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A Long Talk With Paul Verhoeven!!!!

Hey folks, Harry here with a fan-friggin-tastic long as all get go interview with the Dutch master... Paul Verhoeven. Hands down this is one of the best interviews that I've read regarding Verhoeven and his current state of mind in quite some time. Dig in and ENJOY!!!!

Hi Harry,

Steve from The Netherlands here, with a rather lenghty interview that Robbert Blokland, a great journalist and a good friend of mine, did last tuesday with everybody's favorite Dutch director Paul Verhoeven.

Seems that Verhoeven has been visting his home country quite often these past months, because he's working on a couple of what he calls 'European projects' (you can read all about them in the interview). Right now, he's back in town for the incredibly fantastic FANTASY FILM FESTIVAL, where he will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Wish you could be here big man, because the festival's great (especially the Night of Terror, that takes place this friday). Hell, we could even eat some greasy fries with mayo again! (like we did at Bram Ladage a couple of years ago at the Rotterdam Film Festival).

People interested in visiting the festival can find more information on

Anyway, lucky bastard Robbert was able to talk to Verhoeven for over two hours and I just decided to give you the entire interview, because there's just too much great stuff in there that I don't want to deprive you guys from. I hope my translation is somehow readable. Dutch readers can find the entire interview (in Dutch, of course) on Ruben's excellent Horrorcypher website: HorrorCypher

Have fun!



So, do you still visit Holland often?

Well, it depends. The past year, I've been here a lot more than usual, because I'm working on two projects with Gerard Soeteman, who wrote all my Dutch films. After that [period] I resided in the States for about seventeen years, and I just made American movies. But two years ago, I decided that I wanted to make something 'European'. It's pretty difficult to get a movie like that financed in America, because they're not at all interested in European history. If you're able to get some kind of co-funding for a project like that in Europe, it all gets a lot easier in the States.

Why are you so interested in making a European project? Have you lost interest in Hollywood?

I think the desire to do such a thing is pretty normal if you've lived in Europe for about 47 years. The fact that I've made a couple of succesful Hollywood-films, now gives me the opportunity to actually get a European project made. In most countries, people know my name now. I never achieved that just with my Dutch work, that's just the way it goes. Even English-spoken Dutch films never manage to cross the border. European countries don't buy each other's films and they don't want to see each other's films.

And European investors are interested in Paul Verhoeven now?

Well, I want to make American films, partly financed with European money. I mean, if it's American, almost anything is possible, even in Europe. It’s a lot easier to find funding that way. There's a lot of European money in American films anyhow; Europeans continually invest in American films. What concerns me, is that I want to make films with European subject matter. I was never really able to express myself on an international level with my Dutch films. I went to the States because I hated the politics surrounding the Dutch film in general at that time, mainly because the Dutch Film Fund always worked against me. I don't need them anymore now.

So no more Dutch films for you?

I want to make European films; English spoken, with American actors and European subject matter, about European history.

But surely, people have regarded you as a succesful director for over ten years now. Why return to Europe now?

The desire to make a European film, a film I really want to make, only came to me about two or three years ago. I never really thought about it before then. I was too busy trying to establish myself as a director in the States. That alone will take you about ten to fifteen years. While you're doing that, you start feeling more comfortable in America, and you try to regain some of your freedoms as a director. You start thinking about the films you really want to make. They give you more opportunities, you start to understand the way the studio-system works and how to move within certain circles. I like to do things that are different... HOLLOW MAN, BASIC INSTINCT, TOTAL RECALL - of the six films I made in the States, three were totally mainstream. SHOWGIRLS is esoteric, STARSHIP TROOPERS had a clear message, but all the others were totally mainstream.

But they are all Paul Verhoeven-films...

Of course they're your own films, but you're still doing something you'd rather not. At this point, I'm working on films I really want to make. One of them is AZAZEL, based on a novel by the Russian author Boris Akunin, set in the year 1876. It was recently published as FANDORIN in The Netherlands. In Russia, Akunin is a top-writer, sells over four million books a year. My daughter actually told me about it while studying in Moscow. I memorized the name and the moment it was translated in French, I bought it and read it. I fell in love right away, so I emailed the writer and politely asked him if I could buy the rights to his novel. It's actually the first novel in a series of eight or nine books, so I just optioned the first one, with the possibility of filming the other novels as well. Not that I really want to make ten films, but I really, really want to do the first one.

