and got her degree in 2001.
In 2000, she was a Miss South Africa finalist and things took off from there. Ice Models saw her at the contest and asked her to join their agency. She has been with them ever since.
After finishing her degree she started traveling extensively for modeling work and got to see the world. She lived in London and in Hamburg, travelled to exotic destinations such as Costa Rico, Cocos Island, The Canary Islands, Sardinia, Thailand, The Bahamas, Mauritius and many more.
She has been on the covers of many local and international magazines including W Magazine, Shape, Chat, Fitness, Shape, Woman and Home, Prima, Bicycling, Runner’s World, WOW, Top Sante, Tina etc.
She has shot many local and international TV commercials and appeared in countless clothing catalogues and advertising campaigns.
In 2005 she became a fitness athlete and began competing in fitness competitions nation wide. She placed 4th in the internationally acclaimed Miss Fitness which was her first competition.
She secured many sponsorships as a result and was featured in both Muscle Evolution and Fitness magazines. She appeared on the cover of Fitness magazine twice.
In 2007 she was chosen as the Shape Cover Look of the Year winner, securing a Shape magazine cover which opened many doors for her.
She also studied drama and performed as an actress and dancer on stage many times when she was younger. She also played the role of Mother Superior in a theatre production of Sister Act and Lady Macbeth in a production of Macbeth.
In film, she had small roles in Hey Boy directed by Brendan Pollecut and Blood Diamond, directed by Edward Zwick. She also appeared in the 2010 film The Sweet Shop.
Her big break came in 2008 when she was cast as the female lead for District 9, directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson, which premiered to critical acclaim worldwide in August 2009.
Her television career started well before her acting career did, having presented for Groen (kykNET), Top Billing (SABC3), AgriTV (SABC1) and Wildlife Video Cast (Asia).
She also presented many corporate videos and records voice overs from time to time.
She currently own a marketing and events company called Bliss Marketing.