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INT: Carice van Houten

04.04.2007

Never before have I been this enwrapped by any war film. Frankly, aside from brilliant directing and screenwriting, a film this engaging, provocative and riveting must be credited to the powerful, electrifying and daring performance by Carice van Houten. You cannot help but be impressed and awestruck with a scene-stealing actress so classically beautiful, poised, humble, and talented. Van Houten portrays a fearless Jewish girl who seeks refuge with the Dutch Resistance during WWII but is ultimately left to her own devices to survive in Verhoeven’s upcoming spellbinding thriller BLACK BOOK.

Making her first big film debut in BLACK BOOK, van Houten captivates audiences and commands continuous attention in every shocking, unpredictable scene. Singing her praises, renowned director Verhoeven confesses his deep admiration for the gifted actress without whom he admits the film could not have been made. A performance of this caliber should undoubtedly catapult her career and awaken Hollywood . Exuding old world glamour, the sweet and entertaining actress sat down to discuss the challenges of making BLACK BOOK, working with Verhoeven and falling in love on the set. Check out what van Houten had to say.

Carice van Houten

So, did Verhoeven put you through the ringer? He’s known to be tough on his actresses.

He did, but he didn’t do it the way I thought he was going to do it. I just saw documentaries about him making films in the 70s and he was screaming and there were actresses who didn’t eat for the 24 hours and were like this [doubled-over] on the set, just turning their heads for somebody to shove something in their mouth so they could just move on. So I was a little afraid of that because I’ve done a lot of movies in my own country, but never so big.

Of course, it’s a big, big responsibility to be the main part in this film because if you don’t like me you have a problem for two and a half hours. So I felt that was a big thing. I know that people want to hear something else, like crazy stories, but he was really the sweetest director I could have had. He knew as well that to do such a thing you need trust and you need somebody who leads you through that, and he did it. Every morning when I came on the set I thought, ‘Maybe this is the day that he’s going to explode. Maybe this is the day that we’ve all been sort of waiting for,’ but it never happened.

Did you get a sense after he’d directed so many big films in the U.S. in recent years that it was like a homecoming for him, literally and figuratively, making this film?

Of course I wouldn’t know, really, how he worked before or how he’d worked in America, but I’m sure that definitely he felt home again. He will tell you that he wanted to make something real. I think he was a little fed up with making, like Hollow Man. He will make the joke. He made it before, that he didn’t want to make hollow films like Hollow Man anymore. He wanted to make more realistic pictures. I think he is, of course, a Dutchman, and it works for him to be back there.

How did you prepare for your character?

Well, I personally don’t like to rehearse so much. I really trust my instincts. I like to talk and talk and talk and talk and talk until we have to do it. As well in theater, I would like to just sit around the table until the premiere and then do it. But of course that’s not always possible. And I’m not a method actor. I couldn’t explain it, so much, exactly what I do. I’m very conscious in what I’m playing, but I couldn’t really put a finger on the way that I do it. But obviously [Verhoeven] is not so interested in character building. He says that a character is just three close-ups at the good moments. He sees it from a whole different perspective. I think I’m a very intuitive actress (and) with his knowledge and with his technical skills, this combination worked very well. So they’re not confusing.

Did he give you creative freedom?

Yeah. Of course he would say, ‘Would you make it a little bigger’ or ‘Make it a little smaller’ or ‘Do this and this.’ Then in the end he would say, ‘Well, do what you want.’ I felt very trusted by him.

Did you work out a back-story for the character or was it more intuitive and instinctual?

It was more that, more the last thing. Also, of course, in the beginning I thought, ‘this is a World War II part. I have to know everything about this period. This is a big thing. I have to go into it.’ Of course I read stories and I was brought up in Holland anyway, with these stories. I read a lot of articles about young women in the resistance, about Jewish women. And then all of a sudden I thought, ‘Well, if I go too much into this horrible time I want to be able to start as a fresh character.’ There’s so much going on in this woman’s life that I wanted to not take every horror from the last scene into the next scene because then after ten minutes it’s already too heavy, and what makes this character survive is that she just swallows it and goes on.

Did you have any misconceptions of your character that changed as the shoot progressed?

Not so much, I guess. No. Sorry.

Talk about that scene where you are getting dumped on with a giant bucket of crap and urine.