So that's going to be an American film with a European story?

Yeah, and in that way it's different from most other American detective-stories. I think of it as BASIC INSTINCT set in 1876; a Russian detective in St Petersburg. But of course with American actors, otherwise it'll be impossible to sell.

Any names?

No, no stars are attached yet. We just finished the script.

Why did you bring Gerard Soeteman back on board?

Well, the detective actually made me think of a grown-up version of Floris [a series that Verhoeven made in The Netherlands, written by Soeteman and starring a young Rutger Hauer - ed.], so I immediately thought of Gerard. If anybody could write a decent script around such a character, without americanizing things too much, it would be him. It had to be written by a European screenwriter; I want the film to be different from American mainstream. Besides, the novel hasn't been translated into English yet and I haven't been able to find an American writer who can read French or German.

So you have all the rights to the novel now?

Yeah, I bought all the rights. The English translation won't be published before may next year and I didn't want to wait another two years. That's total nonsense, Gerard is a great writer, if not better than most American scribes. You never know how the cookie crumbles, but this is just what I want to do right now. And I hope to get the project financed and greenlit in America.

And you're selling the project as a 'Paul Verhoeven film'?

It's not my name that sells, but my expertise. They estimate things like 'yeah, he'll be able to do it, or 'no, he's not up to it'. I'm no Alfred Hitchcock.

But you do have a reputation?

With the studios and critics, yes. Of course, the public knows who I am, but I don't think Americans are really interested in 'the new Paul Verhoeven'. Only a director like Spielberg can pull that off, or maybe Lubitsch and Hitchcock in the old days.

So, it's back to the studio-system of the thirties then?

No! That studio-system allowed great directors like Hitchcock, Wilder and Lubitsch to make a name for themselves. They were able to finance a film on their name alone. It's totally different now; you can't make a decent American movie if you don't have any stars attached. And AZELLE will be a costly project; not like HOLLOW MAN or STARSHIP TROOPERS, but I think the budget will be around fourty million dollars.

Are you telling me you're NOT a bankeable director in the States?

Look, at this point there's only one director who's able to make movies without big names and that's Steven Spielberg. All the others, whether they're Oliver Stone or Paul Verhoeven, need big names to get a project financed.

But you're certainly part of the top?

Yeah, but unless you've got big names, you won't get any project greenlit, it's as simple as that. Unless, of course, a studio wants to make a special effects-driven movie, like HOLLOW MAN. That film didn't have any big names; the visual effects were the main attraction. I mean, with all due respect, you can't finance a movie on Kevin Bacon and Elisabeth Shue alone. I couldn't have made BASIC INSTINCT without Michael Douglas.

And most of the stars want to work with Paul Verhoeven?

No, they decide to join because they like the script or the part. And only after that, they'll think 'o yeah, that director's pretty much okay'. And only if you're lucky.

What's the other project you're working on?

The other film I'm working on has a distinctive Dutch 'touch'. It's a movie based on the novel BATAVIA'S GRAVEYARD, by Mike Bash. It's an epic story about a VOC-ship. I'm developing the story right now with Gerard Soeteman.

Haven't you been working on that project for over twenty years now?

Yeah, but NOW there's a book, and it's an English novel to boot. It's so much easier to get a project on the right track when there's an English novel. I mean, when you say: 'we've got this great ship in Holland, let's make a movie about that', people in America will immediately go: 'so? Haven't you seen MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY?'. There have been several novels about the Batavia, but this one was only recently published and got great reviews. I urged the British company Film Four to buy the rights to the novel for me and so they did....BATAVIA'S GRAVEYARD and AZAZELLE are the projects I really want to do right now, but nothing is certain. The films still need to be financed, several stars are needed. The only way you know for certain that you've actually made a movie is when you're present at its premiere. But the script is a beginning. You won't get money or big stars without a script. Good scripts get you stars, stars get you money. That's just the way it works.

