K is for Koen
Early last year, Koen De Bouw was one of the last three candidates being considered to play the killer in Angels & Demons. “It’s useless to ponder about it,” he smiles. “The last three or the last 300, the result is the same.”
Six years after De zaak Alzheimer, Koen De Bouw again incarnates commissioner Eric Vincke
De Bouw, who turned 45 a few months ago, has been in more than 50 television series and movies, both in Belgium and the Netherlands. As the star of both last year’s blockbuster Loft, 2003’s De zaak Alzheimer and the recent TV series Los zand, De Bouw is the most-recognised actor in the region.
He still remembers vividly why he wanted to become an actor. “As a teenager, I read an ad in a newspaper – a theatre company was looking for youngsters to play Cowboys & Indians. I knew very early on I wanted to make it my profession because I wasn’t suited to become an astronaut.” With a big grin: “My profession is playing Cowboys & Indians.”
For the past decade, De Bouw has played in 30 films and television series. “I try to be in a play once a year, but it’s just difficult to combine it all. But theatre, for me, is still the source; it’s the place where all the basic, fundamental stories are told – stories that have proven their value for ages.”
In 2003, De Bouw personified police commissioner Eric Vincke in the Flemish film De zaak Alzheimer, a star-making role in a film that was released outside of Belgium’s border. How does it work, playing the same character after such a hiatus? “It’s a bit like cycling,” muses De Bouw. “Even if you didn’t ride a bike for six years, you’ll still be able to do it.”
The actor has already agreed on a third instalment of the Vincke & Verstuyft series, although there is not yet any concrete plans for a third film.
De zaak Alzheimer was directed by Erik Van Looy, Dossier K by Jan Verheyen (see review). De Bouw is an easy interviewee, but when asked the obvious question – to compare the two popular Flemish directors – he stays silent and resumes after a long pause: “It’s impossible to answer.”
De Bouw has a few very emotional scenes in Dossier K, scenes that appear difficult to play. “Not at all,” he retorts. “For an actor, those are scenes to be grateful for. The audience likes them, and you have to play quite simple emotions. On the other hand, things that look easy are often more difficult, like a dialogue in a car, for instance.”
Shooting at night, he continues, is the most demanding. “Try standing two nights in a row in the rain.” He’s actually referring to Van Looy’s last film Loft, in which he played the lead. “At one point I said: ‘one more take, guys, and it’s over’. That was a first in my career; but I was on the brink of exhaustion.”
Van Looy obviously doesn’t hold it against him because he’s already asked the actor to play the lead in De premier (The Prime Minister), his next film. The screenplay still has to be written. “My confidence in him is so complete that I’m willing to play in any film he’s planning to make,” says De Bouw. But he has never been a contender in De slimste mens ter wereld, the highly successful television quiz Van Looy presents. “Erik has asked me often, but I’ve always declined.”
But you can see him on the television, though, since he’s the face of VTM’s gardening show Groene Vingers. De Bouw is an avid gardener and owns a house with six acres of land in the Ardennes. He has even suggested that he will one day stop acting and retreat to that house. He must be kidding, surely.
“It might sound reckless, but I think I could let go of acting.” He keeps silent for a while, then adds a firm “yes”.
Even if Koen De Bouw is ready to stop acting, we aren’t really ready to let him go.
See last week's issue of Flanders Today for an article on De slimste mens
Spilt blood will be avenged. This ominous quote opens Dossier K. It stems from the Kanun, a set of laws introduced in Albania in the 15th century that has regained popularity after the fall of the communist regime, especially among members of Albanian mob families that have swarmed over Europe.
Two of these rivalling families fight a bloody vendetta in Antwerp, a case for the team of Vincke & Verstuyft. But the policemen also have to deal with obstructions within the Belgian judicial system. That should come as no surprise, since the film is based on a book by Flemish author Jef Geeraerts, in whose thrillers the criminals are as much present inside as outside the system.
Dossier K is the second instalment in the Vincke & Verstuyft franchise, after De zaak Alzheimer (released in English as Memory of a Killer). With an attendance of 750,000, it holds the fifth position on the all-time Belgian box office list. It was directed by Erik Van Looy, whose Loft last year climbed to the number one spot on that list.
Van Looy, who co-wrote Dossier K (as well as De zaak Alzheimer) with Carl Joos, had to pass the directorial reins to Jan Verheyen, after signing a five-year contract with production company Woestijvis, while the Dossier K is a production of its rival Eyeworks. Enter Verheyen for his 10th film in 18 years, which makes him, by far, the most productive Flemish director of the past two decades. But not the best, surely. Of his many films, I only really like 2005's melodrama Buitenspel.
Moreover, in his previous police film Vermist he adopted the irritating visual lingo of the American thriller of the last decade, with quick, disorientating cuts and a shaky camera. But none of that here: Dossier K is filmed with an elegance and a sense of mise en scène I would never have associated with him.
As a matter of fact - and this is a bold statement - Verheyen does a better job than Van Looy. He is aided by a script in which the dark humour is better balanced and the emotions cut deeper. And by excellent actors. Werner Desmedt, returning as Verstuyft, is suffering less from his poster boy image. Koen De Bouw - underplaying is his middle name - is great, as ever. True, the suspension of disbelief in Dossier K at moments asks a lot from the viewer. But apart from that it's a highly entertaining and gripping thriller.
There still are more Vincke & Verstuyft novels to adapt, and I hope than Verheyen will direct them. Never thought I would write that. CV
Koen De Bouw
highlights of a 23-year career
1996 -1998 Thuis: the ever-good, ever-cute veterinarian Lou Swertvaeghers in the never-ending Flemish soap
2001 Stille Waters: the sympathetic labourer of a powerful industrialist in this extremely popular oneseason Flemish drama
2003 De zaak Alzheimer: the feature film that made De Bouw a household name. He plays the charismatic cop Eric Vincke, who is back in Dossier K
2008 Loft: the top-grossing Belgian film of all time finds the actor playing a cheating husband who nonetheless comes off the hero: a De Bouw speciality