Ruth Becquart: “Reading a script for the first time is like opening a door and entering a new world”

As a character actress and leading lady, on stage and on screen in both tragedy and comedy, actress Ruth Becquart (b. 1976, near Antwerp) is by far and large one of the most prolific Belgian performers. She’s a solid, highly skilled and experienced actress who got her basic training in drama school and on stage.

Ms. Becquart has been hailed for her powerhouse performances time and again in films such as “Brasserie Romantiek” (2012), a delightful ensemble piece set in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day; Hilde Van Mieghem’s romantic comedy “Smoorverliefd” (a.k.a. “Madly In Love,” 2013), or her latest feature, the crime drama “Dode Hoek” (a.k.a. “Blind Spot,” 2017). In her home country, she is the reigning queen of several acclaimed TV series such as “Clan” (a.k.a. “The Out-Laws,” 2012), a crime drama with a delightful comic twist; the highly rated “Chausée d’Amour” (2016) set in the world of prostitution, as well as “Gent West” (a.k.a. “Ghent West,” 2017) with Ms. Becquart in another absorbing and in-depth performance as a woman who is sent to prison after an attempt to murder her husband.

Ruth Becquart in “Brasserie Romantiek” (2012), set in a restaurant on Valentine’s evening

Along with a wide range of characters to her credit, first on the stage for many years before she initially appeared in front of the camera, she has the ability to use her astonishing voice as a magnificent tool the way a musician uses his instrument or a painter works with his brush and canvas. It’s just one of her many assets as a multi-talented actress, and because of her versatility, I often compare her to Patricia Clarkson, JoBeth Williams or Christine Lahti, for many years now some of America’s most reliable leading and character actresses.

I met with Ms. Becquart on a bright and sunny afternoon in Antwerp to talk about her craft, her métier, as an all-round actress.

Ms. Becquart, do you remember when you first were bitten by the acting bug?

When I was about thirteen or fourteen, I knew I wanted to become an actress. As a child, I was very quiet and shy, and I read a tremendous amount of books. They got me hooked on great stories and the power of language. The teacher who taught us the Greek language at high school let me play Antigone in Greek. Later, while studying at drama school, I followed several courses, and one of them was taught by an elderly teacher who gave me the passion and the enthusiasm for the theater. By then I was convinced that I only wanted to be a stage actress and when I did the classic plays, it was pure magic to me. And then accidently I got involved in motion pictures, which of course was a whole new world for me. I am very happy that the camera crossed my path. I really do enjoy it.

Jennifer Lawrence once said, ‘I had a five-year-plan when I came to Hollywood. If it didn’t work out, I’d go back to Kentucky and become a nurse.’ Did you ever set any goals for yourself, time-wise?

No, because I went to drama school when I was eighteen and I was convinced I would become a stage actress. That was it. I did several auditions over the years, and always hoped to get the part. So I was motivated, but I never pushed myself. I always look around to see what’s happening, what the opportunities are. And suppose a week goes by when I’m not acting, then I write or study. I’m always busy. The last few years though have been very productive for me, so I look forward to seeing the result of all the things I have been working on recently. It’s very exciting. And whenever a film of mine is released or a series is aired on TV, I prefer to watch it twice. The first time I like to be by myself just looking at what I did, focusing on every detail, every move. And the second time, I look at it from a distance, so I’m relaxed and I can enjoy it more.

If you would be able to put one performance in a time capsule, what would it be?

John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974) with strong performances by Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands

That’s a difficult question, because I have so many favorites. The first one I can think of right now, out of the blue, is Gena Rowlands in “Woman Under the Influence” [1974]. When I first saw that film as a young student at drama school, her performance had a huge impact on me. The way she played it, the power of her character, it was a rich and inspiring performance. But again, there are many roles I adore. On the other hand, I don’t really idolize anyone, because we all play our characters with all we got and we’re all totally different.

How would you describe yourself as an actress?

