One of the big breakout performers of 2012 is looking likely to be the first major Belgian movie star since Audrey Hepburn (yep, she was born in Belgium) — Matthias Schoenaerts. The 34-year-old has been acting for nearly two decades, but finally exploded in 2012 thanks to acclaimed back-to-back performances in the Oscar-nominated "Bullhead" and opposite Marion Cotillard in Jacques Audiard's celebrated Cannes drama "Rust & Bone."
And as you might expect with a one-two punch like that, and for a multi-lingual actor like Schoenaerts, Hollywood has come calling, with the actor lining up several U.S. roles, and more sure to come. We sat down with Schoenaerts last week ahead of the BFI London Film Festival premiere of "Rust & Bone" to find out a little more about his English-language debut films, as well as one high-profile picture he didn't end up making.
First up is "Loft," a remake of the Flemish-language thriller that actually helped launch Schoenaerts' career back in 2008. Directed by original helmer Erik Van Looy, the film again centers on five friends (Schoenaerts, Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller and Eric Stonestreet) who share an apartment they use to take their mistresses, only to find a dead woman there, and realize that one of them must be a killer.
Schoenaerts confirmed to us that the film — which was his first English-language performance — sees him reprise the same character from the original, which presented its own challenges and pleasures. "To play the same role twice," he said, "is fun, but to me, I wasn't considering the fact that I'd done it before, because I didn't want to force myself into doing something specifically different. I wanted to forget that I did it before, four years ago, I just attacked the role as if I never played it, and if in the end it comes out that I made the same choices, because they felt right, as in the first one, then so be it. Of course things will be different, because I'm four years older, I have more experience. I'm curious to see it."
Next up is "Blood Ties," the first American film from French actor-director Guillaume Canet ("Tell No One," "Little White Lies"), a remake of the 2008 French-language thriller "Les Liens Du Sang," which Canet co-wrote with James Gray. Details of the film have been relatively sparse, but Schoenaerts offered up some insight to his part and the film. "I play Anthony Scarfo," he said, of the 1970s NYC-set crime tale, "it's a supporting role. In the beginning of the film, he gets sent back to jail, he has a wife and kid, and his wife can't take it anymore, and she leaves him, and starts a relationship with the cop that put him in jail [played by Billy Crudup]. My wife is Zoe Saldana. The film is about two brothers, one being a cop, one being a crook. And at the beginning of the film, the crook, played by Clive Owen, comes out of jail, and is being watched by the cops, and the cop brother takes care of him, so they start watching the brother as well. They're like 'Why are you giving him shelter?' And everything starts getting messy, and my character, when he gets out of jail, wants his wife and kid back. So, everything starts getting very complicated."
Also starring Canet's partner Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, James Caan, Lilli Taylor, Noah Emmerich and Griffin Dunne, it's an impressive line-up both in front of and behind the camera, and Schoenaerts says he had a blast on the film. "Yeah, it was a lot of fun. Guillaume, he's a lovely guy, good energy, very sharp, very talented. And an amazing bunch of actors. It's a totally different role [to the one in 'Rust And Bone'], a totally different energy of character."
One thing that hasn't yet happened is a role in a big studio picture, although word surfaced from a Belgian magazine a few months back that Schoenhaerts had been under consideration to play the lead role in the "RoboCop" remake that was eventually taken by "The Killing" actor Joel Kinnaman. The actor admits that director Jose Padilha expressed some interest, but says that the talk was rather exaggerated. "They blew it out of proportion," he told us. "In the sense that, they were interested, but to me, it didn't feel like the right thing to do at that specific time. I thought it was too big, I thought I needed something else, to get more confidence, and not jump into this huge budget thing. But yes, they blew it out of proportion, I wasn't really happy with that. It feels disrespectful to Jose, who's a great director."
As for the future, Schoenaerts is pretty much tied up on press duties for the next few months, which caused him to drop out of a film at home in Belgium. Beyond that, he's got a couple of projects to pick from, saying "for 2013, there's a couple of really nice projects, but they all want to shoot at the same time, spring/summerish. So it's up to me, I've got to make some choices. I can't really talk about it so far, I don't want to be mysterious, but you know how it goes." But given his fast ascending star, we'd wager whichever he picks will be something pretty exciting.
Look for more from our interview with Schoenaerts in the near future. "Rust and Bone" hits theaters on November 23rd, with "Loft" and "Blood Ties" following at a time to be confirmed in 2013.