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Michiel Huisman—The Age of Adaline, Game of Thrones—4/13/2015

/content/interviews/407/1.jpgDutch-born actor Michiel Huisman first won attention on these shores for his roles in Paul Verhoeven's 2006 film Black Book and Jean-Marc Vallée's 2009 historical drama The Young Victoria. Not long thereafter, he won the key role of drug addicted musician Sonny on Eric Overmyer and David Simon's HBO series Treme (2010-2013), a life-changer not only in his career but in his personal life: he and his family still call New Orleans home. In addition to appearances in the films World War Z and Wild, Huisman took American TV by storm when he won featured roles on BBC America's Orphan Black, ABC's Nashville, and HBO's phenomenon Game of Thrones, on which he now enjoys regular status as Daario Naharis (having assumed the role from Ed Skrein). Huisman recently came to San Francisco's Ritz-Carlton Hotel to promote his biggest American film role yet, playing opposite Blake Lively in romantic fantasy The Age of Adaline.

Groucho: Okay I'll get right down to it. So in The Age Of Adaline, you very much play the romantic interest of the titular character. And it occurred to me that job one for you in this movie is to be charming—to make the audience fall in love with you the same way you make the character [of Adaline] fall in love with you. It's kind of like being on a date with the audience in a way.

Michiel Huisman: (Laughs.)

Groucho: How did you approach that, or did you see it in that way?

Michiel Huisman: Yeah. I kind of understood that that was one of the functions of the character. He is such a perfect guy: you know, he's young, incredibly successful, a philanthropist. I thought it's important to ground this guy a little bit, to undercut him a little bit, and to make him—to make sure that he wouldn't take himself too seriously. And so there was an opportunity to do that, you know, with bad jokes, and just his overall energy, you know? And also what I liked about him being so young and energetic is that it's kind of the opposite of what Adaline is—I mean she looks young, but she's actually a 100-year-old woman. It's like that energy of his kind of breaks through her, the walls that she has put up around her. I hoped.

G: Yeah. I've heard you say before that idea, that notion of kind of undercutting the perfect—

MH: You have? Where?

G: Well, I did my research.

(Both laugh.)

G: I read up, but that was intriguing to me and also the director saying in the production notes that you brought maybe a quality of humility to it because Ellis has also—

MH: Well, yeah. For example, you've seen it, right?

G: Yes. Yes.

MH: So you remember—this is something that comes to mind—when we're underground, underneath San Francisco, I'm showing her the boat, you know, which is a super-cool thing to do—I was always loved that in the movie, that part—and then I'm telling her about where I come from, how I found my fortune, you know. I thought that was a key moment: to try to not be cool about “look at me.” "Yeah, I made a fortune with this algorithmic variable pattern. Yeah, and I'm just kind of giving my money away." Nah. Yeah I tried to really kind of ground it, and undercut it probably, for lack of a better way to put that, in order to hopefully better win over Adaline.

G: Yeah.

MH: And you know: and the audience maybe.

G: You under-grounded it, actually.

MH: (Laughs.)

G: So the notion of confidence, too, is something that we see even more so on Game Of Thrones. And that character Dario is...maybe instead of being charming is more outright seductive, right?

MH: Yes. I think so, too. Yeah.

G: More straight ahead. How do you up your game to do that? Do you have that kind of natural confidence? You seem to exude it onscreen.

MH: It's called acting.

(Both laugh.)

G: Yeah, right. So, no?

/content/interviews/407/2.jpgMH: No, I mean, you know. I think that's part—there's parts of me that can be very confident, you know, and it can be so much fun to unleash that—in a character, you know? I guess in real life I don't really dare to do that, yeah, because I don't think it's smart to do, and I'm not confident enough.

G: (Laughs.)

MH: But to do it in a role, it's fantastic. Yeah.

G: Acting can be liberating that way.

MH: Oh my god. Are you kidding me? Totally! Of course! You know, especially when, yeah, when stories are good, like in The Age Of Adaline—and the same goes for Game Of Thrones, really—there's moments where you're like "Oh my God, I wish I could only come up with that in real life." But in The Age Of Adaline, she asks me, “Now tell me something I could hold onto forever and never let go."

G: Yeah. Right.

MH: Like, you know, talk about being put on the spot. You gotta come up with something that she wants to hold onto. And I have an answer! You know. ”Let go.” Like “Oh my god!” That would be so much fun to play that! You know. You play the guy that has the answer!

G: I should have asked that question in this interview.

MH: (Laughs.) Well, trust me. You will put me on the spot. I'll pretend I'm not put on the spot.

G: Right, right. Something else that you said about the film, which echoed my own sentiments, about...Harrison Ford, who plays your father in the film... You said that "he was so invested in it, and I was very blown away by that."

MH: Yes.

G: So you would think a guy in his position—you might expect, well, maybe he's going to phone in a role like this.

MH: I did. I have to admit that I expected that, and I would have accepted that and would have still thought that it was a great experience working with him. But it was the opposite. And I'm not saying that because I think it's good for the movie or the promotion. It was genuinely my experience on set with him. And I felt like he forced everyone in a great way to step it up. We have a couple of scenes with all of us, and Blake has a couple of scenes with him, and I have one or two moments with him. And God, I loved it. Yeah.

G: Were there between-takes Trivial Pursuit games, and if so, who was the real champ?

MH: (Laughs.) Did we do Trivial Pursuit between takes? God—we probably did, yeah, because it's kind of like, uh, an—

G: Icebreaker?

/content/interviews/407/3.jpgMH: It's an icebreaker. Also somehow there was this very felt so good with Kathy Baker, who plays my mother, and Amanda Crew, who is a fantastic actress who plays my sister, and then Harrison, and there was somehow something you cannot really predict; you can't really write this in there. There was right away...this banter between us, you know, and we really had to force ourselves to kind of stick to whatever was on the page and they wanted to get because we were constantly going nuts and throwing popcorn at each other...

G: So back home you worked with Paul Verhoven on Black Book.

MH: Uh-huh.

G: He is a very exciting filmmaker who also has a self-acknowledged reputation for being a little crazy.

MH: (Laughs.)

G: So I wonder if you had any stories about him or how you found that experience.

MH: It was an amazing experience because back then I think it was the biggest production Holland had ever seen. It's probably still the biggest production Holland [has] ever seen. It probably came out about ten years ago now? At least. Yeah, in hindsight, it kind of was a little bit of a forbode of what I later experienced working internationally. Yeah. And his craziness to me translated into passion and...I mean, we talked about Harrison Ford, and Paul Verhoeven is a legend in his own right and has a passion for telling stories, you know?

G: Yeah. Regarding your high-profile move into Game Of Thrones, I'm curious what your preparation entailed: how you were helped by the executive producers. Did you read the books and were they helpful? What did you take it upon yourself to decide about who that guy is?

MH: Um, well, so...where shall I start? I'd seen a bunch of episodes, but there were gaps just because, you know, there's so much I always need and want to see, so it wasn't until I got cast on the show that first thing I did was binge everything again from the start, which sometimes can be a little bit not-so-helpful because you're watching this story and you're watching all these people that you're about to work with, and it kind of keeps you on the outside of the story strangely enough. But I needed to do it on this show because otherwise I wouldn't understand the world it moves in.

G: Yeah, it's a dense world.

/content/interviews/407/4.jpgMH: And I needed to get a better sense of it. Now I got cast like, let's say, two months before we started shooting. There was no way I was going to read all the books. But at a certain point, I started reading the first book—[whispering:] which I have to admit I still haven't finished—but it did give me a sense of how the books relate to and how they are translated into the show, which I found was nice to know because I know a lot of our fans know that: how the two of them are different in the way they narrate and stuff. And in terms of the character, I think that the producers always wanted me to create a character based on what they wrote and not necessarily based on the books, so I kind of went by the material they gave me and conversations we've had about what's happening—about the character, really.

G: So I just wanted to get in a question about Treme. I think, for me—

MH: Thank you.

G: As a viewer of yours, I think Sonny is maybe the most complex and rich character you've played over here. What does that show mean to you, and what does New Orleans continue to mean to you?

MH: Wow. Treme, first of all, marks for me—it's the first project I worked on in the States, which, you know, crossing the pond was something I really wanted to do badly like so many actors, but I was so afraid of doing it, too, because, I mean, chances were that it was never really going to go anywhere, right?

G: Yeah.

MH: Treme all of a sudden changed that for me and made it possible to get my feet on the ground slowly. It was not something that we shot in three weeks, and then I was on my own again. It gave me something to rely on for four seasons, and above that it was so well made. It was so well narrated, and it was probably never, like, a big commercial success, but I never cared about that. I was very proud to be part of that. I think it will always—you know, it will continue to be a special project for me. It probably always will because it just marks such a big change for me and, you know, coming from the Netherlands where I was kind of done with the stuff I was working on. Moving on to something that was so well-crafted. I could not have dreamt for anything better than that. And you know, you asked about what does New Orleans mean, and I felt that through the series I got to know the city in like a crash course times two hundred, right? I saw things and places and know my way around there in a way that I probably would otherwise never have, even if I would have lived there for thirty years. So it's the reason why we chose New Orleans as our home.

G: Yeah. Well it's been great talking to you. Wish we had more time.

MH: Thank you. Same here.

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