Ivo van Aart’s directorial feature debut stars Katja Herbers as newspaper columnist and author Femke Boot. Struggling from writers’ block, and hounded by a torrent of abuse and death threats on social media, she reaches breaking point. After murdering her neighbour, who she discovers was one of the trolls, she finds herself able to write again and decides to track the other trolls down in a murderous wave of vengeance.


In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, Herbers discussed the importance of creativel expressing herself, sharing in the creative expression of others that allows for a cathartic experience.


FRIGHTFEST: Why acting as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment for you personally?


KATJA HERBERS: My parents are musicians, I grew up around art and I never imagined any other kind of job. It would have been nice to have also been a musician, but I guess I grew up in a different time than my parents. At four my mum had already had her first concert, whereas I grew up with a TV [laughs].


My dad remarried a costume designer for theatre, film and TV, and she introduced me to the theatre. I loved it because I thought that being an actor, you can bring anything from your life, or what you see around you into the many different characters.


Honestly, I now know that I'd go insane without it because like most of us, I’ve had a year off where I couldn't express myself in that way. I'm quite introverted and calm, and I can let it all out somewhere else. It’s important to go to the theatre and see other people, and be moved by that. You understand life a little better - what we're doing here on this planet, and by crying about something that isn't your problem, you've let something out. It’s essential for me.


FF: Alongside acting, you studied psychology.


KH: It was my ‘plan B’ because being an actor is hard and not many people are able to get work, and it has the same areas of interest - how does a person become who he or she is? What makes them tick? I thought psychology would be interesting.


FF: If you hadn't studied psychology, do you think your approach to character would be different, or do you think this is a natural interest and way of thinking for you?


KH: I don't know if it would be different because I work very intuitively. I'm not somebody who has a huge process, I either connect with somebody or I don't. I sit with it and something comes out - sometimes it's not very good and sometimes it works. On the show EVIL, we're filming the second season in New York right now, I play a forensic psychologist, and so it did come in handy. I like that scientific approach for this character because she thinks that way, but I don't know if I use it for other characters.


FF: As an actor, does your interest in a project need to be character driven, or are the themes and ideas that compliment the character equally important?


KH: The first thing is the character - do I understand her very well or not at all? Is there something there that's intriguing to me, and do I feel that I can place it somewhere in my body and in my mind? Do I have a way to translate that into something potentially interesting?


What I liked about this film is how timely it is, and I thought the script by Daan Windhorst was very funny. I liked how dark it was, yet the dialogue was snappy and stylistic. I felt it allowed for a lot of comedy and I could also bring some physical humour to it as well. I liked Ivo van Aart, who's a first time feature director, and we made the movie very quickly because we didn't have a lot of funds for it, but he did a terrific job.



FF: Speaking with Jill Gervargizian for THE STYLIST, she explained: “A huge thing with filmmaking in general is you have to be able to make decisions, believe in them and move forward.” Hearing you talk about working intuitively, is the advantage of working quickly or intuitively that it stops you from overthinking?


KH: This is why I think it's so much easier to play a leading role than a supporting role [laughs], because you're always on the ball. You have moments where you mess up a scene and you know that the next day you can take revenge on yourself and fix it. I find it a lot easier to play a leading role for that reason, and I like what she said about being able to move on because a lot of making good art is about letting go, and not holding on to tightly, but allow it to breathe. The speed in which we had to make this film didn't necessarily work against us. We shot it in 17 days which is quite quickly, and I don't know how much better it would have been if we had $8 million and 40 days.


FF: In black comedy the tone of the performance, it being too expressive or not enough is crucially important. How do you approach finding the right tone in the moment?


KH: What helps is that you have a good director, which can mean many different things. Ivo and I had a good connection and he's a very honest director. He was always looking within the absurdity of it and sometimes it has an heightened realism, and yes, it did keep me honest.


When you talk about expression, that's something I don't really think about because once I feel the character or I place it somewhere, then the rest comes naturally.


FF: Do you perceive there to be transformative aspect to the filmmaking process, where you change as a person?


KH: It changes me for the duration of the shoot for sure. I remember saying to Ivo when we first had a meeting about the film, “Look, she's in a really bad place. I'm a very chipper, happy go lucky person myself, and I'm going to probably not be a lot of fun.” You can't switch that quickly and it doesn't mean I don't want to go out for a coffee with him, but I have to protect the character in that way.


It was exhausting to play her to be honest because she's so angry and frustrated, and there was the build up to that end moment that we filmed quite late in the shoot. I had to build that up and I never thought of myself as a method actor, but maybe that is method. It's not that I use my own experience, but I do stay in whatever the emotion is, and for those 17 days I was pretty upset.


FF: In regards to the cultural belief of a photograph stealing a part of the person’s soul, by giving yourself over to the intensity of the creative process, does the film capture a part of your soul?


KH: For a filmmaker it's different because you have to spend so much more time with the film. I essentially spend 17 days, plus two weeks thinking about it, [laughs].


If anything it gives me something; I don't think it takes anything from me. It gives me an insight into different people, it gives me a connection to the people around me who I happen to be making the film with. It gives me friendships, and it also gives me a catharsis because there’s something I can use and express to turn it into art, which is a wonderful thing. It keeps me sane and happy. It’s more that it gives me something, and I give something back.


THE COLUMNIST was released in cinemas and on digital platforms March 12th.


Paul Risker.


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