It took you fifteen years in America just to figure that out?

No, things weren't like that at all when I made ROBOCOP back in 1987. It's the way it is at this moment. Not to say that there aren't any exceptions, sure there are, but it generally works this way. It's the way studios think. I know I'll have to go through the same ordeal with AZAZELLE ans BATAVIA'S GRAVEYARD. You can't even get any money in Europe now, if you don't have any big names attached to your project. Europeans have already lost so much money on shitty films. They won't get fooled again.

Is that why projects like CRUSADES or the Hitler and Jezus-biopics were shelved?

CRUSADES was eventually shelved because Carolco went bankrupt. After that, the project landed in Arnolds lap and he still owns the rights.

Wasn't the GLADIATOR-hype reason enough to pull CRUSADES out of the fridge?

That could have been the case, but it didn't happen. Actually, I don't have anything to do with the project anymore. At the time, I was involved with Carolco, but Arnold has the rights now and he can do with it whatever he wants.

But would you like to do it?

*short silence* well I never hear anything about it. I don't know if Arnold wants to do it, or if he wants to do it with me. I last saw him when we did the audio-commentary for the TOTAL RECALL-dvd, but we never really discussed it. The only thing I know is that Ridley Scott is developing some kind of Crusades-project.

What about ALEXANDER?

Hah! I think there are about twenty to thirty people who want to do ALEXANDER.

Including you?

Sure. But I only want to do an Alexander-movie, based on the novel by Louis Couperus. I think the only great novel about Alexander's life is ISKANDER by Couperus.

Ehhmmm... so are you seriously developing this?

Well, let's just say I'm seriously re-reading the novel. I'm looking for ways to turn it into a film. But it's definitely one of my all-time favorite novels ever. It's truly fantastic. It's not just warriors bashing each other's heads in, but it's actually about people.

So real people are more important to you and your films?

Well, more important... of course, with Alexander, they are. With FANDORIN, the thriller-aspect and the period-aspect are more important. A thriller, of course, has other strenghts than an epic film about Alexander the Great. Couperus really tried to understand Alexander's motivations and what his psychological relation was with Darius' mother. So that's about people, and all the massive battle-scenes service them.

But you never really made films about real people in the States?

Ehhmmm... well, BASIC INSTINCT is about people...

You didn't feel the need to do it?

I never got the opportunity to do it!

And now you do?

I think FANDORIN is somewhere in between, there are all these great characters, but basically it's a detective-story and an adventure-story. It's like Tin-Tin, Sherlock Holmes, Floris and Indiana Jones in one.

But do you feel the need to make films about human characters or not?

No, I mean, not just about human characters. FANDORIN is not just about people, BATAVIA'S GRAVEYARD is.

So that's not going to be a PERFECT STORM set in 1700 then?

No, more like a LORD OF THE FLIES, set in 1628. If you want to simplify it like that.

How about Hitler?

I'm not working on that at the moment.

Why? Wasn't that your dream-project?

Yeah... well maybe, I'm just not ready for it yet.

Is it going to be your SCHINDLER'S LIST?

I don't know. I still have to find a right way to do it, I think. If you want to make a biopic on the life of Hitler, you're gonna end up with an eight hour movie at least. And you'll need a good angle, I haven't fount it yet.

You're 63 now... do you think you've already made your masterpiece?

I think it's wrong to think in terms of masterpieces. It's lethal for your creativity to think 'hey, I'm going to make my masterpiece now'. You just have to do what you like. History writes masterpieces, not the moment itself.

Do critics still get to you?

Of course they get to you, you can't escape that. Unless you don't read any reviews, and I know there are directors that completely avoid them, don't want to hear anything about them. I always read the reviews. And of course it's annoying and painful when they trash your movie. But sometimes, and this is even worse, you know they're right. Critics can break you, at least for a while, they can shock you, make you doubt yourself. Especially if 99 percent of the critics write the same kind of review, and they can. I think it's stupid for an artist to avoid any kind of criticism. They're not lethal, you know. They can kick you down, but you'll get over it in time. Maybe they didn’t get it, maybe it just wasn’t all that good, but anyway, it won’t stop you from making another movie.

