We spoke to Anna at length about her career and ambitions. “I am always looking for things that are new and challenging.”
You have a successful career as an actress. You also have two books to your name and you write scripts for films and TV series. You have your own podcast Camera loopt! and you are a strong advocate for the actors' interest group. Have you always been enterprising and ambitious?
“You don’t have to motivate me to do something. I’ve always been that way. Even as a child, I would organise all kinds of things off my own bat. I remember one camping trip to Texel. The teacher did come with us, it's true. At the age of 14, I wanted to do modelling work. I already knew then that I wanted to be an actress and I did it for the experience of being in front of the camera. We lived in The Hague and we got the day off for the state opening of parliament. So that was a perfect day to visit the modelling agencies in Amsterdam. Yes, I have always been ambitious. For me, working really hard goes without saying. My parents run an architecture practice together. So that is what I have always known: it’s fun to work hard, do things together and build something.”
As an actor, you play a range of roles in films and TV series, but you also have various roles in your personal life. Those of mother, partner, friend... How do you find that?
“When I am working, I concentrate on that and when I am at home, stirring the soup - because I do that too - I am completely focused on that. In every role you play, you are a little bit different and all those facets together make you complete as a person. And unique. My work is a big part of who I am and I like the fact that it mixes with my private life. Many of my friends are actors. My boyfriend acts and writes too, so we talk about that at home. And being chair of the actors' interest group is something I don't regard as a work or private thing, but simply as important. I do draw a distinction between public and private. When I'm not on the red carpet, I don't want paparazzi following me. And because we don't share anything about our private lives, they don't."
Combining a career and motherhood is a challenge for many women. Where does the biggest challenge lie for you?
"When our daughter Lea was six months old, I was shooting the series Undercover in Belgium. That was tough, because I was still breastfeeding. So I had to go and express milk in between takes, it's quite a palaver… Benja picked up the slack at home. I'm glad we really do it together. And I'm grateful for all the help we get from family. Good planning and arranging everything in advance is the biggest challenge. I think that goes for all working women. If you want to work, you have to do that. Because if you're doing what you want to do, you'll be happy and a nicer person as a result. If I have been away filming for a few days, I am extra keen to do fun things with Lea. And she gets something out of that too."
That's a lot of plates you have to keep spinning. How do you make sure you remain empowered?
"I do have to keep paying attention and make sure I keep that balance right. Every now and then I need some time out, to experience a sense of freedom. I don't need to spend a week in the Pyrenees to get that. Often, a stroll in the park or popping into a museum is enough. I really enjoy drawing and painting and I am currently doing a course in portrait painting. It is so incredibly great doing something you enjoy. Everyone should have that. If you have a child, it is sometimes hard to demand time for yourself. Men find that easier. But I do think it is very important. Get a babysitter and go out and do something you want to do. Without analysing whether it is useful or not. Allow yourself that experience."
At which times do you feel most powerful in your work?
“In the rehearsal process there are always times when you think: it's not working, it's going to be rubbish, how do I do this? And on the set: how should I play this, what's my motivation? That makes me grouchy and obstinate. But if I have faith that everything will turn out OK... if I can continue to work, to search and try different things without judging myself, I feel strong. Not throwing in the towel but persevering with the work, the craft. If something special comes out of that, I'm very happy."’
What does your ideal day look like?
“It’s a day that starts at home with a newspaper and all the supplements and coffee, with Benja and Lea around me. But it's also a day when I spend time acting or writing on a TV series or movie. Or I'm recording an episode of Camera loopt!, in which I talk to filmmakers about the craft, which I really love doing. If I have a special conversation with someone, that makes my day. I like having the feeling that I have done something worthwhile, that energises me. What really makes me happy is if I have also been able to do something for someone else. I find that hugely satisfying."
You could have done anything you wanted. Why become an actress?
"I have always wanted to be an actress and I can't imagine not wanting to. Because you get to tell stories. That's what I consider the most important thing of all, because it's how you learn things about life. I want to contribute to that. To get people to see things differently, become engrossed in something, have a fun or romantic evening, learn something about the way people behave when they are in love or are quarrelling. Or simply to laugh, that's OK too… I don't have a preference for stage or film. What matters is that it is a good project with a good script and good people to work with. I really love working in a team of people who are all doing what they are good at, who understand their profession. The energy that creates moves me."
Despite all your experience, are there still things that make you really uncomfortable or nervous?
“Sure, but I actually like that. I still seek out things that are new. I realise I do them because I like being nervous again, feeling that tension. I think it would be boring – whatever kind of work you do – if you never felt nervous. Feeling nervous shows that you feel connected with your work and care about what you do. Just because you have been doing something for a long time, it doesn't necessarily get easier. If you want to grow, you need to keep challenging yourself and keep working hard."
What ambitions do you still have professionally? An international career? Directing?
“Really, I want to do more of the same: keep on playing great roles, working with good people, writing... I love the idea of writing a script that gets made into a film in which I play the lead role. And I would also like to write another book. I'm not that bothered about fame for its own sake, but I would like to play more foreign roles. Undercover, the Dutch/Flemish series for Netflix, was really well made and left me wanting more. The Dutch film industry is small. Abroad there is more money and time to make things. I've got bags of ambition; there’s still loads I want to do”
What is your definition of a strong woman?
“A woman who really listens to herself and her intuition, who knows what her strengths and weaknesses are. Being strong is not just about being powerful, it is also about daring to say: I don't have the answer right now. Everything doesn't always have to work out, there is something unappealing about that. A strong person dares to own that and say: I'm not good at this, can you help me?"
Which woman do you personally find very inspiring?
“My mother. I think a mother is always inspiring for a daughter, because she is the first woman she knows. I really like and I am very impressed by how my mother combined her work with having two children. I learned from her that you are not more or less of a mother if you work more or less. It's different for everyone and you ought to do what makes you happier as a human being." As an architect, my mother works in a male world – construction is a male bulwark. I find it really impressive how she manages to hold her own there.
What could women do to achieve their goals, whatever those goals might be?
“I think women can become stronger by not comparing themselves to other women but rather by drawing on their own strength. By focusing on what they are good at and leaving time and space for that. Then you can do what you like doing and you'll feel strong."
A word about fashion. Claudia Sträter's mission is to support and enhance the power of women with its collections. How do you see that?
“That chimes with me. A good pair of heels makes me feel feminine and powerful. And a beautiful piece of clothing can really ‘lift’ you. If you have a big day, it makes a huge difference if you feel your clothes make you look good. It can give your confidence a big boost, which helps you perform better. Regardless of what work you do.’
How would you describe your style?
“Feminine and classical. I don't go with every trend but instead I ask myself whether something really suits me. I want what I wear to make me feel good. I like a nice suit, but I also like a well-cut pair of jeans. I like to vary, depending on my mood and the occasion. I don't go shopping often and when I do buy something, I want to be able to wear it for a long time. Unfortunately I can't always predict that in advance. Sometimes a piece of clothing stays in the closet anyway. When that happens, I pass it on.”
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