It was a combination of potato powder, peanut butter, and some sort of greasy cookie. It was SO horrible that I was screaming for real shit at the end of the day. I was really saying, ‘Give me real [shit], and then I could relate to that. I know that smell.’ But this was something horrible. And of course it was not a funny day because not only is it an unpleasant feeling to have 200 liters of whatever on you, it was as well very heavy. I couldn’t even stand up anymore. And I didn’t know what to expect. It takes a lot of energy because you’re so nervous. You don’t know what’s going to happen.

How many takes did you do?

I think we did two or three. I’m pretty tough on the set, but I couldn’t even make any jokes anymore. It was thick stuff. I was going with all this stuff in the shower. I felt horrible. But it was as well humiliating to do, not only for me as an actress, but it was one of these things that I thought ‘we’re are now reproducing history but we are doing things that still happen as well.’

Does singing come naturally to you or did you have to work on that?

Well, I had some singing lessons. I had sung in school. I went to a drama school that was a little more orientated on singing and dancing and writing and music.

How familiar were you with the Jewish experience in Holland in WWII and what did you learn in your research that you could identify with and use in playing the character?

That’s a little how it is in Holland, that we learned we were the victims, let’s say, and Germans were all bad. I was brought up with that as well. My father is a little milder, but the fact that I have a German boyfriend now, 20 years ago he would have had a big problem with it, let’s say. So it’s still a big thing. You still can see it even in football [soccer]. They’re still fighting the war out there. It’s still there. But as well I knew always that Holland was the country that [traded/gave away] the most Jews of all the countries. So that’s what I knew as well. So I knew that we’re not the heroes that were in the books. That’s what I knew. Ann Frank, I was brought up with that. I read it; I don’t know how many times.

And how did you use that in building your character?

I don’t know if I used that background so much. I had to play with the fact that I had big secrets and had to trust nobody and walk on egg [shells]. I don’t know if you say that in America. So, again, I didn’t want to put too much of the knowledge that I have about this period into this character because otherwise she wouldn’t have this sort of innocence anymore.

Are you familiar with Verhoeven’s films?

Showgirls I didn’t see and it’s very funny because it’s probably good that I didn’t see it because I would have made jokes the whole time with him. But he can take it anyway.

What is your favorite Verhoeven film?

My favorite is Turkish Delight. It’s a very old movie. I thought it was a very romantic film. Basic Instinct I saw a lot of times and I couldn’t figure out who did it. I hated it. I couldn’t figure out. And then Paul said, ‘Yeah, of course Sharon did it all. She did it all! She did it all!’ But that was my favorite, Turkish DelighT.

Which American directors would you like to work with?

Well, when I saw Magnolia I thought, ‘If this man [Paul Thomas Anderson] is going to call me, I’m on the plane as soon as possible.’ But I don’t know where he went.

Are you interested in working in America?

I never really was because I thought, first of all, I am one of I don’t know how many actresses they have. They’re not waiting for me, I think. I never believed in going to America with my show reel and just knocking on every agent’s door. I’m too insecure and too proud. It’s a strange combination. But I didn’t believe that I could work [in American]. Now for the first time I think that people [have] reacted in different countries to this film [and] I have a little more security to think, ‘OK, maybe I can do something outside my own country.’ And I would like to because there’s not so much to do anymore for me now. I have done a lot [in Holland] and now I have worked with Paul. I don’t know what more there is to get in my own country. It’s a small industry [there].

How did you end up with this script for BLACK BOOK?

I heard that he was coming back and I heard that they were looking for a woman, or a girl, or a female lead. I was doing theater at the time and I had a theater contract at the time they wanted to shoot it, so I thought that if I were to even get the part I couldn’t even do it because I’d be doing theater. But he wanted to see everybody. I think every cow in Holland went in for an audition. He just wanted to see everyone because he was away for so long.

I think the casting people gave him some tips just on who to focus on, but he wanted to see everybody. So everybody came and was very nervous because of his reputation. Finally this man comes back and the building was shaking [from everyone’s nerves] when I came into room. Everybody was completely nervous. And then I came in and shook his hand and it was immediately over for me. I just thought, ‘OK, he was so sweet and so nice,’ and what I’ve heard is that he worked with everybody with the same energy and same power to get out of us what he could get. So it didn’t really [land] in my lap.

What other roles have you played?

One of the last things was Proof, which was here in the theater as well I think. I did it in Dutch.

One of your parents works in Dutch educational TV right?

My mother works on a Dutch educational series.

How did you get into acting?