Take STARSHIP TROOPERS, great example, probably the most political statement I've ever made. Five years ago, most of the critics totally trashed that movie. They called me a nazi, saying I was idolizing Leni Riefenstahl. Now, that image has totally changed. A lot of people see now that the film is about the United States. The whole situation in Afghanistan is almost an exact copy of STARSHIP TROOPERS; the whole gung ho-mentality of bombing everything, blasting the Taliban-forces out of the caves. I put all that in STARSHIP TROOPERS! The corrupted atmosphere of propaganda, once invented by Goebbels, has now taken over the United States as well. It's extremely interesting to see how the media can besiege an entire nation with propaganda.

Do you deliberately intend to shock with extreme violence in your films?

I like showing things as they are. I don't avoid anything.

But you do it because you can...

It's not really a motivation or anything. Well, maybe it IS a motivation when a movie doesn't turn out the way I want it to. I really wanted to make something more out of HOLLOW MAN, really delve into Sebastians character on a psychological level, but the story wouldn't allow it. So if it HAS to be a mainstream-slasher, I like to hit my audience as hard as I can; I mean, I have to take some pleasure in it as well, don't I?

Well, in TURKISH DELIGHT you kind of showed Rutger Hauer vomiting on a mirror...

That was in Jan Wolkers novel! Wolkers doesn't avoid anything either. He’s one of those people that also shows reality as it is.

Do you see yourself as a 'fantastic' filmmaker?

You mean like in fantasy-films? No. But I did make a lot of them, yeah.

So you never made them consiously?

No, quite on the contrary. It just happened to turn out that way. I started out with it in the United States and I was never really able to free myself from those films. I think the scifi-stigma just kind of stuck with me. I tried to break that stigma with films like BASIC INSTINCT and SHOWGIRLS; the first one turned out great, the second one was considerably less succesful. But the material they sent me after I did ROBOCOP was all sciencefiction and action-orientated and it’s nearly impossible to break free from that. You’re typecast, just like actors.

So is it just a coincidence that Paul Verhoeven made four great scifi-films?

Yes, because frankly I’m not a sciencefiction-fan at all! To tell you the truth, I hate sciencefiction! The ROBOCOP-script was actually in my garbage-can when my wife persuaded me to take another look at it. It was only when I recognized certain elements that reminded me of TOM POES IN THE LAND OF THE TIN MEN, one of my favorite comic books, that I started to see some fun in the script and the film.

But if you don’t want to make scifi-films, you can also simply not do them. Why didn’t you say: ‘No, I won’t make TOTAL RECALL’, or ‘No, I won’t make HOLLOW MAN’?

Because all the other projects that were sent to me were even worse! Even if TOTAL RECALL was a scifi-film, it was still a lot better than the other shit they sent me. There are three American films I really stand by: ROBOCOP, BASIC INSTINCT and STARSHIP TROOPERS. The rest was considerably worse.

Showgirls? In retrospect?

Ehhhmmm... That wasn’t really a good movie, no. It had a bad story. But I liked the way we filmed it though.

So you only made it for shock-value?

No... I was just under the impression that the story would be better, that it would actually work, but the story turned out to be too corny, too simplistic and too transparent.

And you only noticed that while shooting it?

No, looking back at it now. But I still enjoy the film, I think the story is well filmed.

But when the movie was released you defended it ferociously...

Sure, and that’s the way I saw it back then! In retrospect, it should have been a Hitchcockian murder mystery, a murder mystery in Vegas. I should have used all that nudity and brutality and the whole sex-as-a-weapon-idea in a better way. The movie’s statement didn’t come across at all when it was released.

Excuse me... statement?

Yeah, it’s better to sell tits than brains. I mean, it’s more decent to sell your body in Vegas, than to sell your brains to, say, the tobacco industry. That industry kills millions of people every year and the critics complain about a couple of tits! But I should have protected myself better. If I’d wrapped the message in a murder mystery, taking place in a sleazy stripclub, it would have worked much better. I should have done that. It would have made a much more interesting movie.

Does that happen often with you; looking back at your movies and thinking ‘I SHOULD have done this, or I SHOULD have done that’?

