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Mike van Diem

Mike van Diem

Dutch director Mike van Diem's acceptance speech at last month's Academy Awards was one of that long night's highlights; now, his Best Foreign Language Film winner Character has finally begun to make its rounds in theaters. Character is van Diem's first feature film—he won a student Academy Award for an earlier effort, and later spent three years directing a courtroom drama for Dutch television—but it's already clear that he's a major talent. The Onion recently spoke with him in the presence of his glowing Oscar—van Diem takes it with him everywhere he goes—about the call of Hollywood, Dutch fame, and the merits of Showgirls.

Onion: At the Academy Awards, were you relieved that Best Foreign Language Film was the one award Titanic had no chance of winning?

Mike van Diem: It hadn't really occurred to me. Usually I bet on the awards with a friend in L.A., but this year I was a little preoccupied. [Laughs.]

O: Do you find it frustrating that the Academy offers dozens of awards for American films and American filmmakers, but just one Oscar for the rest of the world?

MD: Ah, now there's a smart trick question. Actually, I had a conversation with the president of the Academy, about the nominees luncheon. They do not invite the foreign language nominees to the nominees luncheon, because they figure, "Why bother inviting someone all that way for a two-hour luncheon?" But what they don't realize is that most foreign-language directors are in town for publicity. I had to explain to numerous Dutch television crews why I wasn't invited. I think the Academy slightly underestimates the foreign-language Oscar win outside the States, because it's a really, really big deal. This went over so big in the Netherlands, partially because we were so unprepared for the win of Antonia's Line [in 1996], which wasn't such a popular film in the Netherlands. But two days after Variety put the sort of "front-runner" stamp on my forehead, it put the Dutch audiences and the Dutch media in an invincible, victorious mood. Just about every Dutch journalist bought a ticket to Los Angeles right then. Some of my friends have seen the acceptance speech played on TV over 20 times. They show a clip of me hugging Sharon Stone in slow motion all the time.

O: Was the national hype a lot of pressure? Did you feel that if the film lost, you would be failing your country?

MD: It got to a point where it was actually a little bit scary. We were trying to calm the media down. We told them, "Hey, it's not in the bag." In fact, 20 minutes before Sharon Stone announced we won, the German team, which was sitting in front of us, turned around and said to us, "Look, if we win, all of us are going up. Would you mind holding our bags?" [Laughs.] There's no way of telling. Some people tend to think it was a landslide victory, but it's the Oscars. No one knows. It's all very secret.

O: You joked to Sharon Stone about being "another crazy Dutch director." You were talking about Paul Verhoeven, right?

MD: Of course. You know, people seem to value the artistic merit of his earlier films more than his American work, and I actually disagree. For me, what I admire in Paul Verhoeven is that his American films and his Dutch films reflect the same personality. Make no mistake: Sometimes the mere fact that it's in a foreign language may give a film an artistic flavor. But Paul Verhoeven has always had the taste for commercial, nasty, vulgar stuff, and I don't think that I share his taste in subject matters. But I do absolutely admire him as an extremely energetic and virtuoso filmmaker. Of course, I thought that Showgirls was horrendous, but if you look at, say, a seven-minute segment of it, the way he has staged those scenes is really great, powerful, virtuoso filmmaking. From the age of 16, I've always rushed out on the first Thursday-afternoon screening—in the Netherlands, the movies switch on Thursdays, not Fridays—to watch the new Paul Verhoeven film, and I'm quite fond of him as a filmmaker.

O: Would you consider doing a movie about giant spiders?

MD: Oh, no, that stuff's not for me. But some of that has been offered to me. Sometimes you take a Hollywood meeting where you actually meet a person who gives an incredible, smart analysis of Character—really articulate, full of dead-on insight—and at the end of the meeting, he'll slip you a script for, you know, Revenge Of The Killer Tomatoes Part VII. It does happen. Then again, Hollywood expressed its interest as soon as we showed the movie at Cannes. This was months before the nomination, and there were some agents in pursuit and some projects offered. So the good news is that you don't need an Oscar nomination to get noticed. But once you do get that nomination, the quantity and quality of the offers go up. My agent is getting nervous about me spending time with you instead of reading scripts. [Laughs.] But it was such an uphill battle to get this film on screen, I'm more than willing to baby-sit this film for a little while. It shouldn't always be about the next film; it should be about this film, which I'm very proud of. But next week I'll have a full week of meetings in Los Angeles. And who knows? In that pile of novels and stack of scripts, there might a little treasure for me to discover. To be honest, my instincts tell me that I may very well end up writing my next project. I suspect that there are a whole lot of writers out there working on the perfect formula instead of what makes them tick, what they are really passionate about. That is what most of the scripts I've read lack: sheer passion.