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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

BLACK BOOK's Breakout Star Talks About…Everything


Dutch people talk about everything. It’s Americans who are shy, says Carice van Houten, the breakout star of Paul Verhoeven’s BLACK BOOK.
And she does mean everything. When I met van Houten in Toronto last year, Black Book had just opened to enthusiastic reviews in her homeland and at the Venice Film Festival. After a couple of days of interviews, she was still laughing about reviews by critics — “all men, English men, you’ll see?” — who excitedly remark upon the heroine’s 1) nudity and 2) attention to detail in hair-dyeing. What followed was a charming and funny Q&A that unfortunately didn’t make it into this Boston Globe piece.
Below, the unedited piece –
By Justine Elias, Globe Correspondent – April 8, 2007
NEW YORK — The breakout star of “Black Book,” Carice van Houten, has earned comparisons to goddesses of Hollywood’s golden age: Marlene Dietrich, Jean Harlow, and Greta Garbo.
Like those bewitching and sometimes-blond bombshells — and some of director Paul Verhoeven’s previous femme fatales (Renée Soutendijk of “The Fourth Man,” Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct“) the 30-year-old Dutch actress seems poised to spring from obscurity into full-fledged international stardom. In person, though, Van Houten is hardly the wily seductress she portrays to be in “Black Book.”

Gone are her crimson lipstick and platinum locks — she’s dyed her hair back to its natural light brown. Dressed in fashionable designer jeans and a wool wrap sweater, van Houten looks like a wide-eyed college freshman exploring New York for the first time.
“You know what? I ordered a beer [and] forgot they ask for your I.D. all the time here,” she says . “Hey! Take me seriously! I am a grown-up.”
Her candor and self-deprecating manner are typical of her countrymen, she insists. “Dutch people talk about everything,” says van Houten, whose parents work behind the scenes in educational and public affairs television back home. “It’s Americans who are shy, I think. The nudity in ‘ Black Book ‘? Not shocking. European audiences would demand it if it wasn’t there.”
What surprises van Houten are questions that go unasked about her star-making role as Rachel, about the heroine’s religion and cultural identity, the reason she is betrayed and persecuted: She’s a Jewish woman in Nazi-occupied Holland. Making the film has led the actress to think hard about moral and historical issues that had long remained undiscussed in her home country.
You were a rising theater, TV, and film actress in Amsterdam when you landed the role in “Black Book”–not exactly an unknown. How has making the film changed your life?
Carice van Houten: The happiest thing is that we made a good film and that’s been a great success in the Netherlands, and it’s all been important for our film industry. Most happily was doing all this and finding someone I love.
You mean your co-star, Sebastian Koch, [from “The Lives of Others”] who plays the German Gestapo officer whom Rachel’s assigned to spy on?
CvH: Yes. As soon as I heard who else was cast in the film, I looked him up, saw his photo, and thought, “He looks interesting. I hope he’s a nice guy.” And he was. He is!

Few actors are so open about a new romance, especially one that began on the set. Have you ever regretted talking about it?

CvH: Later on, I thought, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea. Because this sort of thing is gossip. At home in Amsterdam, I can still walk down the street and be left alone. If I am recognized, people are sweet and say, “Good for you about the movie.” But if they start asking other things that have nothing to do with the movie, then it’s not so funny.
Any apprehensions about working with Paul Verhoeven?
CvH: I really liked “Basic Instinct,” and love Sharon Stone in that. Paul and Gerald [Soeteman], his co-writer, create such memorable roles for actresses in all his movies — strong, complicated women, whether you like them or not. Mostly I was nervous about being in every scene. And singing. Singing to me is a much more vulnerable state than even being nude onscreen. Meeting Paul put me at ease. He has a creative mind, a free mind. And if you meet him, you’ll see that he still has a mischief in him. He remembers what it is to be a little boy, fascinated, and a little scared of women, and you can see that in his movies.
About Black Book’s now-notorious pubic-hair dye scene: Rachel, a brunette, goes undercover for the Dutch Resistance, disguising herself as a blonde. A true blonde. In a word–
CVH: –Ouch! Peroxide burn. Can you imagine? Crazy! That’s how they really bleached their hair, to get it really white-blonde like a movie star. The hair on the head, I mean. Filming it, seeing it onscreen, I laughed. I think girls find that scene extremely funny, because of the crazy things we women will do to ourselves in the name of — you know, we think we should look pretty for men. The really hurtful scene, the more historically true one, was the way Rachel singled out and called a collaborator, a whore.
Did you think of Black Book as strictly a historical film, or does Rachel’s story tell us anything about what’s going on in Holland – or anywhere in the world – right now?
CVH: These events were based on real ones. But now seeing it, I do think: what has really changed? Have I personally learned anything? People ask, “How did you prepare, as a non-Jewish woman, to play this role?” When I was cast, I thought, I don’t have dark eyes, I don’t have strong nose.” And by saying that, I realize that’s saying something about me. That I have an image of what a Jewish woman would look like. Of course there are brown haired, red haired and blonde Jewish people. For me, the most famous Jewish girl from my country is Anne Frank. I’m happy that in Black Book, the heroine has blue eyes and light brown hair. And the German isn’t the blond, blue eyed cliché. The only real preparation, hint, I got for Rachel was from a friend who is Jewish. He said of his mother and sister: “They are strong women.” That’s what I thought of, and used, playing her.
Rachel — and you — are the most sympathetic of Verhoeven’s heroines, even as her fight to survive turns into vengeance. Did you always like her?
CvH: Yes, I did. Very much. Even though she’s a hero, she makes exactly the same mistakes as everybody else. She’s looking for the person who’s killed her entire family, and when she finds him, will she say, “I forgive you,” like a princess in a story book? You can see how difficult it is for this woman at this time in history — or for any one of us as a human being, if you lost those people that you love — to forgive. Until we can do that, it’s never going to stop. Hate, revenge. It’s never going to end. A movie like this makes you wonder: What would I do?

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One Response to “BLACK BOOK's Breakout Star Talks About…Everything”

  1. Nick from Sydney says:

    Black Book rocks!! Hi Justine, left Black+White, lost your email, what is it again?

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon