Carice van Houten is a Dutch actress, who you’ve probably seen as the dark witch Melisandre on Game of Thrones or her award-winning role in Black Book. Carice just released her first album, See You on the Ice on iTunes worldwide. We spoke to her exclusively about the “tasty vomit” she made after years of not singing, being a music nerd, David Bowie and Dutch Cinema.
Portable: So I just finished listening to your album. I really liked it a lot.
Carice van Houten: Thank you, thanks.
P: How long have you been doing music, as opposed to film and theater?
Carice van Houten: Well I’ve always sang. Sung? Sang. And I did a theater school where I was trained to be a singer and composer, sort of like Fame, you know that series.
P: Yes, yes, Music and Art.
Carice van Houten: Yeah, it was theater school, not like regular theater school, like comedy acting and singing, Spanish dance, tap dance, composing, writing, and all that. And I did some rock musicals, I did the Threepenny Opera, I did all sorts of things, but then I started doing more drama, and I got off in the whole movie business, and there’s no time really to do music anymore.
P: I think thats an issue a lot of people who are creative in different fields might have.
Carice van Houten: Exactly. I was listening to music and driving people crazy, being a music preacher. I am very pushy and anal about my music. I’m the first one at a party to change the music, I’m very sensitive, let’s say.
P: Do you feel the same about movies, television, theater?
Carice van Houten: No… Well yes. Yes and no. Music is more of a bigger love of mine. I don’t know where my talent actually is, but I enjoy listening to music more than watching movies, if I had to choose. I’m very critical, very selective. I’m a detail freak. That’s the way I made this record, it’s like a little miniature painting.
P: So your album is a very complete thing, not a collection of songs, but a complete piece of art?
Carice van Houten: Well I don’t know. This is kind of the vomit that had to come out after years of not singing, years of not creating things myself. It’s tasty vomit though (laughs). I’ve been filming so much and doing what other people tell me to do. When you’re an actor you’re just a little crater in a big hole. I just wanted more control, to be more creative and be more directive.
P: How would you compare the feeling of finishing a day at the recording studio, with walking out of the theater at the end of a show, or walking off set at the end of the day?
Carice van Houten: Well the thing is, I sometimes do the acting job despite of my… I feel like I do acting for the sake of the talent I have? I find acting… this might sound arrogant, what I just said, but acting can be so heavy and so… vexing… so… the whole playing with your emotions all day is tiring. When someone says it’s a wrap, that can sometimes be the best moment of my day, which is not a healthy sign. I guess I’ve been doing a little too much lately, maybe.
Making music is just another pace. Music I can never get enough of, the whole lifestyle of being in the studio dark and warm, and I don’t have to dress up or look nice, I can look like the nerd I actually am. I’m around boys with beards and guitars, that’s what I like. That lifestyle suits me much more, to work until 3 at night and… be involved in the mixing process and make it perfect. With movies I can’t be there at the whole editing process.
P: You do your part and walk out, its out of your hands.
Carice van Houten: Yes and over the years I’ve had more influence, and bigger parts where I can be involved, but not until very recently. It’ll never be my own thing completely. Music has given me so much more what’s the word… not pleasure… contentment?
P: Satisfaction maybe?
Carice van Houten: Satisfaction! It’s such a great feeling to make something yourself.
P: Do you shoot in America a lot?
Carice van Houten: No. Most American movies I’ve done were shot in Europe. I’ve done one film in America, and it was a Dutch film actually. I am in L.A. now, but it’s not a place I’m regularly visiting. I’m going to be here a few month next year maybe but before that I never really did that. In my own country the roles I can play are much more interesting so far. This is why I got into acting, to play meaty parts and do stuff that is difficult and challenging.
P: Is there a big difference in the way Americans and the Dutch view the arts?
Carice van Houten: There’s definitely a difference between Hollywood and… there’s great stuff coming from America, and the independent stuff too, but the blockbusters… that’s just a whole other thing. And it’s difficult for Hollywood to take risks, apparently, to try other things and go with an unknown name, that doesn’t really happen nowadays. Unfortunately films like Sophie’s Choice, that kind of drama doesn’t get made so much anymore, which I think is a shame, although I quite enjoy all the Marvel stuff, there’s great stuff in there, but in an ideal world I’d love to do a Sophie’s Choice kind of film.
P: Is that stuff getting made in the Dutch cinema world?
