EURO STAR; Holland's Sweetheart, Carice Van Houten, Is Making a Name for Herself Playing Troubled Sirens, Acting Opposite Tom Cruise and Jude Law and Wowing the Director Paul Verhoeven. Lydia Slater on Why Hollywood Is Going Dutch

The Evening Standard (London, England), March 5, 2010 | Go to article overview

EURO STAR; Holland's Sweetheart, Carice Van Houten, Is Making a Name for Herself Playing Troubled Sirens, Acting Opposite Tom Cruise and Jude Law and Wowing the Director Paul Verhoeven. Lydia Slater on Why Hollywood Is Going Dutch


Byline: Lydia Slater

Styled by Nicky Yates

Since Carice van Houten's sizzling international debut in Paul Verhoeven's 2006 Second World War spy thriller Black Book, she's been hailed as Holland's most popular export since the tulip. The industry bible Variety paid tribute to her talent, New York magazine named her Woman of the Year in January 2008, and Vanity Fair's Hollywood edition two months later featured her in an upside-down pose to indicate her effect on the film indust So it's rather odd that, as I wait in the lobby of the No 11 hotel in Chelsea, I'm wondering if I'll recognise her. As Black Book's Jewish undercover agent, she was plump-cheeked with tight blonde curls. In her follow-up Nazi epic, Valkyrie, where she took an almost diametrically opposite role as the haunted wife of Tom Cruise's SS officer, she was a hollow-eyed brunette. When she materialises, Carice is wearing granny glasses and brown tweed, her dark hair piled into a messy chignon. 'You shouldn't polish the floors so much!' she rebukes the receptionist, her brow crinkling with irritation. 'I got out of bed this morning and fell down flat.'

Carice's chameleon-like qualities are not the only natural advantages that make her such a wonderful actress. She is unguarded, outspoken and appears to have no protective carapace. You can see every emotion flitting across her face. This means she's a favourite choice for directors looking for heroines to traumatise.

This year, for instance, she's appearing in a Dutch film, A Woman Goes to the Doctor, as a breast-cancer sufferer who's cheated on by her previously devoted husband.

In 2008 she was in Dorothy Mills, a horror film about a possessed babysitter. She's just wrapped on another Dutch film, The Happy Housewife, a tale of a woman who suffers from catastrophic post-natal depression as a result of her father's suicide. And the day after our interview, she's due to fly to South Africa to start filming Black Butterfly with Blade Runner's Rutger Hauer, a biopic of Nelson Mandela's favourite poet Ingrid Jonker, who killed herself following her father's rejection. Then she's in Black Death, which stars Sean Bean and is all about the plague; Carice is playing a Satanic necromancer. How does she cope with all this trauma? 'Well, I'm not a method actor,' she says. 'I usually find it quite easy to switch off. But doing the cancer film was intense. Dying on screen can be tricky and really ugly.' Bang on cue, a bowl of porridge arrives.

She shudders delicately. 'I said no to porridge,' she tells the waitress. She hasn't eaten porridge since she had to spend a day naked having a cold vat of it, mixed with pea soup and masquerading as excrement, poured over her head in a humiliation scene in Black Book.

'It was horrible. I was so dirty and it was so embarrassing and cold, standing there naked in front of all these people. So I said to Paul Verhoeven, "When we're done with this day, we're going to wrestle in this shit because I want you to be in it as well." And when we finished, I was crying as I walked offthe set, and I heard Paul say, "Hey, where are you going?" He was standing in the middle of this soup with his arms open, going, "Come on then!" He was a hero to me,' she goes on with shining eyes. 'I would do anything for him.' The admiration is mutual: Verhoeven has described her as the best actress he's ever worked with.

Fortunately for Carice's mental health, it's not all doom and gloom; this year she can be seen as Jude Law's rejected wife in the sci-ficomedy Repo Men, and she's also starring in Julian Fellowes' From Time to Time, an adaptation of the well-loved children's book The Chimneys of Green Knowe.

For telephone bookings, call 0871 222 7474. With thanks to No 11 private members' club and hotel (020 7730 7000; no11london.com)

Carice plays Maria Oldknow, the ghostly great-great-great grandmother of Maggie Smith. …

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EURO STAR; Holland's Sweetheart, Carice Van Houten, Is Making a Name for Herself Playing Troubled Sirens, Acting Opposite Tom Cruise and Jude Law and Wowing the Director Paul Verhoeven. Lydia Slater on Why Hollywood Is Going Dutch
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