When I was young, I was insecure and nostalgic, but when I got to play a character, I always felt I became more complete as a human being. I also work extremely hard on my lines, I do an awful lot of research, and the character is constantly spinning in my head. Your heart, your mind, your emotions, your fantasy and your imagination are all part of this work in progress as you go along while preparing for your role. When you’re performing on stage, you share all of that with the audience; if you’re shooting a scene before the camera, you have to make sure the camera picks up everything. That’s what I always keep in mind. And as I said, I truly believe in the importance of doing your research thoroughly. It would upset me tremendously if I wouldn’t do that: you really need to immerse yourself in the character you’re about to play and the world she lives in. For the mini-series “Chausée d’Amour” I wanted to know all about prostitution, and for “Gent West” I needed to know all about solitude and loneliness. And as you always tend to take your work home with you, that wasn’t really a happy time for me. But it is a necessity if you want to be your character. It’s that simple.

When you drive to a set in the morning, what are you thinking about?

Everything I have to do on the set. Sometimes actors ask me if I will give them a ride in the morning, but in order to concentrate, I prefer to drive by myself, all alone, which helps me to stay focused the whole time. Otherwise I might get the feeling it slips through my fingers, and I can’t let that happen.

And when you’re on the set, do you sometimes take a look at the monitor to see what your performance looks like?

I do – not all the time – but certainly on a regular basis. It usually depends on the nature of the scene. People often told me not to do so, but I think it’s rewarding to check what you’ve been doing. What you feel on the inside, often looks different on the outside. So it’s very useful to check it from time to time.

How do you work on the set with your director?

Generally speaking, it is crucial to be surrounded by people you can communicate with and whom you can trust. When they give you total freedom, it has a positive impact on your performance. If necessary, you can also make slight adjustments in your dialogue – a character doesn’t always talk exactly the same way as it is written on paper, and each character talks in a different way. I always try to let my character say the words as she would say them in my imagination, and those are not random suggestions I make at the very last minute. When I am at home, learning my lines in the evening, I sometimes tend to play with the dialogue, with the words, to make it sound just a little bit different and see where it leads to.

When do you ‘find’ your character?

The first time I read a screenplay, I think, which is terribly important; I think I’m a very intuitive actress, so the first impression I get of my character is very valuable. Reading a script for the first time is like opening a door and entering a new world, you have to realize that.

The principal cast of the prison drama series “Gent West” (2017) with Ruth Becquart (center). Photograph: VIER / Telenet

So I presume your intuition tells you what parts to accept?

Yes, and I always try to keep my integrity, and say ‘no’ if necessary. I always ask myself if it is a rewarding role to play. And I don’t mind if it’s a supporting role – then I’m kind of the underdog which also makes it very worthwhile. Basically I want to tell a story, that’s the most important thing for any actor.

What is in your opinion the most difficult thing about acting?

To me the most difficult thing is when you’re performing on stage and you get the impression the audience might lose its concentration. That’s what I like so much about film: you have a team of thirty or forty people on the set, and everybody is telling one and the same story, which is just so great, you know. Everybody, in each department, needs to be sharp. Lighting has to be perfect, make-up must be perfect – everything has to be perfect. Film is a very collaborative art form, and everybody is focused on this one shot, this one take. The result is so truthful and so genuine, you would never have expected it to be that magical in the first place. But it’s very demanding, and I set very high standards for myself to get there.

Is there any genre in particular that you prefer?

I do like humor, but I also love to play dramatic roles. My roots are in the theater, maybe that explains why I play more drama than comedy, and I personally don’t consider myself as a comedienne. So I think I prefer serious characters – roles of substance. That’s so wonderful about being an actress: as you grow older, you get more experienced – more wisdom, I hope [laughs] – and that allows you to deliver a better performance. There are a lot of things I know now as an actress that I didn’t even think about when I was twenty. When I studied at drama school, [Flemish actress and drama coach] Dora van der Groen was one of my teachers and she said that as a young actor, you first need to play all the challenging roles and all the dramas, and in the end things will work out just fine when you do a scene and you only need to drink a cup of coffee. And she was right.

What about the difference between acting on stage and on screen? When you’re performing on a stage, you can change something the next evening if you wish, while on film, once it’s shot, it will be there forever. Is that something you think about?

Barbara Sarafian and Ruth Becquart in the highly acclaimed TV series “Clan” (2012)

Yes, I do, but it’s also a different momentum. When you’re on the stage, you use your imagination in a different way. Things are bigger, larger than life, while before the camera you rely on what your soul tells you to do. That’s a different kind of concentration, but I love it. The mini-series “Clan” [2012] basically introduced me to the camera, and back then I didn’t know yet if I would get hooked on it the way I am now, because it was all so new to me. But it all happened very fast and, simply put, I think acting before a camera is just awesome. There are no words to describe the magic. I am shooting a new mini-series called “Over Water” now, and every department takes care of every tiny detail, you have no idea. I was so touched by the set, done by the same set decorator who did the prison set for “Gent West.” The office they had designed for me – I play a rich drug baroness – the color, the painting on the wall… they really thought of absolutely everything! And that’s a most beautiful present you get, it’s like poetry. It affects your performance in a very positive way. That’s the joy of being part of such wonderful projects.

Even though you’re used to playing a character in front of an audience or before the camera, do you maybe have stage fright from time to time?

This may sound strange, but right before an opening night of new play, you’re almost about to die, just horrible! It’s against human nature to experience so much stress, but once you’re on the stage and this wonderful kind of magic absorbs you entirely, all this anxiety disappears. The same when you’re making a film. My first day on the set of “Over Water,” you have absolutely no idea how nervous I was. I had prepared everything from A to Z, there was no reason to be nervous – and eventually they were very happy with my work. This is not really stress-related to playing your character, but you’re working with a new crew, people you’re not familiar with, some of them you meet for the first time. Once you’re on your way and you play your scenes, you’re at ease and relaxed.

This reminds me of an interview with Helen Mirren I saw the other day, when this reporter asked her: ‘Are you sometimes afraid of acting?’ And she said, ‘Oh yes, and it gets worse.’

[Laughs] Dear Lord, I can understand that an icon like Helen Mirren, with the whole world watching her, has to be there the whole time. But that’s a totally different level, I’m not at all in her range!

Have you ever considered writing a screenplay of your own?

I got an idea and I am writing it down in a first draft, but there’s no rush. I take my time for it.

How about the success of the booming Flemish film industry?

That’s wonderful, isn’t it?! Look at all the wonderful projects they’re doing, a lot of talented Flemish filmmakers can make their dreams come true. The screenplays are wonderful, the stories are great… This is so fantastic.

Did motherhood change your acting?

Yes, I think I have become a much better actress. Acting has always been a vocation to me, and that was even more obvious after I became a mom. Everything fell perfectly into place.

Antwerp (Belgium),
May 25, 2017

The trailer of “Dode Hoek” (a.k.a. “Blind Spot,” 2017)

FILMS

LINKEROEVER, a.k.a. LEFT BANK (2006) DIR Pieter Van Hees PROD Frank Van Passel, Kato Maes, Bert Hamelinck SCR Christophe Dirickx CAM Nicolas Karakatsanis ED Nico Leunen CAST Eline Kuppens, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Dewispelaere, Sien Eggers, Marilou Mermans, Frank Vercruyssen, Ruth Becquart (Hella), Manou Kersting

DIRTY MIND (2009) DIR – SCR Pieter Van Hees PROD Frank Van Passel, Kato Maes, Bert Hamelinck CAM Jan Vancaillie ED Nico Leunen CAST Wim Helsen, Robbie Cleiren, Kristine Van Pellicom, Peter Van den Begin, Maaike Neuville, Sien Eggers, Frank Vercruyssen, Frank Focketeyn, Tine Embrechts, Bruno Vanden Broecke, Manou Kersting, Jan Bijvoet, Marc Didden, Ruth Becquart (Cathy)

BRASSERIE ROMANTIEK (2012) DIR Joël Vanhoebrouck PROD Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem, Dries Phlypo SCR Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem, Pat van Beirs CAM Ruben Impens ED Alain Dessauvage MUS Tuur Florizoone CAST Sara de Roo, Axel Daeseleire, Filip Peeters, Barbara Sarafian, Koen De Bouw, Wouter Hendrickx, Ruth Becquart (Mia), Mathijs Scheepers, Tine Embrechts, Anemone Valcke, Thomas Janssens, Zoë Thielemans

SMOORVERLIEFD, a.k.a. MADLY IN LOVE (2013) DIR Hilde Van Mieghem PROD Bert Hamelinck, Sjef Scholte, Danielle Raaphorst, Marie Van Innis SCR Hilde Van Mieghem, Bert Scholiers, Steven R. Thé CAM Jan Rubens ED Bert Jacobs MUS Melcher Meirmans, Merlijn Snitker, Chrisnanne Wiegel CAST Anna Drijver, Susan Visser, Anna Raadsveld, Beatrice Hillen, Rik Launspach, Pierre Bokma, Johnny de Mol, Filip Peeters, Ruth Becquart (Sabine), Victor Löw

KIDNEP, a.k.a. KIDNAP – BO’S MOST EXCITING HOLIDAY EVER (2015) DIR Diederik Ebbinge PROD Arnold Heslenfeld, Errol Nayci, Frans van Gestel, Laurette Schillings SCR Karen van Holst Pellekaan CAM Dennis Wielaert ED Sandor Soeteman MUS Steve Willaert CAST Martin van Waardenberg, Teun Stokkel, Ruth Becquart (Olga), Steven van Watermeulen, Katrien van Beurden, Marcel Musters

WAT MANNEN WILLEN (2015) DIR Filip Peeters PROD Yoshi Aesaert SCR Willem Wallyn CAM Danny Elsen ED Thijs Van Nuffel MUS Steve Willaert CAST Jonas Van Geel, Louis Talpe, Tom Audenaert, Ben Segers, Adriaan Van den Hoof, Gène Bervoets, Nathalie Meskens, Ruth Becquart (Laura), Evelien Bosmans, Ella-June Henrard, Jan Decleir, Sandrine Van Handenhoven, Jits Van Belle, Sien Eggers, Stefaan Degand, Kurt Rogiers

MY FIRST HIGHWAY (2016) DIR – SCR Kevin Meul PROD Geoffrey Enthoven, Mariano Vanhoof CAM Menno Mans ED Thomas Pooters CAST Aaron Roggeman, Mary Louise Lauwers, Natali Broods, Mathias Sercu, Charlie Vanhoof, Ruth Becquart (Mom Annabel), Victor Solé

DODE HOEK, a.k.a. BLIND SPOT (2017) DIR Nabil Ben Yadir PROD Nabil Ben Yabir, Peter Bouckaert, Benoit Roland SCR Nabil Ben Yadir, Laurent Brandenbourger, Michel Sabbe CAM Robrecht Heyvaert MUS Senjan Jansen CAST Peter Van den Begin, Soufiane Chilah, Jan Decleir, David Murgia, Ruth Becquart (Leen), Mathijs F. Scheepers, Bert Haelvoet, Gène Bervoets, Adil El Arbi

TV MINI-SERIES

DE RONDE (2011) DIR Jan Eelen PROD Win Tack, Erik Watté, Wouter Vandenhaute TELEPLAY Jan Eelen, Youri Boone CAM Lou Berghmans ED Yoohan Leyssens CAST Felix Maesschalck, Frank Focketeyn, Jaak Van Assche, Dirk Roofthooft, Warre Borgmans, Josse De Pauw, Sven De Ridder, Johan Heldenbergh, Bruno Vanden Broecke, Wim Helsen, Koen De Graeve, Sien Eggers, Marleen Merckx, Wim Opbrouck, Tom Van Dyck, Charlotte Vandermeersch, Ben Segers, Barbara Sarafian, Ruth Becquart (Lyn), Nico Sturm

CLAN, a.k.a. THE OUT-LAWS (2012) DIR Kaat Beels, Nathalie Basteyns PROD Frank Van Passel TELEPLAY Bert Van Dael (created by Malin-Sarah Gozin) CAM Anton Mertens ED Bert Jacobs CAST Barbara Sarafian, Kristine Van Pellicom, Ruth Becquart (Birgit), Maaike Neuville, Inge Paulussen, Dirk Roofthooft, Geert Van Rampelberg, Mathijs Scheepers, Gilda De Bal, Sien Eggers, Gert Winckelmans, Stefaan Degand, Herbert Flack, Koen De Graeve

ALBERT II (2013) DIR Frank van Mechelen TELEPLAY Dirk Nielandt, Paul Piedfort, Luc Schoonjans, Koen Sonck, Willem Wallyn CAST Lucas Van den Eynde, Veerle Eyckermans, Mathijs Scheepers, Stefaan Degand, Ruth Becquart (Princess Astrid), Leah Thys, Wim Opbrouck, An Miller, Gène Bervoets

ZUIDFLANK (2013) DIR Hendrik Moonen PROD Dirk Impens TELEPLAY Steve De Wilde, Bart Vaessen, Nirk Nielandt, Rita Bossaer CAM Ruben Impens ED Mathieu Depuydt CAST Inge Paulussen, Mathijs Scheepers, Dirk van Dijck, Wouter Hendrickx, Tiny Bertels, Ella Leyers, Manou Kersting, Ruth Becquart (Joke Willems), Tom Audenaert, Marie Vinck, Dirk Roofthooft

IN VLAAMSE VELDEN, a.k.a. IN FLANDERS FIELDS (2014) DIR Jan Matthys PROD Dirk Impens TELEPLAY Carl Joos, Mark De Geest, Geert Vermeulen, Charles De Weerdt, Ed Vanderweyden CAM Stijn Van der Veken ED Joris Brouwers MUS Jef Neve CAST Wim Opbrouck, Barbara Sarafian, Jonas Van Geel, Marc Van Eeghem, Tine Embrechts, Hilde Van Mieghem, Frank Vercruyssen, Stef Aerts, Chris Lomme, Mathijs Scheepers, Dirk van Dijck, Tom Audenaert,  Ruth Becquart (Head Nurse), Ruth Beeckmans

DEADLINE 25/5 (2014) DIR Maarten Moerkerke PROD Jan Creuwels, Johan Smetrijns TELEPLAY Geert Bouckaert, Rudy Morren, Ed Vanderweyden, Nicholas Roelandts, Dirk Nielandt CAM Christophe Nuyens ED Mathieu Depuydt CAST Charlotte Vandermeersch, Peter Van den Begin, Koen De Bouw, Ruth Becquart (Inge Libert), Marc Lauwrys, Dirk van Dijck, Inge Paulussen, Gert Winckelmans, Michael Pas

TOM & HARRY (2015) DIR Toon Slembrouck PROD Pieter Van Huyck TELEPLAY Gert Goovaerts, Lynnsey Peeters, Koen Tambuyzer, Hilde Pallen ED Mathieu Depuydt CAST Gilles De Schryver, Robrecht Vanden Thoren, Evelien Bosmans, Frank Focketeyn, Marc Lauwrys, Tine Embrechts, Sien Eggers, Ruth Becquart (Amanda Beckx)

AMIGO’S (2015) DIR Hendrik Moonen, Kadir Balci PROD Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem, Dries Phlypo TELEPLAY Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem, Pierre De Clercq CAM Diego Dezuttere ED Joris Brouwers, Pieter Smet MUS Joris Oonk, Chrisnanne Wiegel, Sioen CAST Jurgen Delnaet, Johny Voners, Wouter Hendrickx, Ruth Becquart (Cathy Liebaert), Sandrine André

CHAUSÉE D’AMOUR (2016) DIR Pieter Van Hees, Frank Devos PROD Siegfried Moens, Elke Van Soom, Pieter Van Huyck CAM Brecht Goyvaerts ED Koen Timmerman, Ewin Ryckaert CAST Tiny Bertels, Romy Lauwers, Thomas De Smet, Ruth Becquart (Sandy), Josse De Pauw, Dirk Roofthooft, Evelien Bosmans, Geert Van Rampelberg, Frank Focketeyn, Viv Van Dingenen, Gert Winckelmans, Manou Kersting

TABULA RASA (2017) DIR Kaat Beels, Jonas Govaerts PROD Frank Van Passel TELEPLAY Malin-Sarah Gozin, Veerle Baetens, Christophe Dirickx (created by Malin-Sarah Gozin) CAM Dries Delputte, Brecht Goyvaerts ED Bert Jacobs CAST Veerle Baetens, Stijn Van Opstal, Gène Bervoets, Hilde Van Mieghem, Natali Broods, Jeroen Perceval, Peter Van den Begin, Ruth Beeckmans, Tom Audenaert, Michael Pas, Ruth Becquart (Vanessa)

GENT WEST, a.k.a. GHENT WEST (2017) DIR Jeroen Demoulein, Mathieu Mortelmans PROD Yoshi Aesaert TELEPLAY Rudy Morren, Barbara Van Laere CAM Diego Dezuttere CAST Ruth Becquart (Veronique Dockx), Charlotte Anne Bongaerts, Gilda De Bal, Lucas Van den Eynde, Michael Pas, Evelien Bosmans, Inge Paulussen, Mathijs Scheepers, Gert Winckelmans, Veerle Dobbelaere