Carice van Houten waited years for a meaty role like the one she plays in director Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book” — half Jean Harlow-styled bombshell, half tough-as-nails survivor. But now that the film has brought van Houten to the attention of the world, the 30-year-old actress hopes future employers won’t lose sight of her lighter side.
“I was a little afraid when this film came out the world would think I can’t do comedy,” she says. “But if they at least see the twinkle, or that there’s sometimes a wink in there, then I think I’m happy.”
While her friends went to the movies, the Dutch-born thesp watched silent comedies with her old-fashioned father. She says Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy inspired her to join a theater group in school, from which she graduated to a dedicated drama academy.
Her sex appeal — a prerequisite of any Verhoeven heroine — registered early on. While still a freshman, she went out with friends one night wearing a Johan Cruyff shirt (after the Dutch soccer star), “but because of the boobs, his face was completely distorted,” she laughs.
She was too green at the time to realize the cafe they’d chosen was full of casting directors. But they noticed her. One of the men rang van Houten’s school soon after, offering her the audition that launched her TV career.
“I always played sort of weird characters,” she says, but the awards came all the same for leading roles in the movies “Suzy Q” and “Minoes.” She considers her part in “Black Book” as her first serious, fully developed character.
“I’m not the typical Verhoeven woman who just takes advantage or is just a bitch,” she boasts.
The nudity was no obstacle. “I’m not an exhibitionist,” she says. “I’m nervous when I have to do scenes like that, but I survive with a lot of humor. So on the set, instead of trying to hide myself, I just show my body and say, ‘This is the material we’re going to work with, boys.’ ”
The truly revealing scene, she says, occurs when her titanium-strong heroine finally cracks, experiencing a private emotional breakdown late in the movie. Verhoeven usually resists such scenes, but she fought to include it, and in that moment audiences see beyond the surface to the character’s very core.
Claim to fame: Before “Black Book,” van Houten’s biggest commercial success was kid-friendly “Minoes,” in which she plays an alley cat who transforms into a woman.
Career mantra: “Never say never.”
Role models: Meryl Streep and Isabelle Huppert.
What’s next: “Dorothy Mills,” a French psychological thriller shooting this summer in Ireland. “Dorothy Mills is the Catherine Tramell, and I’m Michael Douglas,” she jokes.