Carice van Houten

Carice van Houten Headshot

Actress

Birth Date: September 5, 1976

Age: 47 years old

Birth Place: Leiderdorp, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

Partners: Guy Pearce, Sebastian Koch

An actor able to evoke almost hypnotic intensity, Carice van Houten became the latest Dutch import to wow English-speaking audiences, vaulting from the homegrown hit film of her native land's foremost auteur Paul Verhoeven to roles in major Hollywood studio releases and a scene-stealing heel in HBO's "Game of Thrones" (2011- ). Scion of a show business family, van Houten made herself an award-winning actor with her second major project, the Dutch telefilm "Suzy Q" (VPRO, 1999). She became the darling of Netherlands cinema in sweetly rendered children's fantasies "Minoes" (2001) and "Lepel" (2005) and a sex symbol in more grown-up fare such as "De passievrucht" (2003) and "Alles is liefde" (2007). Her starring role in the world-renowned director Verhoeven's evocative World War II film "Black Book" (2006) would introduce her to international audiences and put her on the radar of overseas producers. She increasingly supplemented her homegrown work with female leads in higher-profile foreign films such as the Tom Cruise-anchored tale of the plot to assassinate Hitler, "Valkyrie" (2008), the science fiction actioner "Repo Men" (2010), and the British horror outings "Black Death" (2010) and "Intruders" (2011). In 2012, she dazzled American television audiences as a manipulative zealot priestess in the second-season premiere of the HBO fantasy phenomenon "Game of Thrones" (2012). One of the most buzzed-over A-list celebrities and laurel-laden thespians in her native land, van Houten's magnetic talent translated well to much broader audiences than she was used to.

She was born Carice Anouk van Houten on Sept. 5, 1976, in Leiderdorp, Netherlands, to Margje Stasse, an executive with a Dutch education TV non-profit, and Theodore van Houten, a film music historian, musicologist, writer and producer. Carice found herself transfixed by cinema at the young age of five when her father took her to the see a screening of "Napoleon" by French directorial great Abel Gance. Carice, along with her similarly drama-inclined little sister Jelka, honed her skills in her high school years in Utrecht and, upon graduation, attended Amsterdam's Academy for Cabaret. While still in school, a representative for Dutch television network VPRO spotted her and cast her on the TV series "Labyrint." Then in 1999, young director Martin Koolhoven cast her in his telefilm "Suzy Q," as the title character, the centerpiece of a severely dysfunctional family coming apart at the seams in the 1960s. For her work, she won the Golden Calf Award for the Best Actress in a TV Drama at that year's Netherlands Film Festival. The following year, she won a spot with the Noord-Nederlands Theater Company and appeared in Bertolt Brecht's opera "Driestuivers," and went to work with Koolhoven again the next year in his stylish feature thriller "Amnesia" (2001).

She built her renown with the Dutch hit film "Minoes" (2001), also known as "Undercover Kitty," Vincent Bal's sweet, stylized adaptation of the children's story about a cat who mysteriously morphs into a young woman to help foil an insidious plot of the local industrialist. The film won a raft of awards, including another Golden Calf for van Houten. She played conspicuously more adult, notably baring some skin, in "De passievrucht," the tale of a man who, after having kids by a dead wife (van Houten), discovers he has been sterile all his life. She returned to children's fare in 2005, turning in another sparkling performance in the fantasy "Lepel," and a more textured one as a bipolar mom of an elephant-obsessed little girl in "Knetter," again working for Koolhoven. By now one of the hottest talents in The Netherlands, she drew the attention of the nation's most famous filmmaker, Paul Verhoeven. Director of the country's best-regarded tales of the Dutch anti-Nazi resistance, Verhoeven planned to return to patriotic World War II subject matter with "Zwartboek" ("Black Book") and gave van Houten the lead. She played a Jewish woman who, after surviving a massacre by occupying Germans, joins up with the Dutch guerrillas, passing as gentile to seduce an SS officer (Sebastian Koch) and finding her mission to betray him compromised by feelings for him.

The film's moral ambiguity, like much of Verhoeven's work, courted controversy, but it nevertheless became another homegrown smash for the director and was released internationally to critical raves and a raft of awards, including the U.K.'s BAFTA for Best Foreign Language Film, a Best Actress nomination for van Houten from the European Film Awards, and another Golden Calf statue for her, as well as the other major Dutch film laurel, the Rembrandt Award. She and co-star Koch also began what would be a long-term relationship. Van Houten tried her hand at romantic comedy with the multilayered "Alles is liefde" ("Love is All"), another unqualified box office smash at home and another Rembrandt for van Houten, while her growing élan now drew the attentions of Hollywood. Attempting to re-establish dramatic bona fides after his infamous public meltdowns, Tom Cruise requested she be cast in his own World War II espionage outing, the Bryan Singer-directed "Valkyrie." He would play the catalyst of the assassination plot against Hitler, Count Claus von Stauffenberg, while she played his countess, but she saw relatively little screen time. She landed another English-language part, a psychiatrist investigating a disturbing case in a small town and finding supernatural circumstances behind it in the Irish-set horror thriller "Dorothy Mills" (2008).

van Houten continued her English-language work, joining an estimable ensemble that included Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville and Dominic West in the U.K.-shot period ghost story "From Time to Time" (2009), directed by Julian Fellowes. In 2009, van Houten returned to the Dutch cinema in "Komt een vrouw bij de dokter," a modern potboiler about successful go-go advertising executives whose seemingly idyllic but troubled marriage takes a dark turn when her character is diagnosed with cancer, followed by a lighter deconstruction of domestic hauteur in "De gelukkige huisvrouw" ("The Happy Housewife") (2010). She ventured deep into genre fare with the English-language, German-shot "Black Death," a Medieval horror feature about a knight (Sean Bean) investigating a woman (van Houten) in a remote village rumored to be reviving the dead through necromancy, followed by a supporting turn as the dour wife of Jude Law in the Hollywood dystopian sci-fi flick "Repo Men" (2010) and as the mother whose daughter is plagued by faceless spirits in the spooky contempo-horror outing "Intruders," co-starring Clive Owen. Back atop Dutch marquees, van Houten starred in "Black Butterflies," a celebrated biopic of the Dutch South African poet Ingrid Jonkers, taking another Golden Calf for her performance.

In 2011, Van Houten joined the small army of British and Irish actors populating the newest HBO series phenomenon, "Game of Thrones." The epic fantasy adventure, based on George R.R. Martin's series of novels under the rubricA Song of Ice and Fire, chronicled the power struggle for the eponymous Iron Throne, the seat of power on the mythical continent of Westeros. Comprised of various fiefdoms and family dynasties, the players in the multi-sided gambit of violence and political intrigue were the usurping Baratheons, the wealthy Lannisters, the island-dwelling Greyjoys, and the noble Starks, a clan from the rugged northern region of Westeros. With the premiere of the show's second season in spring 2012, Van Houten played Melisandre, the red-clad, ethereally beautiful, ominously evangelical pagan priestess in league with the deceased king's ruthless brother Stannis, who wields a distinctly dark power behind his quest for the throne. Also that spring, she did her first turn alongside sister Jelka in "Jackie," with the two van Houtens playing Dutch sisters on an odyssey through the U.S. in search of their estranged mother.

By Matthew Grimm

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