Release Date: December 3rd, 2010
Certificate (UK): 15
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Reinout Oerlemans
Cast: Carice van Houten, Barry Atsma, Anna Drijver, Jeroen Willems, Eline Van der Velden, Pierre Bokma, Sacha Bulthuis, Beppie Melissen, Walid Benmbarek, Wendell Jaspers, David Lucieer, Mark Scholten
Read the review here
In a busy London restaurant I meet with actress Carice van Houten. She is well known for her roles in The Black Book and Valkyrie, where she played the wife of the Hitler assassin Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise). I meet her to chat about her career and her role in the successful and award-winning Dutch film Komt een vrouw bij de dokter (aka Love Life), based on the best-selling novel by Ray Kluun.
In the movie, which has just been released in the UK, Carice plays Carmen, a successful career woman who is also a wife and mother when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Undergoing chemotherapy and eventually a mastectomy, Carmen’s life begins to fall apart more so because of the affair her wayward husband, Stijn (Barry Atsma) embarks on with another woman while she is fighting for her life.
Sitting in front of me, Carice munches on a club sandwich. It’s a working lunch for her and she’s also nursing a cold, but we get down to business.
PATRICK: What kind of research was involved in preparing for Carmen?
CARICE: I spoke to few women who were going through chemo, that were terminally ill and were going through radiotherapy but at a certain point you have to stop because it’s a real story and the woman I’m portraying, I’m going to take on her characteristics and the core of her identity I think, but in fact I wanted to make it more universal, I wanted to make it a woman who could be any woman without losing the responsibility of course to her family. So at a certain point you have to stop doing research and just do it.
PATRICK: Did playing her have an effect on your personal life as well?
CARICE: Some scenes were very, very draining and very sad, but there are also fun scenes so I had a lot of fun as well. Mostly when we were shooting in hospitals and I would go home I would be happy that this is not my real life so I would enjoy life more and it’s also the message of the film I think, ‘Carpe diem’ basically.
PATRICK: Is that why they translated the title from A Woman Goes to the Doctor to Love Life?
CARICE: It works better I think. That’s the message basically. And you got it!
PATRICK: When I first heard about the movie, I was wondering what it would be like, remembering films like Love Story of course, with Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neil or Dying Young with Julia Roberts and Campbell Scott. But it wasn’t like that at all. There’s a darkness that comes into Stijn’s and Carmen’s lives, yes, but there are also elements of comedy.
CARICE: It’s not just the drama; it’s definitely a love story that does have light moments and my part I tried to approach very light although it was very heavy. I tried to give her a lot of strength and a sense of humour. When I read the book, ‘til the very, very end she made jokes, I really wanted to put that lightness in.
PATRICK: In the up-coming Black Butterflies, you play Inrid Jonker, a real-life a poet who stood up against apartheid. Were you familiar with her work before taking on the role?
CARICE: I wasn’t familiar with her work or with her in any way, but I did do a lot of research because where we were shooting in South Africa she is an icon. Again, there’s a responsibility. I’m not South African; I don’t even look like her in any way, who am I? Who am I? But in fact it’s not whether or not my accent is perfect or whether or not I look like her, I was quite close to her character, I was fighting with her as well because there was a point at the beginning where I didn’t like her and then it turned around and I completely defended her.
PATRICK: It’s like Carmen towards the end, she chooses her own fate. Are you attracted to roles where there are strong personal battles?
CARICE: Yes! And I love doing comedy as well. I like doing meaty roles. Between Love Life and Black Butterfly, I did a film about a young woman who goes into psychosis after giving birth to her baby and then goes into a mental hospital. And it funnily enough sounds very dramatic, it is very dramatic but it’s a comedy as well so it’s a very weird combination of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest kind of scenes in a hospital where there are crazy people and there are funny scenes and there are very heavy crisis scenes where I go completely crazy, mad – real comedy stuff in it and I’m very proud of it as well.
CARICE: I didn’t go to drama school. We have a school that’s more like Fame, where you do composing, writing, dancing, singing. A lot of comedy actors come from there, stand-up comedians and singers. I could never do the whole Andrew Lloyd Webber musical stuff because I would start laughing, but the whole comedy part I really enjoyed.
PATRICK: As for the clarinet, I read this was an instrument you learnt to play quite well. Do you still play?
CARICE: (Laughs) No! I love the instrument, but I don’t even know where it is to be honest! That was like a phase, same phase like when I wanted to be a ballroom dancer. I did ballroom dancing for a few years which I was quite good at, but they were phases.
PATRICK: Both of your parents worked in television and your sister (Jelka van Houten) is also an actress, did you always have the feeling that performing was in your blood?
CARICE: I think so, without ever being a showbiz child. I had a Tina Turner impersonation; I was always doing Tina Turner! I did Private Dancer when I was 9, with the combed-back hair! I looked as much like Tina Turner as I do Bill Clinton, but that was my act! Later I had an Elvis Presley imitation with the singing and everything. I was a very shy child, but it was in my blood – I had to do it. Everything at school was maths and biology. I was just good at languages and that was it!
PATRICK: You’ve spoken a few languages in your roles as well, haven’t you?
CARICE: I had to learn a little Afrikaans for Black Butterflies and little Hebrew for a film called The Black Book that I did a few years ago. I’m trying to do some Spanish sometimes, but I’m fluent in German and Dutch and English.
CARICE: I really love Berlin, I find it a great city, and it feels like there’s so much to explore there, so much going on. It’s very open and it’s quiet.
PATRICK: What was it like filming those scenes on a World War II set?
CARICE: At the beginning, with the swastikas and to see extras in Nazi uniforms, it was very scary but then when you’re doing the films it sort of becomes normal which is scary as well as you walk through the set there’s Goebbels and Göring! In Black Book I had moments where I thought we’re replaying this through, this is not a film, this actually happened.
PATRICK: Did you enjoy the clothes from those periods which you had to wear for the films like Black Book and Valkyrie?
CARICE: Yeah! I would love to walk in costume all the time but people would laugh at me! I love to wear hats and suits! In my style, I’d like to dress as old movies when they were wearing suits, like Katharine Hepburn style. I’d like to wear high pants and blazers and blouses, not like what I’m wearing now which is more like a Kennedy thing! But in the end I go for comfort!
I’m not quite sure what a Kennedy thing is, but I can definitely see her as a modern Hepburn, Garbo or Dietrich! As we’re wrapping up, I do my best to exchange some words in Dutch which I had been practising on my way, including “Fijne verjaardag” as Carice had recently celebrated her birthday.
Love Life, since its release in the Netherlands, has become one of the country’s biggest hits. The film had the best opening for a Dutch film in the history of Dutch cinema and also swept up at the Rembrandt Awards this year. It dares to deal with a subject matter which here in the UK, is still very much taboo: euthanasia.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .