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Interview with Carice Van Houten, Star of Black Butterflies

by Melissa Silverstein
April 23, 2011 1:24 AM
1 Comment
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I was able to interview Carice in Amsterdam as she prepared to head to the US for the world premiere of Black Butterflies tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival. Just a brief synopsis: (contains spoiler elements of the story)

Black Butterflies is the tumultuous life story of South African poet Ingrid Jonker who struggled desperately to gain the love of the men in her life. Her father (played by Rutger Hauer) was an official in the apartheid government who censored work like Ingrid's and felt she was an embarrassment to him. The two of them disagreed on politics and she could never get past the fact that he was never going to agree with and support her work. She also seemed to fall in love with inappropriate men and the love of her life novelist Jack Cope (Liam Cunningham) served as a father figure/lover, and while they loved each other deeply Ingrid had many deep demons that hounded her and their relationship deteriorated. Carice Van Houten gives a very intense and penetrating portrait of a delicate and incredibly talented female artist who just had a very difficult time surviving and after one too many betrayals by her father she no longer was able to continue.

Women and Hollywood: I found it so interesting when reading your bio you have been in many films with the word black in the title. Black Swans (a dutch film), Black Death, Black Book and now Black Butterflies.

Carice Van Houten: It's a little bit scary I need to do something white.


WaH: Maybe you are attracted to dark themes.

CVH: I was trained to be a comedian and here I am.


WaH: Most people were introduced to you in the film Black Book. Talk a little bit about that experience and what happened to you after that.

CVH: I never expected it to be such a success outside of my own country. In Venice where it had its world premiere it was the first time I realized that acting is a universal language and that I can work outside Holland. I can touch more people than my little group of people. The film itself was a great experience for me to work with Paul Verhoeven who I deeply adore. I love that man. It was great opportunity for me. There are so many people in the industry who have seen the film.


WaH: I read an interview where you said after your success in Black Book that Hollywood was not for you and so I was curious as to why you felt that way.

CVH: I think I just wasn't ready to think bigger. Also I've been to LA a few times and every time I was sort of alone and you have to want it so bad and you need to deal with all the bullshit. I am a sober person and that's also in our culture. There is a saying that doesn't translate well but it goes something like act normal because you are already crazy enough. So Hollywood for me was so impersonal. It's such a business and it had nothing to do with art, although there are some people there who are in exactly the right place and so it's not just all fake boobs and all that stuff. It's also such a cultural difference and I thought there are so many opportunities for me in Holland. If I go to Hollywood I will have to start all over again -- which is fine and makes me humble. And I can really like LA.

WaH: You play very strong female characters and there are not that many parts like that for women.

CVH: No, unfortunately, unless you are very famous and you are bankable enough. And that's the case for me here but not when I cross the border.


WaH: What made you want to become an actress?

CVH: Well I think it's genetic. My grandparents met each other in amateur theatre. My uncle is an actor. I have a very musical family from my Scottish roots. My father is a silent cinema freak so he took me to 1925 silent films that took forever, like 5 hour movies, but I've seen a lot of that stuff since I was young. And then I saw the film Annie and I just wanted to be Annie, I just wanted to be that orphan kid and wanted to sing and dance.

WaH: What do you look for before you make a decision about what part you are going to take?

CVH: It can be a lot of things. When I started acting there were parts in English that I thought I just had to try it out and go to another country. I did a film in Ireland. It was my first film abroad. I do this acting thing mostly for myself. I like to make a connection and communicate with the audience to make myself feel less lonely. I also do it to develop my own character so sometimes I do it to just be away in a certain area that I've never been to. But mostly the story has to do something for me.


WaH: Talk a little bit about Ingrid and what drew you to playing this part.

CVH: Paula (Van Der Ouest, the director) asked me (to play Ingrid) right after I did Black Book and before I did 2 other big films in Holland. They were heavy films -- one about breast cancer and one about post-natal psychosis. So just before I did those I wanted to do something meaty and I thought that this was such a sad story of someone who needs the recognition so much of her father like when a dog begs and gets nothing and therefore and couldn't deal with relationships. And in some small way I saw some similar things in my own life I guess.

WaH: I look at Ingrid and think that today she would be on meds. Didn't her mother also kill herself?

CVH: No, she died of cancer but it was in a mental hospital. She didn't kill herself but she was ill.


WaH: Maybe there was something genetic there.

CVH: Possibly.

WaH: What does this film mean to you?

CVH: It means a lot of things in a lot of different ways. First of all I got to know a poet that I didn't know before and it is beautiful poetry so I'm happy to let people know that she was a beautiful poet. And the whole South African culture and history is something that I knew about but wasn't close to. So being able to actually work there with all these people in this beautiful country. Holy shit it is so beautiful there. I am also happy to show something that is International again. For a while I thought that I was only going to be cast in Second World War films.

WaH: What was it like working with a female director and had you worked with Paula before?

CVH: I hadn't worked with Paula before. What I liked about Paula is that she - we have a saying - she is very solid. She's very strong, she's very sweet and she will never raise her voice. With someone so strong you can go everywhere. She doesn't let herself get too sucked in by things. She takes in ideas but she is solid, you can count on her. She's not a hysteric.

WaH: Have you worked with other women directors who had those kinds of issues?


CVH: Yes, a little bit.

WaH: Did that make you nervous?


CVH: Yeah a little bit. For a long time I was thinking that it was maybe me. But I love to work with women. Whenever you have to do a photo shoot with a woman there is this weird competition. They need to prove something. They need to play games -- maybe unconsciously -- but women are so sensitive and people call me more masculine sometimes. I can be quite straight. But there are so many talented women out there.

WaH: This film is about to premiere in the US. Are you excited to bring it to a US audience?


CVH: I hope they will like it.

WaH: it seems like a perfect NY film. Mentally ill, smart woman. I love the fact that this film will resurrect this woman.

CVH: She is an icon in South Africa. In the beginning I had difficulties in accepting that I was going to play her because I could imagine people in South Africa thinking (about me playing her) like we would think here if an American woman played Anne Frank. That it's weird. But at the same time I had to let that go because it blocks you in your acting. Second of all I think people are happy that the story is being told because they couldn't raise the money before. I might not look like her at all but that's not the point. I didn't try to copy her in a sense that I would walk exactly like her or talk exactly like her, that's not important especially because nobody really knows her.

WaH: What do you want people to think about when they leave the theatre?

CVH: What touches me about the story is how you can fuck up a child -- how you can ruin a child's life because of your own difficult life. This father was a frustrated writer himself and he couldn't deal with her being successful. He couldn't deal with intimacy. Those problems are very real and sad. He was jealous and children are so faithful and so loyal and with little things.

See Carice talk on video here.

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1 Comment

  • Linn D. | April 25, 2011 5:57 AMReply

    I hesitate to comment on this because of the language barrier in that I sense English is not her first langauge but this response concerns me:

    "WaH: Did that make you nervous?

    CVH: Yeah a little bit. For a long time I was thinking that it was maybe me. But I love to work with women. Whenever you have to do a photo shoot with a woman there is this weird competition. They need to prove something. They need to play games—maybe unconsciously—but women are so sensitive and people call me more masculine sometimes. I can be quite straight. But there are so many talented women out there."

    I've met male directors who are hysterical and/or emotional and lash out at people. This reminds me of the preconceived idea that women make bad leaders because of menstrual cycles. Even though statistics show that entities do well with female leaders. Really? We're back to discussing this again? Sigh.

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