Matthias Schoenaerts Talks BULLHEAD And Oscar Reactions

Rama Screen
Published: February 12, 2012

Special thanks to Drafthouse Film, this past week, I had the awesome opportunity to interview Belgian actor Matthias Schoenarts, star of writer/director Michael Roskam‘s masterpiece, BULLHEAD, which is Oscar-nominated this year for Best Foreign Language film category. What a remarkable film with tremendous performances. The film opens this weekend in NY, LA & Austin.

I had a great chat with Schoenarts about his character and the reaction in Belgium when the film was announced as one of the nominees and find out if Matthias thinks the film would win, check out the full interview below..

RS: So when did Michael Roskam approach you about this project and what was it about the script that made you want to play this role?
MS: “I worked with him in 2004 and we really enjoyed working together, he spoke to me about this idea he had for a feature film, he was developing that idea, because at that point, he didn’t have a first draft whatsoever, but ya, first idea already just moved me. Sometimes you have this intuitive feeling, this deep thing going on in your system that makes you know that it’s a very special project and then a couple of months later, I read the first draft, and that just made that feeling stronger, and then I read the script, so I was completely compelled by this very unique tragedy and by this character, and the originality of the whole setting of the film. And then knowing the cinematic talent of Michael, I knew this was going to be a very challenging and interesting film

And of course, the main aspect for me was the character, which to me probably was the most layered, ambiguous, and complex character that was ever proposed to me and that really excited me. Because to me the character is metaphorical character, symbolic character on so many levels, so that really convinced me.”

RS: What fascinated me about your character is that he can be intimidating but at the same time, he can be sort of like a gentle giant as well, how did you prep yourself to balance both those aspects about your role?
MS: “Absolutely, to me it was a very interesting contrast to look for, between his physical appearance and his inner world. Because to me it was clear that his inner world is very childish, almost innocent and naive and then you have this artificial fortress of muscles that he created to protect himself, so to me, once I had his physical appearance set, I knew that that appearance would be so intimidating, that on that level, I didn’t have to play anything anymore and I could really focus on the emotional vulnerability of the character, which to me was the core of that character”

RS: What was your reaction when you heard that BULLHEAD got Oscar-nominated?
MS: “That’s quite something because of course the Academy Awards is the biggest celebration of cinema on the planet so to be a part of that is amazing. And it’s a very beautiful reward for so many people who’ve put much into this film for years. How can you not be excited about it?!”

RS: What was the public and media reaction in Belgium? How did the people of Belgium respond to the news of BULLHEAD receiving Oscar nomination?
MS: “In Belgium, it was like an A-bomb exploding, the critics, the newspapers, everybody was all over us and all of a sudden we were public friend number one, not public enemy number one, but public friend number one. Yeah, it was like a little mass psychosis for a week, it was a pretty fun experience, it was pretty crazy and pretty absurd at the same time, so yeah, just trying to enjoy it.”

RS: So you and Michael and the whole gang will be attending the Oscars?
MS: “Yes, of course. absolutely”

RS: What do you think BULLHEAD’s chances are of winning?
MS: “I don’t have any idea. I don’t know. I think the 5 contenders have a chance of winning it otherwise they wouldn’t be contenders, so even if we won’t win, I’ll never consider it as a loss.
Of course it would be a lot greater to win, obviously, I’m not going to be weird about that, of course you want to win. But if we don’t win, it’s been a helluva ride up until now. So well received all over the world and then this nomination on top, so many things happening already for Michael, for me, so many exciting things, and of course if we win, that would be the absolute reward, but then again, whoever wins deserves it, so we’ll see.”

RS: Did you grow up watching gangster flicks? How similar or different are the mobsters in your movie compared to the mobsters in American movies?
MS: “I think in our movie, the mob is far less romanticized. Especially for what we have in our country, it’s not very stylish mob as you see in the American films. In our film, it’s just farmers ya know, part of an industry and they want to make money and they have their own methods, so I think it’s far less romanticized than in the U.S. films.”

RS: Have you received any offers from Hollywood to work on films here in the states?
MS: “Well, I think it’s too early to really be talking about it, but there’s a lot of people wanting, so there’s a lot of exciting meetings that I have planned out for the next couple of weeks. There were a couple of scripts that came my way, exciting projects with good directors and great co-stars, so I’m just going to take my time and have a clear view, stick with the gut, I’m always on the look out for a crush because that’s when the best comes out of me, when I can devote myself to a project on which I have a crush, that’s what I’m looking for. We’ll see how that turns out but I think there’s a lot of interesting movement”

RS: so why do you think American audience would love BULLHEAD, what is it about this Belgian film that they could find attractive?
MS: “I think the attraction of the film is on 2 levels. First of all, you have a very original crime story with a very exotic universe that is absolutely unknown for the American viewers. We have the Belgian farm universe which is very specific, and then again, there is something in the storytelling structure of Michael’s that resonates some of the America’s gangster movies, so I think that’s a very appealing aspect.
But then the second aspect to me, which is most important, is just this tragedy of this fascinating character that is very touching and that is what I think the people will remember.

Why will they remember this? Because to me it’s a love story, it’s about a guy not being able to love someone and to get loved in return and turning crazy, that’s what it is. And of course, it’s also about loyalty, friendship, revenge, redemption, all these themes are part of the film that attracts you to this character, but to me the biggest theme of all is love and not being able to give love and just going crazy, and that’s the sadness of the character and that’s what I think everybody will identify with, and that’s why everybody starts feeling for this character, which in the beginning is established as some sort of Frankenstein or King Kong kind of being but then it reveals itself as a very vulnerable human being and I think that’s what people will relate to.”

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