Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts is making waves in Hollywood with “Rust and Bone,” Jacques Audiard’s impressive drama that took Cannes and Toronto by storm. Schoenaerts stars opposite Marion Cotillard as a down-on-his luck bouncer, single-father and amateur boxer trying to make due in the South of France. But as he starts garnering attention in America, Schoenaerts is willing to be patient — and maybe turn down a few things — if it means avoiding the trap of being typecast as a bad guy.
You’re playing a very frustrated guy here, a guy who sometimes can only communicate by punching things.
Yeah. (laughs) That’s part of who he is. To me the challenge was to make him very simple and sincere and straightforward and honest and pure. So not to make him malicious in any way or make it a guy who edits himself or calculates his moves. He’s just very instinctive about everything. So everything is like a natural reflex. Being brutal is a reflex, being tender is a reflex. So everything is very pure, very direct. There’s no second thought with him. What you see is what you get. And that’s what I think makes you root for him somehow.
You did a fair amount of work to bulk up for this role.
I did a lot of boxing for a couple of months on a daily basis. I hit the gym at the same time because I had to gain some mass — and grow a belly at the same time, so I had to eat a lot of junk.
Rough training, having to eat junk food.
Oh, it was disgusting.
How daunting is it entering into the U.S. marketplace as a European actor, even with such a critically acclaimed film behind you?
The American movie industry is a huge machine. It’s a machine that can eat you and spit you out pretty fast. I just think you’ve got to stick with your instincts and try to know what you want and stand strong and go for that, and don’t lose yourself in whatever consideration that is not part of what you feel. Because if you start doing things for the wrong reasons, you’re going to end up at the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s not a position I want to be in. I’d rather do one thing a year than six or seven things a year just because. I don’t like doing things just because. I want to do them because they mean something to me. And I don’t want to romanticize or whatever, but I know I’m at my best if I truly care about what I’m doing, because then I have access to the best of myself, and that’s what I want to share. That’s why I love this. And all the rest, I don’t care.
Are you at all worried about getting typecast as a villain? Because that’s been known to happen to European actors in America.
Yeah, it’s an accent thing, I guess. A lot of European actors, if they have that they make them be a Russian guy or a German guy or, I don’t, a whatever guy. No no, of course. It’s something that you have to watch out for. I think it’s also about daring to be patient. Of course, you shouldn’t be too patient because otherwise people will just forget about you, but then if that happens then that’s the way it had to be. But I think being patient is a good thing.
Speaking of American films, up next, you have “Blood Ties.”
“Blood Ties” is directed by Guillaume Canet, who is Marion’s husband, and it’s his first American feature film. It has a great cast. We have Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, James Caan, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana and Marion Cotillard. It’s just a bunch of amazing actors. I’m a supporting character. By the beginning of the film he gets sent to jail and loses his family because of that, because his wife can’t take it anymore and says, “I’m leaving you” and she’s taking her kid with her. And once my character gets out of jail, the only thing he wants is his family back, but that’s where things get complicated. (laughs)