Belgium’s Matthias Schoenaerts Stars in Two Films at TIFF – The Drop, opening Friday and TIFF’s Closing Night Film A Little Chaos
Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts first captured our attention as the unstable partner of Marion Cotillard in the French film Rust & Bone. He’s well known for his work in Europe that dates back to 1992 but everything changes this weekend. Schoenaerts launches his American invasion starring opposite Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace in the crime thriller The Drop by Michaël R. Roskam. As a petty criminal in love with a woman who fears him, he gets to show the depths of frustrated passion. His character wants to impress her by claiming to have murdered a man. We spoke to him at the Toronto International Film Festival about what a bad guy really is.
Eric lives in this world of criminals in Brooklyn and he wants to fit in and build his cred by taking credit for crime she didn’t commit. He’s a fraud.
What was most important to me besides that was we should really feel that he still loves Nadia more than anything in the world and that fuels his actions. That to me was the core of what his soul is. The love he feels. It shows and brutal ways but in the end its still love he feels for that woman. (When the director asked me to read the script) I thought “Yes, there’s meat on the bone”. Mostly when you’re playing a supporting character there’s not much to it or you’re a red herring or you have to give the passes for someone else to make the goal, but I felt there was a dimension that could be brought and he could have some depth. That was an interesting challenge.
You got the Brooklyn accent right. You nailed it. It was interesting to have that very specific American idiom and have all these international people playing in it like Rapace, Hardy and the director.
I was just working on it, training, training, and training and before you know it, your body absorbs it and you don’t have to think about it anymore.
Is there a European sensibility to the film given the high proportion of international cast and crew?
We really took time for character development which is not always the case in the U.S. and I’m choosing my words carefully. Other than that, I don’t know. Its suggests that we’re different culture and think and feel differently but in the end it’s the same thing, people and their hearts and souls in life in context. I wish I had a ready-made answer. It was interesting to see how the director would work with this opportunity and incorporate this universe he’s part of now and filmmaking. It’s a different ball game. If you want your character to wear red shoes youre going to have to talk to fifteen people and defend that choice why youre wearing red shoes. That’s a weird thing isn’t it? Whether the character has a beard or not, you have to ask fifteen people. In Belgium, you say “That’s my character” and Michaël goes “Fine, go ahead”. And that’s the end do the story. This is a minor example but it translates to all the aspects of filmmaking here. It was surprising and exhausting. It wasn’t a drag but it wasn’t always easy.
Do you have any problems being typecast? You play a bad guy fairly often.
To some extent that pisses me off, my characters are all different. If you don’t see that these people are different on any f**king level then you don’t see the work I’m doing, and consider the heart and soul I bring to it. I said you’d better back it up with a consistent vision. Is Ali a bad guy hell, no. Is Jackie a bad guy? No. I don’t see it. Love interests? There are so many. What does that cover, the bad guy or the love interest? There are so many universes within that box, and that’s the thing, I never look at my characters as being one thing. I don’t understand “bad guy” because that’s not how I conceive them. That’s their function in the film but that’s not how I look and embody them. I look for something human and honest and sincere. I like to portray broken souls and wounded animals, that’s what I see in the world around em, we all are broken souls and yes, I like to play or defend people who don’t have the ability to defend themselves. To give a voice to people who are voiceless, that’s what I love. I don’t want to call myself an artist but as an artist, it’s important to defend that. Next year I play a shepherd. In A Little Chaos I play a gardener in the times of Louis XIV.
How much did you love Rocco the puppy who is so front and centre in the film?
We were like soft boiled eggs when the puppy was onset. Soft boiled eggs. Can I hold it, wait a minute, get your coffee. No one wanted to give it.
Your character is a physical threat to him and to Nadia.
As someone who does what he does, I can’t defend someone who beats puppies and women. But I have to find why he does it. We come back to a different reality and that is something I want to defend, and then the rest if form and I have to work with it. Was I aware of that fact that I would scare the sh*t out of people? No. That’s never my intention because the script does it for you. Let the script take care of that and hopefully you come up with something surprising.
Alan Rickman directed you in A Little Chaos. How was that?
He is one of a kind actor and beautiful person. It’s the first time I have been directed by an actor and that’s quite something. Youre being directed by an actor you appreciate and you know you will listen. I will listen and I will believe you and you have to be your own, and find it. He’s the sweetest man.