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The South African Sylvia Plath

Dutch star Carice van Houten stars as the passionate South African poet Ingrid Jonker in Black Butterflies, now on VOD.

Now playing on VOD, the TFF 2011 biopic Black Butterflies is a moving portrait of the South African poet Ingrid Jonker  (Carice van Houten, Black Book), who is often hailed as her country’s version of Sylvia Plath. In Paula van der Oest’s lush film, Jonker's turbulent, passionate life—which included bouts with mental illness—is viewed through the lenses of her expressive poetry, the combative politics of Apartheid—which she stood firmly against—and her tumultuous relationships with both her conservative father (Rutger Hauer) and her longtime lover Jack Cope (Liam Cunningham).

At the center of the film is a powerhouse performance by the beguiling Dutch movie star Carice van Houten; she was named Best Actress for her performance in Black Butterflies at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. (Van Houten will also join the cast of Game of Thrones when Season 2 debuts on HBO this April.) We recently checked in with van Houten via email to ask about her relationship to her character, her preparation for her role, and her upcoming stint on Game of Thrones.

Tribeca Film / credit: Jaap Vrenegoor 

Tribeca: What attracted you to Black Butterflies? Did you have any previous knowledge of Ingrid Jonker?

Carice Van Houten: The insatiable search for love and recognition by her father. I'm almost ashamed I didn't know her before I read the script. 

Tribeca: Ingrid is an extremely complex and dense character. How did you prepare for the role?

Carice Van Houten: I read her poetry over and over, spoke to her daughter and friends of Ingrid, read about the time she lived in, and worked very intensely on the English with a South African accent. But after all the research and the preparation, there comes a point where you have to let it all go and just do it on your instincts.

Tribeca: What did you learn from the character? Did any of “Ingrid” stick with you after filming?

Carice Van Houten: Ingrid was a very childlike, passionate woman, who ones in a while comes say hello to me. ;-)

Tribeca: How did you and Paula work together to develop Ingrid on screen?

Carice Van Houten: I struggled with Ingrid quite a lot, fought with her, until we recognized the damaged child in her. That made me embrace the character and really love her in the end.

Tribeca: The film is colored with some difficult, emotionally raw scenes. Which scene was the most poignant, or the toughest, for you?

Tribeca Film / credit: Jaap Vrenegoor 

Carice Van Houten: Shooting was very tough. We shot 6 days a week. Swimming in that sea was very, very cold, but the biggest challenge overall was to show her unsympathetic sides and try to win the audience again after that and make them love her.

Tribeca: The film zeroes in on the myriad of trying moments in Jonker's life. In your opinion, at what point in her life was she happiest?

Carice Van Houten: I think when she just met her 'saviour' Jack Cope and was with him and Simone, her child. And when she wrote.

Tribeca: We come to know Jonker in large part through her relationships with two men: her icy father and her longtime love, writer Jack Cope. Despite their obvious differences, do you see any similarities between these two men? 

Carice Van Houten: They both couldn't give her the love she needed. Although for Jack, it was mostly for practical reasons and the fact that he was technically still married to his wife.

Tribeca: Do you have a favorite Jonker poem? Which and why?

Carice Van Houten: Gesig van die liefde: “The Face of Love.” Because it’s so simple and yet so damn romantic.

Tribeca: You are joining the cast of Game of Thrones when season two premieres in April. What can you tell us about your character and her storyline?

Carice Van Houten: Melisandre comes from the distant city of As'shai. A Fire Priestess of the Red God, Melisandre has brought her religion to the shores of Westeros and in a short time has gained many fanatical adherents. Ruthless, driven and implacable, Melisandre will use all of her powers to achieve her objectives. But those objectives remain shrouded in secrecy...


Black Butterflies is now playing on nationwide VOD, and opens Friday, March 2 at
Cinema Village in New York City. Find out how and where you can watch it.

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