No, I just have a problem with SHOWGIRLS. And, looking back at my Dutch films, maybe KEETJE TIPPEL.


No, not that one. That film consisted of all these short stories, and that whole idea was more or less impossible to film anyway. There were all these short three page stories without any dramatic structure, it was hell! But I think we eventually pulled it off, I still stand by that. KEETJE TIPPEL I just don’t like, I could have done a better job on that one. I even know now what I should have done differently; construct the story in another way, expand on the girl’s character a little more, a lot of things. I think KEETJE TIPPEL was overshadowed by the succes of TURKISH DELIGHT. I wasn’t able to break free from that. At least not before I made SOLDIER OF ORANGE. Looking back, KEETJE was a bit of a missed opportunity. I think I was just too young for it at that time. I was completely obsessed with sex, so a lot of the real motives didn’t turn out that well.


No, I really don’t think I could have done that any better. There was no way we could have done the story differently anyway. We were doomed to stay in that laboratory; if we’d taken hollow man outside, the H.G. Wells literary heirs would have been waiting for us. We couldn't do that, we weren't allowed to. It was more or less the same story: if he'd taken one step outside, an army of lawyers was ready to nail us.

So why didn't you tell that when everybody more or less complained about the ending?

No, you just don't do that! You can't diss your own movie at its premiere.

Columbia wouldn't let you?

Well, the could have. But it's just not done, you know? You don't trumpet around that you had restrictions or why you had those restrictions. You just don't say that you wanted to make the movie in a different way, that you actually wanted to do a different ending or this or that. It's not fair when you're promoting a movie. People invested like a hundred million dollars in a movie like that. You can't go around saying things like 'sorry about the ending guys, I really wanted to do it differently'.

But two years later it's okay?

Sure, later it's allright. The film is done, it made some money, so it's okay then. But when a movie is just about to be released, you don't trash it yourself, it's not fair. Like Joe Eszterhas did at the SHOWGIRLS-premiere, saying 'I don't like it at all because Elizabeth Berkley stinks in this film', while before that, he continually insisted that the film was going to be great; I think that's just ludicrous. I think it's mudslinging as well; as a captain, you don't abandon your ship when it's going down. That's the reason why I picked up my Razzies that year. I was awarded seven times I think, and I collected each and every one of them; film, directing, acting, script, I don't know. You must carry the consequences that come with the freedom you take in making certain decisions. You shouldn't risk your authenticity by saying things like; 'sure, but that's not really what I wanted to do'. You should say; 'yeah, that's what I meant!', or at least admit that you actually made that decision and you want to defend your movie because of that.

This sunday, you participate in a symposium about fantastic films in The Netherlands. Do you have a theory why fantastic films just can't be made in Holland?

Yeah, because it's simply impossible for a sane person to make a decent movie here.

Are you creative supervisor on SOLDIER OF ORANGE 2?

No, I'm not. If Rob [Houwer, the producer of SOLDIER OF ORANGE -ed.] needs any help, I'll gladly be of assistance. But I'm really not involved.

What do you think about that project?

Well, I haven’t read the script yet. From what I know, Jean van de Velde [the director of SOLDIER OF ORANGE 2 -ed.] is still writing it. I don't know if it's wise to do it; you know, sequels are always kind of tricky. I've always refused to do sequels, I don't care how often they ask me. SOLDIER OF ORANGE 2, ROBOCOP 2, ROBOCOP 3, ROBOCOP 4, TOTAL RECALL 2, SHOWGIRLS 2...


Believe me, there were plans for a SHOWGIRLS 2! It's called BIMBO'S... Joe and I seriously discussed it at one point. When the movie turned out the way it did, we made a treatment for a sequel, just for fun. Joe came up with the title; BIMBO'S: NOMI GOES HOLLYWOOD. But nobody wanted to do it...

What if they offer you a great sciencefiction script in the States?

I'd do it right away, sure! If I think 'well, it's sciencefiction, that's too bad, but the story is great!', I'll throw all my current European projects overboard without thinking twice. I mean, you've got to be open to the unknown, right? You should never let the plans in your head lead your life.

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