"I hate talking so much," mock-groans Matthias Schoenaerts. This a bummer for the in-demand Belgian because he's got quite a lot of yacking to do. Tomorrow sees a trip to Amsterdam to discuss A Bigger Splash, followed by Paris the week after. His name, while not getting any easier to spell, is edging towards ubiquity as he impresses in just about everything he appears in. The latest example, Alice Winocour's psycho-thriller Disorder, is no exception. In it, he plays a PTSD-stricken soldier charged with protecting Diane Kruger and her young son. The project began for him with a nagging text from his old Rust And Bone mucker Jacques Audiard. "Sometimes I'm, like, the laziest fucker in the world," he tells Empire. "Jacques had to text me to tell me to look at the script."
Is it true you prepared for this with two hours' sleep a night and by listening to the noise of war on an iPod?
I listened to that in the beginning to get a notion of it but I didn't listen to it every night. The sleeping component... I didn't have enough prep time for the film. I'd just come off A Bigger Splash and I only had two weeks and I just started tripping out. Out of anxiety I couldn't sleep and then I started noticing similar symptoms, so I started to push that button a little more. You look at yourself as you become more paranoid. It's a mental condition that manifests itself physically, so I had to feel my way into it instead of thinking my way into it. It's not about psychoanalysis, although of course you can do that way, but if you want to embody it you have to get a sense of the electricity that goes through those bodies.
It's an anti-war film that doesn't make any anti-war statements.
Were you in that space when you met the veterans?
No, it's after I met them that I started tripping out. Of course, I'd read some stuff, enough to get a sense of [PTSD], and then I met them. Being in their proximity, you get to feel their energy. Every individual is different, so not every soldier with PTSD has the same symptoms, but being close to them gave me a sense of the electric charge that came off of them. That's what made me trip out.
Firstly, I was grateful because it gave me a much greater insight than any paper I read about it and at the same time it was, "Fuck, how am I going to get there?" It's something in the eyes and you can't perform that, period. That's what scared me. What I liked about the film is that it addresses this taboo subject but at the same time it's a very kinetic film in a genre context. It's not a study on PTSD but in some ways it is an anti-war film because it shows the devastating effects of war on a human body and soul. It's an anti-war film that doesn't make any anti-war statements.
In action as Disorder's troubled trooper, Vincent Loreau.
There's been some great movies that feature PTSD, like The Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver. Are there any that have resonanted with you?
Actually, I hardly watch any films when I prep. I'll watch The Hangover, that's fine (laughs). Of course, I loved The Deer Hunter and Taxi Driver, and American Sniper had some good bits to it, even if it has a propaganda feel at some points.
It's been a crazy few years for you. Have you had a lot of offers from Hollywood?
You can't do everything that comes your way.
Then again, you haven't done any big Hollywood movies yet.
No, that's a choice because most of the time the big films take you away for seven or eight months and that takes you away from other projects you might want to do. I take my time. I'm happy as it is. It's about learning time-management, which is not my biggest talent.
I hardly watch any films when I prep. I'll watch The Hangover, that's fine.
Do the big superhero franchises - Marvel and DC - have an appeal?
Some of them are really good, so I'm open to it. If it's a fun part to play... Of course, I want to pick stuff that means something but I want to have fun and I can imagine it'd be a lot of fun to do such a thing. In that genre there's a few really solid films, like The Dark Knight. It's a brilliant film. I'd never say no to that kind of film if it has that level to it, but something similar came around and it didn't feel right for me. You have to follow your own heartbeat. When you feel ready, that's when you can go there, but you shouldn't do something just because other people consider that it's the time for you to do it. That's nonsense. You'd end up somewhere you don't want to be, and then what sort of work will you come up with?
So you've been offered something in that world. A good guy or bad guy, can you say?
A good bad guy.
Moral ambiguity appeals?
That's what I like, the friction that lies in that polarity.
If Jacques Audiard called you up and told you he was doing a new Batman film, what would you say?
Jacques Audiard? I'd say, "Let's go."
Schoenaerts in Jacques Audiard's Rust And Bone.
He put you in touch with Alice Winocour on Disorder, didn't he?
Yeah. Sometimes I work super-hard and sometimes I'm, like, the laziest fucker in the world. I get sent scripts and I don't read them because sometimes I don't feel like reading a script. She sent me a script and then she texted Jacques and then Jacques texted me to tell me that I'd been sent a script a couple of weeks ago. "You should take a look at it because I think she's really talented." I really trust in his intuition and his intelligence and his sensitivity as well. So I looked at it and then I was, like, "Okay, let's meet up and try to do something."
Have you ever been in a lazy period and regretted letting something pass by?
Probably, but then there's this good thing that I've probably forgotten about it. I might have been lazy and not read something and after been, like, "Fuck, this is brilliant! How the fuck did I let that pass?" But it happens. That's life. I'm not going to break my head about it.
If Jacques Audiard called me and said he was making Batman? I'd say, 'Let's go.'
You worked with Thomas Vinterberg in Far From The Madding Crowd and you're reuniting for Kursk, a submarine disaster movie. Considering the story, how do you prevent this being the most depressing film ever?
Well, it's also about courage. It's about political hypocrisy, brotherhood, loyalty and the insane, obsessive need for survival. Of course, we'll never really know what happened down there but if you see what those guys go through in the screenplay, it's insane. It's a film that resonates with a lot of things that I appreciate about humanity. But the sad part of it is that it all relates to political hypocrisy, which is nothing new.
With director Michael R. Roskam on the set of The Drop.
It's not going to make Vladimir Putin's LoveFilm list.
Exactly! We're not going to the Moscow Film Festival.
Is it a survival thriller?
You could see it as a survival thriller, but it's so much more. I don't know how to label it. Thomas is reworking the screenplay with Robert Rodat, and I'm going to go through it with him pretty soon.
What's next for you?
I'm shooting a film, The Faithful, next month with the friend I made Bullhead and The Drop with (Michaël R. Roskam) in Brussels, so my mind is there right now. It's an 'amour noir' - that's how Michaël describes it - a crime drama, but at its core it's a love story about a gangster, a notorious robber, who goes to jail a couple of times but always escapes to be with his girlfriend. That's why it's called The Faithful. The cops get to know about it and they know that if they find the girl, they find him. Of course, there's numerous complications around that very situation that I'm not going to give away. You should see it in the atmosphere of the films of [Jean-Pierre] Melville, a very classic, solid crime drama but with a very clear focus on the characters. There's a plot but it's not plot driven, it's totally character driven.
Lastly, Saul Dibb, your director on Suite Francaise, says you do a mean Arnie impression on set. What's your go-to Schwarzenegger quote?
Disorder is in cinemas on March 25. Watch the trailer here.