Getting to the Bottom of Carice Van Houten
I never gave Game of Thrones a chance. When I was 11, a world full of castles and knights and dragons and magic would have been right up my alley. These days, I have hung up my crossbow and focused my energy on cigarettes and Old Fashioneds, like Don Draper. So when I found out I was going to interview Carice Van Houten who stars as Melisandre in Game of Thrones, I had no idea what I was going to talk to her about.
Cramming three seasons of Game of Thrones into five days is a complete mind-fuck, to say the least. The plot lines are thick, the relationships are tumultuous and the sex is… plentiful. I would find myself walking around the office comparing everything in my real life to Game of Thrones. The cast of characters in my day to day began to remind me more and more of characters in the show. I started to see my daily tasks as stepping stones in the epic crusade that was my life. By the time I reached the final episode of the third season, I was completely hooked.
The fear of not having anything to talk to Carice about was gone, and I was left with a new fear. I was worried that when I got on the phone, my inner geek would come spilling out of my mouth and I would sound like nothing more than another super-fan from Comic Con that had somehow swindled an interview with The Red Priestess.
I dialed Carice’s number with shaky hands to begin our interview.
"You live in Amsterdam, right?" I asked. "I’ve always wanted to go there. I hear it’s incredible."
"Yes, it is. It’s beautiful. It’s like a museum of nature."
"Are you going to live there forever?"
"I don’t know. It feels like my home here, but every time I come to New York or LA I change my perspective a bit. So I don’t know – you never know. I might end up in South Africa for all I know."
"Yeah, I watched your Vine for about 2 hours yesterday. It seems like you speak a million languages and could travel anywhere."
"[Laughs] You must have thought I was crazy. No, I don’t speak that many. I just decided I wanted to sing a song in as many languages as possible. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so once I got going I couldn’t help myself."
Crazy is not the right word for it. Eccentric might be a better word. Fun is also another good word to describe how Carice’s interaction with social media makes her seem. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. She jokes around that her stuffed bear is her boyfriend and gets weird with members of her band (we’ll get to Carice’s music career momentarily). The person she is on Vine is such a stark contrast from her character on Game of Thrones, I wondered how her die hard fans reacted to seeing the real Carice via social media.
"I didn’t really get [social media] at first. I mean, I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter and things. It’s nice to have a voice and to be able to show your human side to your fans. I think it’s important for people to see that I am not more or less than anyone else. The fans love it too. They eat that stuff up. Especially with the Game of Thrones stuff. The problem is that most of the time I try to remain a bit ambiguous, and social media can sometimes attract some crazy people and negative people. Sometimes you can start to believe that what negative people say on Twitter is what the world thinks of you. So I just try and treat it as a game I guess. Still, it’s nice connecting. It helps a lot with keeping people up to date with my music as well."
Carice recently released her full length album See You On the Ice. The album was not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting straight pop-music, but the album is full of very heady, melodic tracks (with a pop hit thrown in every so often). Carice even recruits Antony Hegarty of the band Antony and the Johnsons to add vocals on her sleepy track Particle of Light. Carice’s voice sometimes reminds me of Jenny Lewis back in the early years of Rilo Kiley, and the song structures are reminiscent of tunes by Aimee Mann. The truth is, I never really give actors that try and become singers a fighting chance. I have been burned one too many times. Carice couldn’t agree more.
"You always have to be skeptical of how genuine an actor or actress is that wants to become a musician. I would be at least. A lot of times – not every time – but a lot of times it’s pushed by managers with commercial strategies in mind.
"For me, music has been as much a love for me as cinema throughout my whole life. It’s just now that I have finally found the time to really get things together to make an album. So for me, it’s nothing new. I wanted to make sure that when people listen to the album that they could hear my heart in the songs, because the album is very personal. I never felt pressure or that there was a style I had to follow. It’s a pretty naive album actually. I never really had a plan for the album either. It’s all just so intuitive that it just… happened, you know?"
"Judging solely from your Vine, it seems like singing is something you are always doing."
"Yep. Ever since I was very young in fact. The trouble is that I have a sister who is also a singer and an actress. Growing up there always seemed to be this strange unspoken rule that I would be the actress and she would be the singer. So now I can finally let that go and begin to let it out in the open."
