During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Carice van Houten talked about why she found the story of The Affair so appealing, figuring out the age make-up for the timespan of the film, the ambiguousness of her character, and the instant bond she developed with co-star Hanna Alström. She also talked about the legacy of Game of Thrones and how much it changed her career, as well as her desire to develop projects through her own production company.
Collider: When this project came your way, what was it that attracted you to it? Was it the overall story, was it the specific character, was it both, or was it something else entirely?
CARICE VAN HOUTEN: It was a combination of a few things. There was the architectural element of this, where the house played a main part in the story. And then, there was the affair between the two ladies and the suppression of one of them and the unluckiness of it all. There was also the history and the stretch of time that we go through. Originally, the producer and the director wanted to have two separate actresses for the later parts, when they’re older, and I was like, “Oh, I really only want to do it if I can play the old lady, as well.” That’s what was really touching to me, to do the whole stretch. I really wanted to finish it. That was a challenge, to make that believable. It’s always a bit tricky, of course, with prosthetics and make-up. There was the love story between them, what the house endures through that time, and just the beauty of art and what it represents. They can’t actually live up to what the house promises. The symbolism of it is what attracted me.
What was it like to actually figure out what the look would be, for when these characters are older?
VAN HOUTEN: We did a lot of tests and I remember thinking, the thing that gives it away most of the time is the hands and neck. It’s not pleasant to have it done to you because it’s sticky and a bit annoying and there are a bit too many people in your aura, but I think we got away with it. It’s always tricky. We didn’t have the money to completely CGI our faces, so we really did it with classical make-up. Then, there was the challenge of, how do you move? How stiff are you? Am I too young? You also don’t want to portray the cliche of an old person that just has a hump. Of course, they’re not that old, but much older than I am.
Was it weirder to see how you looked at that age, or how your scene partner, Hanna Alström, did?
VAN HOUTEN: I guess a bit of both. We had a lot of fun with it, as well. I kept thinking, “Oh, I don’t really mind it that much,” but it’s not true because you’re putting make-up on a young person. Your eyes are young. Unless you go all the way, you can still see a young person there. I’m sure that I look better in this film than I actually will, when I’m that age.
This was also adapted from a novel. Did you read the novel, along with the script?
VAN HOUTEN: No. I’m always a bit hesitant. I was sure I’d want to read it afterward or during, but I was a bit hesitant because I have too little time and I have difficulty concentrating, with all of the things going on. They’re two different things. A film is so much different from a book. If you get too attached to certain things in a book, that you can’t put really put in the film, it can be frustrating. So, I tend to go from the script. There are a lot of things from the book that we didn’t use. There’s so much history that you cannot just put it all in a film. It’s just too much.
What was it about this character that you felt most drawn to and that you were most intrigued by, and what did you see as the biggest challenges in playing her?
VAN HOUTEN: She was a bit polyamorous. Her fluidity and her free spirit and her bisexuality, and then the drama of not being able to have children were interesting to me. When the war starts, she has to take care of her husband and she does it by sleeping with this officer to get food. There’s almost a love for that man, as well. She’s taking care of him, by what she’s doing. There are all of these conflicts. I like the ambiguousness of the characters. It’s about a love affair between two women, and I was attracted to that, as well.
After going on such a journey with this character, does that make it harder to say goodbye, or are you someone who’s able to just walk away from a character and go onto the next one?
VAN HOUTEN: It’s my job, so if I couldn’t do that, I would be in big trouble. But I do carry them in my heart, especially in this case. It was a very important time in my life, when I was shooting this film, and I was so grateful that Hannah, my co-actress was there. We hit it off, straight away. I can really like my co-actors and have a bond, but with her, it was as if it was meant to be that we were gonna do this film together. We are still very good friends. We’re used to this nomad existence and the circus life, but sometimes there are people that really stick with you, and she’s one of them. I’m grateful that I did this film with her because it resulted in a really good friendship.
You’ve also started a production company and you created a TV show called Red Light. What led to that project? What interested you in that story and character?
VAN HOUTEN: First of all, after being an actress for so long, me and my friend, who I created this production company with, Halina Reijn, who also directed my film Instinct, we co-wrote that together. We have this production company, called Man Up, and we want to do female-driven stories. Mostly, what we want to do is bring the darkness in people to the light and shine an empathetic light on it, so that people can feel less alone. Our goal is to touch on subjects that we feel ashamed about or feel unsure about. It’s about the things that we don’t want to talk about that we want to bring to the light It’s a series that’s told completely through the female gaze and with the female gaze. Every woman is defined by whether she is a mother, what kind of mother she is, and whether she has children or not. It’s the self-destructive behavior of people in general. During #MeToo and after that, we’d been talking about starting our own projects and initiating our own stories, so we decided to go for it and do it.
Is it more exciting or more scary to just jump in and do something like that?
VAN HOUTEN: It’s both. In the end, it’s more rewarding because, if it’s something that really comes from you and you’re not a little bit of a big machine, then it’s so much more rewarding when people actually love it. I felt a creativity that I’ve always hid in other projects. I’ve been on set so many times where I thought, “This is a funny shot. This is a weird costume. This is a weird way of shooting this.” As our own producers, we can just say, “This is not right. This is not good. We have too few female actress extras. We have too little diversity in this.” We can regain a sense of self-control, after as we call being an actress, being a circus bear where you always do what someone else tells you to do.
That must also feel very freeing.
VAN HOUTEN: Immensely freeing. There are so many moments where I thought, “Is it my place to say that I find this a bit uncomfortable? Even with nudity scenes, it’s what’s asked of me. Everything is for the art.” I defended it to myself like that. Now I feel like, “Wait a minute, what if I can decide?”
You were also in Game of Thrones, which will forever be one of the most talked about and biggest TV productions of all time. What’s it like for you to have been a part of something like that? How do you see the legacy of that show, now that it’s finished and you can look back on it, as a whole?
VAN HOUTEN: It was so epic that, for a long time, I wasn’t really aware of it being that epic. I just was doing my job and having fun with my colleagues, being in this weird fantasy series that was really well-written and really new and cool. Only towards the end did I feel like it was really taking over the world and that the expectations were becoming so crazy and high. It became bigger, bigger, bigger, and bigger, and I felt a bit smaller and smaller and smaller, even though people knew me more. It has definitely done good for my career, but creatively, after a certain amount of years, I just felt like I needed to go in a different direction. I loved playing her and I loved being on that show. It definitely has opened a lot of doors for me, that would probably not have been opened before or after, if I hadn’t done it.
Do you have any idea of what you’re going to be doing next?
VAN HOUTEN: There are so many things with my production company that we’re sorting out and setting up. There are so many ideas. There are a few things in the pipeline, as we say, that I can’t really talk about yet. There are a lot of self-made projects, where I can actually build my own stories and build my own character. It’s such a kick. It’s a whole different ball game. It’s hard to go back to someone telling me what to do. Sometimes it’s nice to just follow the rules and not have the end responsibilities. To be more in control is definitely something that I want more of.
Is it something that you’re also looking to do in film?
VAN HOUTEN: Oh, yeah, totally. I’m a pretty eclectic person. It wouldn’t surprise me if I make another album again, or write a book, or develop some products. I like to be creative in different ways. I feel like there’s so many more things that I like to do. I’m in that mid-life age, so it’s that time where I’m like, “Okay, what else? What else can I do? What haven’t I done yet? What can I get out of life while I’m still young, or young-ish?”
The Affair is available on VOD.
The series, created by Howard Overman, imagines a world where science can suss out your perfect match.
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