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INT: Paul Verhoeven

04.06.2007

Having gained great acclaim for successful blockbuster hits like ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL and BASIC INSTINCT, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven took a temporary hiatus from Hollywood and returned to his native Netherlands to embark on another captivating period piece. Based on true events and archival revelations, Verhoeven’s upcoming thriller BLACK BOOK unravels the grim, shocking and devastating WWII conditions plagued with murder, betrayal and desperate acts of survival during and post war Holland .

BLACK BOOK uncovers the intriguing historical events in a typically racy Verhoeven style, producing a fascinating, mysterious and educational piece. A film this enthralling and stimulating is befitting of a characteristically animated and energized man! It’s a rare experience to witness such a youthful spirit in a seasoned director. He is both admirable and inspiring! I had the recent pleasure of speaking with the candid Dutch director as he spoke about his films, break from Hollywood , the prospect of an Oscar and the deep admiration for his lead actress Carice van Houten. Check out what Verhoeven had to say about his latest exhilarating suspense BLACK BOOK.

Paul Verhoeven

This movie was reminiscent of John Sturges' 60’s type war movies like THE GREAT ESCAPE. Was that an influence on you?

No. Well I mean, as I'd say subconsciously or unconsciously, I'm sure it was. I've been brought up with, let's say, with American movies my whole life with the small exception of a period that I was highly influenced by the New Wave - the French New Wave. But, then I went back to American movies. I'm sure I had seen all these movies, but I was not trying. I didn't think about this as particularly the movies. And I felt it was kind of a different story although, there are clearly elements that are similar. But, I was emotionally and highly influenced by historical reality.

A lot of the scenes are inspired by true events, but these are actual events. And, it was the material that we found in the archives of the Dutch War Museum and in publications, mostly scholarly publications over a period of nearly 20-25 years that inspired us mostly. Then, the style of the movie is pretty modern I think although the narrative has a Hitchcockian twist, I would say. And, you know that I'm a big admirer of Hitchcock, I'm sure that might have been more of an influence than anything else but not consciously either. There are no scenes that are done basically because Hitchcock did something similar. In fact, he did not. But, BASIC INSTINCT is clearly highly influenced by Hitchcock in thinking.

Have you seen ARMY OF SHADOWS? That's very similar also.

Oh, Army of Shadows, L'armée DES Ombres…I saw it when it came out. It was very delayed here in the United States . It's of the 60’s or 70’s or something like that, isn't it? The Melville movie, yeah. It's one of the movies basically that I thought was very impressive at that time when I saw it. I've never seen it again (since then). But, I'm sure that elements of that movie basically influenced me also without knowing [it]. You don't know what it really influences you.

What thematic threads do you see between the three films, ARMY OF SHADOWS, Soldier of Orange and Starship Troopers?

Beginning with Soldier of Orange, I would say it's the other side. There's only a look over the hill and Soldier of Orange is more positive. It shows more lightness. You have real heroes, I mean, they're not, let's say…yes, there are a couple of moral questions that you ask of the main person. Why he does certain things to his friends. Why, in fact, he sleeps with the fiancée of his friend. But, in general, he's drawn in kind of a very positive way that was based on an autobiography by Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema. It was not showing the last very dark year of the war where all these ambiguities and betrayals were basically random.

I mean they were all over the place. So I felt that because the hero of the movie, in ‘44 or '45 is a RAF pilot in England , he's not there. Basically, I felt that a lot of the material that I'm using in this movie was already discovered – notably, the plot with the BLACK BOOK, the lawyer [Smaal], Muntze and Franken was already discovered and found by my scriptwriter, in the research of Soldier of Orange. He asked if they could use it, basically put it to the side as being the other side - perhaps, the shadows, the darkness. It took many years basically to put that story together and find the characters, to fill it in and whatever (else) that was all based on other historical research. So, I see it more as a complement, or let's say supplement that you call it.

Everyone aside from the character Rachel Stein seems to be a profiteer in this movie just as in Starship Troopers. It appears to be a driving factor behind the wars in both films.

It's true. But I think the driving factor of Starship Troopers for me was always really, "Let's go to war and die." It's very prophetic I thought…it is a book of Robert Heinlein first of all (as opposed to) a group of scriptwriters (who were to) draw the book up. This really goes to another side. Basically, it's historical research, and it is written by Gerard Soeteman [who] did all my Dutch movies. So, I think there is another tone.

It's the same director clearly [so] certain elements will be similar. But, I feel that the corollary situation with Soldier of Orange is stronger than anything in Starship Troopers. It’s also especially expressing itself often politically in a kind of ironic, hyperbolic way. This is straight [forward whereas] Starship Troopers has a primary narrative which is like I just said, "Great, we got to go to war and great, we're going to die." The underlying tones are of course a certain…vision on American society.