Some things you cannot really explain sometimes. I think they were just meant to be. I don’t know if I should believe in it. I wanted to be an astronaut for one day, and a police officer, but of course I am such a coward I wouldn’t survive five minutes. But I was always sure that this was my way. Not per se that I was going to be successful, but that was what I had to do. I saw Annie in 1982 and I thought, ‘I want this as well.’ I was six. Maybe I just wanted to be an orphan. Every New Year’s Eve, when you drink a little, I have to do this little girl’s show of Miss Hannigan. I know it so well by heart. I can scarily dive back into that.

You have a certain Marlene Dietrich quality. Do you feel that affinity?

I just see myself as a nerd who looks completely different than [her characters who] are very well hidden behind something. If I see this movie, it see two things: I see somebody completely [different] and I see myself in a very strange situation, let’s say. But to go back to you questions about my affinity [with Dietrich], it has something to do with your [previous] question [about her parents]. My father is a silent cinema freak and a writer, and writes books about Russian silent cinema, in English. There’s a little group that’s interested, but it’s a very great job that he’s doing. So I was brought up with that, with all these black and white films, with all this Abel Gance, Intolerance, Laurel & Hardy, Chaplin [and so on]. So, for me, I think I learned a lot of that, to sort of act without speaking. Even in theater I like the scenes most that you’re just there and you cannot talk.

Can you talk about working with your co-star Sebastian Koch?

[Her face lights up with a big, shy smiles]. I knew that he was going to play the German guy and, of course, with the modern technology you can Google somebody. So I Googled his name and I saw this picture, which is an older picture, but I think I completely fell in love with him immediately, which is a cliché, but it’s true. And then he came to the first meeting and I just thought it’s going to be [written] on my forehead, so I’d just sort of play hard to get. But the fact that I did that made him realize it was SO big on my forehead. We were like two older people, just sitting, talking. It was not a glamorous (hook-up). We were very slow and we had a lot of fun, and of course it’s always a very precarious thing because if it goes wrong and you have to shoot, you’re troubled. So we were very low-key.

Can you talk about the nudity in the film? How strange was it for you to do and are you prepared for whatever the reactions will be?

I’m completely ready for it. I’m not at all ashamed. I can understand that people [may say], ‘Oh, shoot, do we have to see this?’ I think especially the pubic hair scene is really Paul’s handwriting there. I think it’s funny and I think, ‘Why not?’ This is a part of this film. I am not at all ashamed about that. I am not an exhibitionist. It’s not my favorite thing in the world to do, but I like to deal with this subject with humor. If I go on the set I just undress. I swallow first, I undress and I say (pointing to each breast), ‘Boys, this is Tom, this is Harry. We’re going to work today with them.’ I am very sensitive. If I feel that if you are ashamed and you do this (she pretends to cover herself), then of course everybody wants to watch it. So I just wanted people around me to be as well comfortable, because I take all these tensions and I cannot work anymore. So it’s for my own sake that I have to make jokes about it.

I hear Sebastian Koch is a very big sensation in Germany?

It’s starting in Holland as well. I got messages from girlfriends and they would write, ‘I saw Black Book. It was great. Thank you. But I’m in love with your boyfriend.’ So it’s not easy for me.

What is your fame like in Holland?

There are only two actresses in Holland [laughs]. No, but I never did so much commercial stuff. I never did television things. I only did movies and theater, so I was never really scarily famous, let’s say. With Black Book it’s a little different. I don’t know how I do it, but every time a movie comes out I look completely different than in the movie, so I’m fine going in the street.

What are you doing next?

I have time off until January and then I’m going to do theater again, in Holland.

Would you do theatre here?

If I would do theater I would only want to do it either in London or New York, because theater in Europe is pretty far, I have to say. Proof was already for me like a well-made play. We are used to more experimental kinds of things. But I would love to do theater in another country.

What about doing more films internationally?

Hopefully. There are a lot of people who try to meet me and I have an agent, but it’s a whole different system and I have to get used to that. But we’ll see. Woody Allen didn’t call yet. He’s (working) with Penelope (Cruz) now, I think.

What do you think was the message in the last scene?

It’s one of my favorite things in the movie, actually. It says that [the message is that] it’s very, very difficult to forgive. It says that even if you are a hero throughout the whole film – and she’s not the hero that you see in books that in the end says, ‘OK, I’ll pull you up the skyscraper because I’m a good person. I will forgive you.’ It’s not like that. It’s not so easy to forgive. It’s almost like a Christian thing that Paul wants to… it’s a cry for peace. He wants to show the ugly side of life and the honest part of life, and I like it very much that she’s not the hero. I mean I wish we could (all aspire to that), but it’s difficult, obviously.

Source: JoBlo.com

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