As festival favourite Come As You Are is now on general release across the UK, we spoke to the leading trio of actors Robrecht Vanden Thoren, Gilles De Schrijver and Tom Audenaert, joined alongside the screenwriter Pierre De Clercq. With a premise consisting of three disabled gentlemen travelling across Europe to lose their virginity, there is always bound to be plenty to talk about.
Q: It must be pretty exciting for you all to be here in London promoting the movie?
PDC: For us it feels like the movie is coming home, because it started here with Asta Philpot, so that’s why we’re excited for its release here in the UK.
Q: In the film the characters are going on this journey together to experience new things. Do you feel almost as though you’re all doing that yourselves now as a group?
GDS: Yeah we have, we have. We’ve been travelling a lot together, doing some festivals, and I think is one of the last trips, but this is a journey that has been going on for almost two years now.
Q: When doing the festivals, is it interesting to see how different audiences react to this film worldwide?
PDC: It’s all been unanimously appreciated. The reception has been great. It’s had the largest Flemish audience ever in France.
GDS: It’s been good everywhere. We’ve had brilliant reactions everywhere.
Q: So how much research did you all have to do into playing disabled characters?
GDS: Well it mostly Robrecht, because he is the most inspired on Asta Philpot himself.
RVT: Yeah I did a lot of research, I talked to people.
Q: Did you feel at all nervous taking on these roles? Because if you get them even slightly wrong, people could get really offended.
GDS: Yeah. At the beginning all three of us were very, very nervous about doing it because if you hit this wrong, it’s really wrong, and people don’t forgive you that. As Robrecht was saying, we were constantly checking each other, saying, is this genuine? Do you believe this? We all had our different researches…
TA: Yeah I had a friend of mine who is partially blind so I talked to him a lot and practised with the stick. I talked to a lot of different people who were blind. Though mostly I looked at them, and how they moved around, how they follow you, things like that. In the beginning when I heard I had the role I thought, yes! It’s very interesting to play a role like this, but after a while I thought, oh my God, I have to play this well because if I do it badly, it could be the last job I ever do [Laughs]
Q: In that dream sequence when we see you all walking, that was the first time I realised you were you just acting, so that’s a good sign that you all got it spot on, anyway.
GDS: In Montreal the festival director wanted to take us out for dinner and they had been searching for all the places that had special entrances for our wheelchairs. Then after a while they thought maybe they should rewind the scene and they actually thought for a long time that it was CGI of us walking. That was a big compliment.
TA: In Cuba they were saying “Oh they’re so brave travelling the world”.
Q: Talking of approaching the characters delicately, that was really your job to begin with Pierre. Were you quite cautious about how to portray a story of three disabled guys on a journey to lose their virginity?
PDC: I didn’t actually. I approached it like any other script and wrote the characters like any other character – that is the biggest respect you can pay to handicapped characters, to treat them like anybody else. Like Philip, there are small, tiny bad sides inside him, and it’s the most honest way to portray them. When the producer came to me to write this screenplay it was such a gift to tell this story. It was easy to write, really easy to write. I know I shouldn’t say that because we’re supposed to suffer, but it was fun to write.
Q: Like you said, these characters aren’t always sympathetic and sometimes you just want to tell Philip to shut up…
GDS: He’s an asshole basically.
TA: That’s his biggest problem. Not his disability, his character!
Q: Is that something that attracted you to the role Robrecht?
RVT: We did a week’s rehearsals and we went over the script again and I remember being encouraged to make the conflicts as big as they could be. But then when we were shooting there were a couple of days when I only had scenes when I was a nightmare. I remember thinking that I had started to hate myself and I wondered if that was still good. Are the audience going to still like me? Because if they hate you they cut you off, and it’s important that they keep being emotionally involved, even if they sometimes don’t agree with the things you do. So yeah that was hard, at one point I didn’t think he was a nice guy. But after a while you start to see the good sides.
PDC: Like at the beginning when he is picking a fight with his mother just to make an excuse to be able to leave the next morning, and there are small touches, like when he quietly says to himself “Goodnight Mum”. These touches make you as a spectator forgive him, because you know he has a kind side behind his big mouth.
RVT: Also the way we shot the journey chronologically, he gets sweeter every day, so that’s a good thing.
Q: Was it quite a challenge for all of you as actors to balance both the comedy and dramatic aspects to this film?
GDS: I mean, you’re always acting one thing, so in that way it wasn’t harder than any other film. So in a way we were all happy and we really found each other on this project, because we tend to approach even the more serious aspects of life with a lot of humour and laughs. Tom we didn’t even know before starting the shoot but he quickly became one of our friends and we hit it off so well because we’re all in the same level at that point. There isn’t any subject that you can just approach dramatically, I don’t believe in that, and I don’t think any of us believe in that.
Q: You can get a sense that you are all quite close off-screen in the film, it must have been a really fun film to shoot, travelling around together.
GDS: It was great fun.
TA: Super fun.
RVT: The great thing also is that we started with the trip and like it was in the movie we had just started shooting so we were all pretty nervous. But it was okay to be nervous because the characters were nervous also. But we were on a trip and we got to know the crew because you stay at hotels, drink at the bar.
GDS: The fact it was a road movie made the whole crew get involved in this trip.
PDC: I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard the stories…
TA: It’s become a little bit of a legend in Belgium, because it was such great fun when we shot it.
Q: You all speak very good English, have any of you had any thoughts in moving to the US or over here to make a movie?
GDS: If the opportunity was there it would be stupid not to take it. But moving to the UK would be difficult. Our film industry has picked up a lot in the past 10 years in Belgium, so we can do really great work and we get really nice parts. It would stupid to give that up to move just to make movies with a little more budget or more exposure, I don’t think that is a goal for us.
TA: But if they ask you…
GDS: Well if they ask you, then why not. But we woldn’t move here to give up everything we have at home.
PDC: Especially as this film has travelled so well all over the world, we all put our heart in it and it’s so rewarding when a small movie like this travels around.
Q: Were you expecting it to take off like this, and be released in so many countries?
PDC: You never know.
GDS: You never know. But even if I had thought it would be a success, I didn’t ever think it would be this successful.
TA: Also because, apart from Gilles, we aren’t very famous in Belgium on the television or in film.
RVT: Though internationally that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t count.
TA: That is true, but after this showed in Canada, it had a big boost. If it had come out in Belgium without that, it may have not have had the same results.
GDS: It’s a chain reaction basically. If the press like it and the audience like it, then the dominoes start falling, and that’s what happened. But it’s a dream. A dream. We really put our heart in to it and it’s so nice it’s been so well-received?
Q: Would you say that Belgian cinema is booming at the moment? Because there have been some fantastic films to come out of there recently.
GDS: Completely. Five years ago there were like two movies being made a year. Now there are 10, or 12 easily.
PDC: They’re doing very well locally and also abroad, at more and more festivals.
GDS: Flemish cinema really finds its way to its viewers because some directors go international through the festivals are cult based, but then you see the box office in theatres and it’s not so great in our own country. But Flemish films really find their audience and it’s something to be proud of.
Q: So why do you think there has been this rise in Belgian cinema of late?
PDC: A good funding system, doing fiction for television and then films and people getting more and professional as a result, making for good actors.
GDS: It’s an economical thing. There is good funding and it’s a tax shelter.
PDC: During these times it’s one of the few sections that is still being given more and more money.
GDS: We haven’t really felt the recession.
TA: It’s still not enough.
COME AS YOU ARE (HASTA LA VISTA) IS SHOWING IN LONDON AT VUE CINEMAS FROM 7TH JUNE 2013