Carice van Houten: I mean I have a luxury position there, I might not be representative of the rest of my colleagues, but theres more stories for women, big stories. Women’s stories there aren’t many in America.
P: So what’s great in Dutch cinema right now? What’s the Dutch film?
Carice van Houten: Hmm… Well, I would say most of Paul Verhoeven’s work. I did a film with him called Black Book and he did a GREAT film called Turkish Delight. There’s a lot of talent in Holland, but unfortunately many of the films don’t travel.
P: What about music? What are your influences in Dutch music? Or any music, really.
Carice van Houten: My iTunes library is crazy. I’m so eclectic. I’m influenced by so many different things. I was raised with Queen and Nina Simone, David Bowie. Billy Joel. A lot of classical music. The Beatles, of course, then Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush. I like reggae and jazz and world music and crazy experimental music. Beach Boys. Goldfrapp. Bob Dylan. Just so much, man.
P: If you could record an album or song with any person ever, who would that be?
Carice van Houten: Oooooh… Voicewise? Bowie.
P: That’d be a lot of fun.
Carice van Houten: Oh yeah, that man’s voice. There’re a few voices I love, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon, Bowie’s voice, Howe Gelb’s voice, Sinatra’s voice, Tom Waits’ voice. I like male voices a little better. There’s more male voices I like. But then in my top 5 would be Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and Goldfrapp.
P: If someone listens to your album for the first time, going in blind, not knowing anything about it, what do you want them to walk away with?
Carice van Houten: Well, I’m an incurable romantic, I think it’s quite melancholic, the overall feel of it. First of all I want people to think: there’s an actor that sings too, that’s possible. People are not just one thing. All the songs are different parts of me, you might get to know me a little better. Again, there’s no reggae song on there yet, no dance song really, but I could’ve made a double album with a Brazilian song on there, or a Cuban song. I put a lot of cinematic elements in there: there’s crickets, there’s fireworks, there’s police cars.
P: Yeah, I heard that, it’s a very unique thing.
Carice van Houten: I approached each song like a different movie, like a different role, like a different part of me. I’m very very specific in the images I have about certain songs: one song starts with crickets, and I saw this image, I think I know where I got it from, it’s an image from the film The Bridges of Madison County, which I love. I mean, the film is not that great, but the chemistry between Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep is to die for. There’s this scene, they’re in Ohio I think, and there’s this house, and they’re on the porch, there’s crickets and it’s warm, and that’s what I wanted to put in there. So many tiny little elements, and if people can hear that? I’d be so happy. I hope people will feel the love we put in there, and our love of music.
P: To appreciate every moment. That’s what you’re looking for.
Carice van Houten: I’d love if people just paid attention to the details. Nothing is random. Not that we’re super slick, I love little accidents, I’m just saying we were very particular with the levels, those buttons on the mixing board that go up and down. I was very keen on the levels. That’s what I mean by a miniature little painting. That’s what I like myself when I hear music and I hear the love they put into it and the tiny details.
P: What have movies and music taught you about eachother? Has anything from acting taught you about music and vice versa?
Carice van Houten: Sometimes in acting, I love to act without words. There’s a lot you can say with just eyes and body language. I love silent films, I was raised with silent films, I’m very influenced by the non-verbal art. It’s the same with music. If you emphasize something too much, you take away the audience’s freedom. You just have to play it. If the feeling is right, if you’re believable, if you’re authentic, you don’t have to push it. You don’t have to show me what you want to tell me. If you feel it, I can already see it as an audience. If an actor fights against his tears, then we will cry as an audience. If the actor cries… it’s a little like that.
P: Are you interested in scoring film?
Carice van Houten: I was just actually asked to do a musical theater score.
P: Ah, cool.
Carice van Houten: Stuff like that I’d love to do. As long as I can be in the studio with my producer friend and just make music… it’s such a great feeling.
P: So are you working on a music video at all?
Carice van Houten: Yeah, we just did a video for “Emily”, one of the songs, that’s already on YouTube and everything. Next week we’re going to shoot the second single, “Particle of Light”, so that’s going to be exciting, the whole idea of the video is quite cool. Maybe in the future I will start directing. This whole thing is a step to a different layer. After a while I see why actor’s want to direct. It feels like I sort of directed something (the CD). Very excited to make more. The video for “Particle of Light” should be coming out on the 26th of November. We’re going to do an interactive thing with that which I can’t say a lot about right now.