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Matthias Schoenaerts Talks The Regime, Reuniting With Kate Winslet

Matthias Schoenaerts Talks The Regime, Reuniting With Kate Winslet

Matthias Schoenaerts Talks The Regime, Reuniting With Kate Winslet

Matthias Schoenaerts had worked with Kate Winslet before, but never like this. Never as a lackey engaging in a psychosexual power play with a capricious dictator convinced bacteria is flooding her palace. It almost goes without saying that The Regime is far less restrained than Schoenaerts and Winslet’s previous screen romance, the largely forgotten 2014 period film A Little Chaos

“We both were like, ‘OK, so what is this mad piece of work that we’re reading?’ ” Schoenaerts says of his first conversation with Winslet about the HBO limited series. “ ‘Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? Is it both?’ We were trying to figure out what the tone was going to be.” 

Will Tracy, who created and co-wrote the show, has a résumé heavy on humorous genre hybrids, including Succession, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver and The Menu. According to Schoenaerts, Tracy was careful never to define The Regime by any specific label. Winslet’s lisping, germophobic nationalist is sort of the Selina Meyer (of Veep) of Central Europe, but what’s happening around her — human rights crises, a plunging economy, sink-or-swim trade negotiations — is serious business. “We decided not to do tongue-in-cheek stuff,” Schoenaerts says. “We said, ‘Let’s just go as if this was an existential drama.’ ” 

The 46-year-old Belgian actor plays Herbert Zubak, a murderous soldier appointed to follow Winslet’s Elena Vernham around, taking humidity measurements to ensure her supposed well-being. Herbert knows an opportunity when he sees one, though. He quickly becomes Elena’s confidant, pushing her policies in a more charitable direction. For Schoenaerts, the trick was retaining Herbert’s gruff, domineering exterior while making it clear that he has a more democratic view of the world than she does. 

“All of a sudden, they give him this oxygen bottle, and that slowly but surely offers the opportunity for some type of odd redemption and relief of guilt — and maybe the chance to finally do something that turns his self-image around,” Schoenaerts says. “He’s somebody who’s going from absolute darkness and then, step by step, moving toward the light. He’s clearly suffered a lot, for many reasons, and it turned him into this unpredictable savage, as they call him. But at the same time, deep down, there’s still that heart that wants to do good. And here’s his shot.”

In between BDSM-lite entanglements, Herbert attempts to mount a proletariat revolution from within the palace walls. He convinces Elena to transfer private property from wealthy landowners to the working class, and he asks critical questions about where the country’s money flows. What’s deliciously vague is whether Herbert is an egalitarian Robin Hood or a carpetbagger seizing power wherever he can find it. Schoenaerts opted to make him a brute with good intentions that “manifest themselves in odd ways.” 

Schoenaerts has made a career out of portraying intense characters whose hunky good looks conceal complexities, as seen in Rust and Bone, A Bigger Splash, Red Sparrow and The Old Guard. In 2019, he shot Terrence Malick’s latest feature, The Way of the Wind, which the notoriously private director is still editing. Schoenaerts, who plays Saint Peter, hasn’t seen footage from the film. “I just find it amazing to witness that amount of love and commitment for a project, and if it takes him another four years to edit, well, then that’s what it is. In a world of deadlines and release dates, I’ll always support that.” (Géza Röhrig, who stars as Jesus, recently said Malick is eyeing a Cannes premiere in 2025.)

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In the meantime, Schoenaerts is enjoying a short break from work while renovating his place in the Belgian countryside, where he is surrounded by ducks, birds and peace. But he won’t forget The Regime anytime soon, especially the way his and Winslet’s frenzied dynamic left the crew in stitches. “We had a lot of fun, because some of it was really absurd,” he says. 

This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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