interview by MAREK BARTEK

Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts currently stars opposite Kate Winslet in the HBO series ‘The Regime’ that premiered on 3rd March. He is best known for his roles in ‘Rust and Bone’, ‘The Danish Girl’ and ‘Red Sparrow’. Next up, we’ll be seiing him in superhero film ‘The Old Guard 2’ and in the epic biblical drama ‘The Way of the Wind’.

Your new HBO series ‘The Regime’ just premiered and is already generating a lot of anticipation. Can you tell us a bit about the storyline and the character that you are portraying? 
I play Herbert Zubak, who is referred to as ‘The Butcher’. When we meet him in the beginning of the series he was responsible for a massacre that happened at a working site. He’s ridden by guilt and all types of dark emotions, and then out of the blue, kind of a deus ex machina, he gets called in to assist the chancellor, the most powerful person in the country, and slowly but surely he becomes her right-hand man 

full look SANDRO via de Bijenkorf

On set, you have worked a lot alongside Kate Winslet. How was it to collaborate with her and create a good dynamic between your characters?
We worked together ten years ago on a different project, so we kind of just rekindled our relationship. We were both so excited to get into this mad world with these mad characters. All actors, but especially her and me, we were so happy to sink our teeth in this material that was so brilliantly written by Will Tracy. It was such an exploration, a day to day dance and pure joy of diving into that world and being able to step into the playground that was created for us and that was built by so many talented people, from set design to costumes, to camera, to everything. We truly had everything, and then we did our best to return the gratitude by having as much fun and being as committed as we could. 

What attracted you to this project? 
It’s a number of things. First of all, I think the density and originality of the writing and the premise were striking and stunning. And then, of course, I was given a beautiful part for a man that really goes from zero to hero, and that was fantastic. And all that topped off by working with Kate, with all these actors and HBO as a producing team behind it. These are the elements that make you understand: “Okay, this is it! It doesn’t get any better, so let’s go for it and have a blast, and just be happy and give it everything you’ve got!” 

‘The Regime’ explores life within an authoritarian regime. How does the series balance dark comedy with serious themes, and what do you hope viewers take away from this narrative?
I think it’s all in the approach. It’s inherent to the writing and, of course, also in the choices the directors made in terms of style. I think that for it to truly work, all the actors had to be very serious about it and not accentuate the satirical component, rather be of service to the writing and let the writing reveal its satirical intent and nature. But as actors, we just had to dive in and be serious as if we were playing a serious drama. 

It’s definitely true that certain aspects very much relate to the world we live in today. So if I’m asked “what do you hope people take away from this?” well, I don’t know, I think the writing is so rich that there’s so much that people can tap into and get out of it. It’s a tough one, what do I hope people take away from this? Maybe that…No I’m not gonna say it, let’s keep that a mystery. 

Going to the very beginning, you made your film debut at the age of 13 in ‘Daens’, alongside your father. How did this early experience shape your passion for acting and what did you learn from working with your father?
I don’t see that very early experience as the beginning of my acting career. So much has happened over the years and it’s hard to put into perspective why and how things happened the way they did, and how mysterious synchronicities and tough life events eventually can propel you into a direction that you thought you would never end up in. And all of the sudden, things start opening up and moving naturally, and we’re here, we’re doing this interview. But how all of that happened and how it affected me, I don’t know. I try not to put that too much into perspective, I just move on, I enjoy the moment and look forward. I don’t think back too much.

Movies ‘Bullhead’ and ‘Rust and Bone’ are considered your two breakthrough roles. In your opinion, would you say they were? How did they shape your career? 
‘Bullhead’ was a movie that one of my best friends and I made. It took us 6 years to get it made, and then some insane magic happened to it and it started living a life of its own and it was majestic. It ended up being Academy Award nominated, which obviously put me on the radar internationally, and then directly after that I was able to work with one of my favorite directors, Jacques Audiard, and that kind of opened up even more doors and whatnot. So it’s fairly right to say that these two films were kind of the breakthrough movies.

jacket Matthias’ own

Your diverse filmography includes projects like ‘The Danish Girl’ and ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’. How do you choose your roles and what excites you about working on projects across different genres?
I think I always choose by heart, I’m very non-strategic about it, and more often than not it lead up to good things. Of course, there are times you make mistakes and then you learn from them and move on. But I always choose by heart, I always need to feel that something strikes me deep inside. I have to have a connection somewhere within myself with what we’re making. I need to feel like wanting to defend it, wanting to defend the character or the story. And of course, the people you’re able to work with are very important: directors, colleagues, fellow actors, those are all elements that stimulate you to move in a certain direction and to accept a project or not. It’s always from the heart, from the gut. I’m not political or strategic about it. 

With so much diversity in your roles comes also a lot of preparations for them. What are some challenges you encounter and more importantly, how do you overcome them?
With every project it’s always a matter of balance: it’s “what do you show?”, “what do you not show?”, “what do you say?”, “what do you not say?”, “what do you mark, highlight?”… And, of course, how to do it. It’s something that is private to an actor. I don’t like to elaborate on that because I don’t find it interesting nor fascinating, even reading about other other actors on how they prep. I don’t wanna know how Vincent Van Gogh paints or how Kandinsky mixes his colors. I think it is very personal and it should stay personal, it should be part of the private garden of an actor.

Looking forward, what can you tell us about your new exciting projects in the works?
There is a movie we shot four years ago with the great Terrence Malick — it’s a project he’s been working on for more than thirty years now, and he’s been editing four years. I’m very curious to see what film comes out of that very intimate process he’s been going through for so long. Hopefully it will come out this year. Then, of course, we have ‘The Old Guard 2’, which is a sequel to the first one since it was very well received. It came out two years ago on Netflix. And then there’s other few future projects on the table that I still have to read, and a few that I had already committed myself to, but they haven’t been announced yet, so I always keep that in silence. 

photography DANIEL SARS
styling and interview MAREK BARTEK
hair and make up MIRA HUSSEINI
editorial director JANA LETONJA

special thanks to Samsøe Samsøe, de Bijenkorf and UPR