Returning to WWII after all these years, between Soldier of Orange and this picture, how have all those years of living in world politics plus what you've learned stylistically as a director, influenced how you now work on this film?

I think, basically for me, it was great. Also, some critics didn't like it at all clearly [because] I was much more, let's say inclined to use a driving narrative. The narrative is much more driven [and] compelling [for] you to keep looking. There are [many] more question marks. “Where is it going? What's going to happen?” I mean, [this is] something that is so very normal to American cinema but in European cinema, if you look for example at a movie like La Dolce Vita or 8 1/2 (Otto e Mezzo), [they are] great movies, but there is no compelling narrative.

So, I think, basically, my years in the United States made me ask my scriptwriter to write a script in a certain way so that there will always be question marks. [I want] the audience that will be sitting there for 10 minutes [to] be seduced not to leave because there were things happening already [posing] questions like “Where is this going, and what is going to happen?”

Are you interested in staying away from Hollywood or are you looking forward to coming back to Hollywood ?

No. I'm living in Hollywood . I'm living in Los Angeles , and I'm not leaving. I was looking forward to doing this movie as a sabbatical and perhaps I will do another European movie. In the meantime, I would love to go back to American filmmaking, which I have enjoyed very much too. But I think it was time [for me] to do something different, you know. I felt [the need to do something different] after Hollow MAN, which I felt, really was a movie that many directors could have done. I feel very differently about Starship Troopers or RoboCop. I say I could have done that [but] not so many other people [could have], so I felt that I should go back to something personal. And if I do an American movie, I would like to do something that is not derivative or is not…something that ONLY I could do well, if I can find it.

During your WWII archival research for this film, did you make any revelations or discoveries that were shocking or surprising to you?

Yes, notably the treatment of the Dutch after the war and what they did to the people that had collaborated [in the war]. That was a shock! I discovered that in 1966, when I was doing a documentary for television about a Dutch Nazi leader. His name was [Anton] Mussert who was, of course, a leading collaborator [with the] Germans. Basically, I was discovering how the Dutch had treated their prisoners after the war. I was shocked, and I [have carried] that shock with me until now.

The story of the Black Book and the lawyer who was killed and all that – that was of course was already discovered, like I said, at the time of Soldier of Orange. The [biggest] shock or the thing I really could not believe until I saw it in the newspaper, basically [had to be shown to me by] Soeteman…because I didn’t think it could be true. It was one of the big headline stories in the newspapers at that time. It was the story that the Germans had been allowed by the Canadians to kill their deserters even after liberation. In the movie, it is dramatically [demonstrated on] Muntze.

How has the Jewish community responded to your film?

I think ‘til now, very good. I showed the movie in the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, and I just heard it had a very positive review in the Jerusalem Post. Anyhow, when I was [showing] there, there was no animosity and there was a feeling that I was accepting something, which was clearly based on a historical reality.

What is the status on the two projects – Azazel and the RoboCop remake?

I don't know anything about the RoboCop remake. It's been discussed many times, but no script as far as I know is there. You know, I'm not a big fan of sequels. [Up until now] I've been able to avoid them all. It was not easy with Basic Instinct 2. Total Recall became the Minority Report, didn't it? The sequel of Total Recall was based on the same story so Total Recall 2 [was] called Minority Report. Somehow, the company Carolco went bankrupt, as you know. [They filed] chapter eleven and disappeared. The project floated slowly through Jan de Bont, my former DP now director/producer, and it came into the hands of Spielberg [who] made an independent movie out of that.

What about Azazel?

Azazel I hope will start shooting in July.

What is the premise and who is attached to the film?

Nobody other than Milla Jovovich is attached. It's a detective story based on a Russian novel that was published in the United States about three years ago in English under the title WINTER QUEEN. But the real title, the Russian title, is Azazel, which we use now because I think it's more intriguing. It's strange. Azazel in fact is a Jewish demon and also a scapegoat. Basically, the scapegoat turned into the demon or the other way around - I forget. But, it is a detective story you could say in some way situated in St. Petersburg and London around 1876. So, it's about 130-140 years ago and it's very modern in its narrative. It's kind of charming but it's also very deadly…and it's about suicides, murder, terrorism and global conspiracy.

You have a navy background, right?

I was a lieutenant in the Navy for two years after my university studies…I was drafted. At that time, the Dutch still had a draft. You're talking about the Sixties.

Does that help you in any way with the making of this film?

Yes, it helped with Starship Troopers. And if you see the documentary film I made during my military service because somehow…when I was in the Navy, finally they realized that I was an aspiring filmmaker, and they put me in the film department of the Navy and then, I was attached to the Marines. So I followed the Marines for a whole year.

What kind of documentary is it?

If you see the documentary, you'll see there are many, many similarities with Starship Troopers.

Talk about your experience with WWII?

Well I survived, you know, my family survived. Of course, we were not Jewish. There were critical moments I would say, I think that my father and friends were often hiding under the floor of the basement of the house. [They were hiding from] the Germans who would pick you up, not to execute you, but to use you for labor in the troop factory in Western Germany and all the industrial areas, because so many men have been sent to the Eastern front and died. So they used Dutch people to fill in the gaps. You were a bit enslaved of course as a Dutch person and abused, but they didn't want to kill you, they didn’t want to starve you or whatever. They wanted to use you. I know that my father basically tried and succeeded in escaping that fate.

When we talked to your leading lady Carice van Houten, she said you didn’t like to rehearse much. When it comes to improvising and rehearsal, how do you like to function with your actors on set?

Mostly I stick to scripts to a large degree especially with a script that is so much a detective story. You cannot allow too much improvisation there or you would lose your information, you know. They would forget the information or put it in a sideline, and basically, nobody would notice it. So, you have to stick to the script I think there. I am also not a big fan of long rehearsals because I feel that I reach too much [perfection] in the rehearsal that I can never get back.

I noticed that early in my career that I got great rehearsals, wonderful - I taped them sometimes and then basically when I was shooting, I never got it anymore, at least not to that degree. So, I stopped early to [avoid] rehearsals [going] too far. In fact, in this movie, we didn't rehearse too much. We ran through the script, and then [there] was a lot of explaining, especially for people who had not lived the war. There was a lot of explaining to do like “What does that mean? What is the relationship? How is this built? Where is this Gestapo standing? Why is he…so on and so forth? What does this mean to the movie?” [It was] this kind of [rehearsing]. So, it was more about that and we did this with all of the people. Then we made the group smaller and smaller, ‘til we ended up with the three or four main actors. After reading the lines a little bit and talking about it, I didn't want them to [perform] it really well.

What did it mean to you that your country put you forward for an

Oscar and what do the Oscars mean to you?

Oh, I think it was very nice first of all for them to decide to do that because they have been often thinking about me in my country in a different way. My certain [Dutch] movies [in Holland ] that basically, let’s say, deserved to be sent in for an Oscar, were not. Yeah, I think it's great for a movie when it gets an Oscar because it makes people that much more aware of the movie. I think that's the most important thing. I think the award is the audience.

I've always felt that the awards of a movie are the people that want to see the movie. I make the movies for that [reason]. If there's an award, I think it helps the people to focus the attention on the movie. So it's helpful I think. I got my reward in many cases from the audience really especially because when I made a lot of my Dutch movies that were extremely successful like this one is in Holland – it’s extremely successful – but [yet] I was never really seen by the critics as a hero. I mean they felt that my movies were always too entertaining (laughs).

Did you see Basic Instinct 2?

Yes, I saw that. I'm glad I didn't make it.

What did Carice van Houten bring to the table?

Everything!

Carice said that the ‘pubic hair thing’ was your doing.

Yes it was but I think it was really written by my writer. Carice, I think, basically adds everything to the movie. I think without Carice, I don't know anybody in Holland in fact, that could have done this. There is nobody. I mean if Carice wouldn't have lived, I shouldn't have made the movie because she brings so much to the movie. You are probably aware [of that] to a certain degree, but I am much more aware that she is completely central. Without this performance, the movie would never have worked. So I am a top fan of hers. I am artistically completely in love with her. I think that basically, she is a great actress.

She's a good singer too, in fact. And, she's audacious and I think she's wonderful you know. I wish her a great career. I hope I can work again with her in my life because I think she is so talented. I've said it [before] but in many, many cases, because you asked about the rehearsals, I felt on the set, after me directing her “you should do this or that or feel such and so”, she would be doing things [on her own]. Ultimately, I'd have to say, "Carice, sorry forget everything I said. Do it your own way, and it will be fine." And it was always true you know. She's such a talent basically. You can [lead] her [in any direction], but you're often better to let her take the lead herself. I think she's absolutely amazing!

If Carice and Sebastian Koch have a baby, you can be the godfather.

That [romance/relationship] survived the movie, didn’t it? Many, many don’t [survive]. This one has already survived now for a year. It’s really wonderful I think and they’re both wonderful people, so basically it's a great situation. But the [geographical] situation of their lives is horrible. He lives in Berlin , and she lives in Amsterdam . And, they both have a lot of work.

Source: JoBlo.com

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