Director Paul Verhoeven has found a star in the Dutch actress
Dutch actress Carice van Houten will take the cinema world by storm with the global release of Paul Verhoeven's World War Two epic, Black Book. She plays a Jewish woman who infiltrates the Nazi regime as a spy for the Dutch resistance. It's about as gutsy and encompassing as a performance can be on film. She's one step away from death and is forced to constantly degrade herself for the cause. Carice would have easily gotten an Oscar nomination if the film had been released last year. In fact, I'm surprised the studio isn't holding it for the fall. Paul Verhoeven has made one of his best films here. He certainly did a brilliant job casting his lead.
What was it like working with director Paul Verhoeven? He's known to be a strict taskmaster on set.
Carice van Houten: I was really scared. I saw a documentary about him making films in the 70's and he was screaming. So I was a little afraid of that. I know a lot of people want to hear something else, like crazy stories, but he was really the sweetest director I could have had. You need somebody who leads you, and he did. Every morning when I came on the set, I thought, "maybe this is the day he's going to explode", but it never happened.
He's known for his epic science fiction and action films, why do you think he wanted to make this highly personal story?
Carice van Houten: I'm sure that he felt definitely home again. He wanted to make something more real. He was fed up with making films like Hollow Man. He would make jokes. He would tell you that he didn't want to make hollow films like Hollow Man anymore. He wanted to make realistic pictures and of course, he's a Dutchman and I think that works for him to be back.
Did he give you creative freedom?
Carice van Houten: Definitely. He would give me advice to either make it a little bigger or smaller. I felt very trusted by him. He didn't need to talk so much to me.
Did you rehearse a lot for this role?
Carice van Houten: I personally don't like to rehearse so much. I really trust my instinct. I'm not a method actor. I can't even explain it what I exactly do. Paul is not so interested in character building. He says a character is just three close-ups at a good moment. He really sees it from a whole different perspective. I think I'm a very intuitive actress. With his knowledge and technical skills, this combination worked well, if you know what I mean.
Did you work out a backstory for your character or was the performance completely instinctual?
Carice van Houten: I read a lot of articles about young women in the resistance and about Jewish women. There's so much going on in this woman's life that if I didn't want to take every horror from the last scene into the next scene. It's what makes this character a survivor. She just swallows it and goes on.
The scene where your tortured and covered in shit is absolutely horrifying. What was it like filming that scene?
Carice van Houten: 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. It is an unpleasant feeling to have 200 liters of 'whatever' on you, but it was also very heavy. I couldn't even stand up anymore. I didn't know what to expect, so it costs a lot of energy because you're so nervous, you don't know what's going to happen.
How many takes did you do for that scene?
Carice van Houten: I think we did two or three takes. I felt horrible. It was humiliating to do, not only for me as an actress, but it was one of these days that I thought we are now reproducing history and doing things that still happen as well.
You have a beautiful singing voice. Are you a singer as well?
Carice van Houten: I had some singing lessons. I went to a drama school that was oriented on singing and dancing and writing and music.
How much of the history did you know prior to doing this film?
Carice van Houten: In Holland, we learn that we were the victims, and the 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....twenty years ago, he would have had bigger problems with it. So, it's still a big thing. The Dutch peopled traded the most Jews of all the countries. I knew already that we were not the heroes that were in the books. I don't know if I used that background so much. I had to play with the fact that I had a big secret, so to trust nobody, and to walk on eggs. I didn't want too much of the knowledge that I had on this period into this character because otherwise she wouldn't have this sort innocence anymore.
Can you talk about filming the nudity and sex? Were those scenes difficult to shoot?
Carice van Houten: I'm completely ready for it. I'm not at all ashamed. I can understand...especially the pubic hair scene. It's really Paul's handwriting there. This is a part of this film. Of course I'm not an exhibitionist; it's not my favorite thing in the world to do. But I like to deal with this subject with humor; I feel that if you are ashamed, then of course everybody wants to watch it. So I want the people around me to be comfortable, because with all these tensions I cannot work. So it's for my own sake that I have to make jokes about it.
What American directors would you like to work with?
Carice van Houten: When I saw Magnolia, I thought if Paul Thomas Anderson is going to call me, I'm on the plane as soon as possible.
How interested are you in working in America?
Carice van Houten: I never really was. They are not waiting for me I think. I never believed in going to America with my show reel and knocking on every agent's door. I'm way too insecure and too proud. I have a little more security to think that maybe I can do something outside my own country. I would like to because there's not so much to do anymore for me now. I've done a lot and now I've worked with Paul. What more is there to get in my own country?
Are you a famous actress in Holland?
Carice van Houten: There are only two actresses in Holland. (Laughs) I never did so much commercial stuff. I didn't do any television work. I only did movies and theater so I was never scarily famous, but Black Book is a little different. I look completely different than in the movie. I'm fine with walking in the street.
What's next for you?
Carice van Houten: I have some time off and then in January I will be doing theater again.