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Carice van Houten in Instinct

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TIFF 2019: A Piece of Carice

Carice van Houten still remembers vividly her first meetings with fellow thesp-turned-filmmaker Halina Reijn who directs her in new film Instinct, writes Geoffrey Macnab.

They were both auditioning for drama schools and "kept seeing each other along the way." Reijn made a throwaway remark to the future Game of Thrones star. "She said that she liked my boots." It was a compliment that marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship which has lasted ever since.

Both actresses felt like "outsiders" at their drama schools because they were being hired professionally while still studying. Van Houten illustrates the strength of their friendship (which would eventually evolve into a sound business partnership) by pointing to parallels in "what we were going through, our backgrounds and even the core of our beings."

Since then, the pair have had illustrious careers. Van Houten starred in Paul Verhoeven's Black Book (in which Reijn also played a significant role) and achieved huge international fame (as well as an Emmy nomination) as Melisandre the Red Priestess in HBO's Game of Thrones. Reijn is one of the Netherlands' best known stage actresses. They now have a production company together, Man Up, through which Instinct was made.

Thanks to Game of Thrones, Van Houten is a full blown star. Not that she always welcomes the attention that comes with her celebrity. She calls herself a "house mouse" and says she relishes her family (she has a young child with Australian star Guy Pearce whom she met on the set of Martin Koolhoven's Brimstone) and privacy. "Yes, people do recognise me but, at the same time, Holland is quite a sober country, even though we have paparazzi. It's not as bad as England."

Is it a relief that Game of Thrones is over? "You can't let things drag on forever," she replies. "It was a huge success, a phenomenon and I was grateful I was part of it... but all good things come to an end."

In Instinct, Van Houten plays a prison psychiatrist who has an affair with an inmate (Marwan Kenzari) with a history of sexual violence against women. While co­-developing the film with Reijn, Van Houten did the research, visiting prisons and observing psychiatrists and inmates. "We couldn't always see the difference between the psychiatrists and the criminal clients," she recalls. "The fact that somebody is a therapist, it means yes, they've been tested and they are supposed to be quite sane but, as we all know, that is not always the case. We are also telling a story about a woman at a particular time in her life... this is the moment when she is vulnerable to this situation."

Van Houten continues to be fearless in her choice of roles, willing and ready to play characters with dark sides, both uncompromising and fragile. Nonetheless, she points out that there is more to her repertoire than the troubled, tragic figures she has portrayed in films like Black Book, Brimstone, Instinct and her current series Red Light, made by Man Up in which she and Reijn play two very different women who, connected by the Red Light world, develop an unexpected alliance. "I love drama, I really do, but at the same time I love light material. A lot of my work here in the Netherlands has been quite comedic... people [abroad] don't associate that sort of lightness with me."

So, Man Up as a company name? Isn't that a touch ironic? "It's a bit of a joke in fact. We thought it was a fun name. Before the whole MeToo movement, we started it. Man Up came from us feeling like circus bears in our profession. We were a bit fed up being told what to do. We felt that we were too insecure about ourselves and that we were avoiding conflict in order to keep the harmony. So we said, OK, we have to Man Up!"

SEE NL Magazine #36 September 2019 / Locarno - Venice - Toronto - Netherlands Film Festival Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by Eye International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.


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