Carice might be new to the world of music, but she is definitely a veteran to the world of cinema. With more than 15 years under her belt, Carice understands the industry all too well. In interviews she has been vocal about having a distaste for the Hollywood lifestyle and what it can turn someone into. The fact that she remains overseas is a conscious decision for someone who has a role in one of the most popular television shows of our generation. I was curious to find out what she had learned about the business of film after being in it for so long.
"I think through the years I’ve learned that it’s a business. It’s that simple. When I was young I just wanted to be on stage and perform. It had nothing to do with business or money or anything, I just needed to do it. You learn about selling yourself and becoming "Bankable" and all those buzzwords. It doesn’t always have to do with art at all. I am in a unique position that over here in Europe I am much more established and well known, but I come to Hollywood and it’s almost like I am starting all over again. So I get to see it from two different angles. It’s taken me a while to realize that it is a business, but if you don’t take it too seriously and let it remain fun, you can learn how to make it work for you and you don’t feel the business side of it so much.
When I realized that, I went to Los Angeles and thought that I might be able to live there for a while. You just gotta do everything with a wink and a smile, right?"
"So what’s the next move for you? You seem to always be changing, is there something else you would like to try your hand at in the industry?"
"I am a bit of a control freak. I remember in the beginning I would walk on to a set and want to know everything. I would look around and say ‘Wh-What? What the fuck? Why is the camera there?, Or ‘Why is the camera angled like that?’ I mean, I felt like I had to be on top of everything. I also wanted to direct. I still want to direct. I haven’t yet, but I want to someday. Right now I am working more on becoming a producer. I am slowly working on producing a film about Greta Garbo."
"Yeah… Tell me about that! I read something about it. I am not a huge Greta Garbo fan or anything but I am really intrigued as to why you chose that for your first production."
"It’s one of the projects in my life that I felt like I had to do and I can’t explain why. The idea has been floating around in my head for a few years now. It started when a dutch director told me that we were similar in a way. Like in the way we act or maybe a feeling we give off. So I started researching her and got sucked into her. I related to her so much. My whole life I grew up watching nothing but silent films. So the way I look at acting or the way I work, I am really inspired by silent films and their body language.
I have a very specific idea for how the film should be, so I am not trying to force it or bring it too life too quickly. So the project is still a few years out."
"If you weren’t an actress or a musician, what do you think you would be?"
"When I was young I always wanted to be an astronaut or a detective. So probably one of those."
"What’s the worst job you ever had?"
"Oh man… I’ve done all sorts of stuff. I worked at a youth hostel where I was constantly spilling fuckin’ soup all over customers. I couldn’t do anything. I worked at the mall behind a counter and I was always over or under in my cash register. I picked berries for a living for a bit. My worst job though… I had a job taking care of old people. You know where you go up to their house and clean for them and talk to them? Yeah… I did that and I was so unfit for that job."
"So I have to ask about Melisandre. How does playing a role like that change your daily life? Has it changed everything or do you not notice it once you leave the states?"
"I notice it on Twitter. I look so crazily different than I do in the show. I go into meetings and they don’t recognize me. Everyone expects me to be an older, stern, scary lady with no sense of humor [Laughs]. It’s nice to be able to turn my fame off and on. It’s crazy the interactions I see on twitter though. Everyone watches the series, man. Everyone! It’s nuts. Even I watch the series!"
"Before the show were you into castles and magicians and wizards and things?"
"Not at all!" Carice replies laughing. "No Lord of the Rings affinity or nothing like that. The series opened a whole new world to me. And you know, the term ‘fantasy’ is so strange to me.’ That sounds like goblins to me… I don’t even really know what a goblin is to be honest. It’s just a word that I know. That’s the great thing about the series, it’s defined as fantasy, but it’s so much more. It’s like a very intelligent soap opera."
"It really is. I’m trying not to geek out too hard about it, I’m sure you get a lot of that."
"All the time. Once people figure out who I am they want to know everything. I would be the same way though. I’m such a fan. It’s such a fucking awesome show!"
Just as I was about to dive into my super fandom and begin preaching of the importance of the show in my personal life and my predictions of what would happen in the seasons to come, I heard a doorbell ring on the other end of the phone. Carice’s friend had arrived and she had to run.
I was literally saved by the sound of a bell.
While you patiently await the upcoming season of Game of Thrones, you can catch Carice in her new film The 5th Estate which premieres at the Toronto Film Festival on Sept. 5th.
Photography: Janey van Ierland
Styling: Pascalle Koldenhof
Make-up: Gerda Koekoek
Hair: Marvin Zwart
Dress: Monique Collignon