Essential Amsterdammers: Halina Reijn
Essential Amsterdammers: Halina Reijn
Essential Amsterdammers every expat should know: Hollywood actress Halina Reijn
I met Halina at the EYE Film Institute, in the centre of the Vondelpark. The magic of this renowned star was highlighted for me when we walked through the front doors together. An elderly lady gazes at her and speaks her name with genuine wonder, giving the word "Halina" a special aura.
However, as is typical of Amsterdam, Halina turns out to be straightforward and unaffected by the adoration and red carpet treatment. We meet on a cold, snowbound day. I’d expected her to arrive by taxi, but instead she makes her way across the icy city by bike, just like everyone else.
Halina is a true communicator, performing on stage and in film, as well as doing spots on the popular Dutch TV show "De Wereld Draait Door." She has also written a novel called Prinsesje Nooitgenoeg and is now working on a new film script. Before telling her story of coming from the northern city of Groningen to the capital, she gives a glimpse into the world of the fame.
"That is the great thing about Amsterdam. It is like New York - even if you have been on TV or in movies, you can just walk around, ignored, like anyone else. I love that element of the Dutch mentality; we do not treat others with too much reverence.
While I was promoting Valkyrie with Tom Cruise, I saw what happens to him in places like London - people screaming and crowding around him all the time. Carice [van Houten] and I loved being part of that for a while - we were like little kids, because it was a novelty for us - but it got too much very quickly. Our car was constantly chased, and if we took one step out of our hotel we were almost raped by the photographers! I would never want to live that life permanently. Amsterdam is so much easier.
I grew up in Groningen and started in youth theatre. Already at 17, some casting directors noticed me and before I knew it, I was whisked off to Amsterdam for auditions. I got a role in a TV show and the production company put me in this beautiful apartment at the Sarphatipark - but I was so alone and frightened of the city!
I felt it was my enemy because it was such a contrast to the smaller world of Groningen. Suddenly I found myself in this new world of TV celebrities, being dragged to a lot of celebrity parties where I did not know anybody. If there was no party, I just sat at home, reading.
When I did go out, I kept losing my way. Well, I am very bad at directions anyway; even now I can get disoriented in Amsterdam, but at that time I was almost permanently lost! You know my biggest fear at the time? Cycling. I had been told, "Look out for the tram lines. Don’t get your wheel stuck in them." Well I am pretty clumsy, so I was all over the place and constantly trapping myself on those tram tracks.
An offer came after a couple of years to go to acting school in Maastricht, and I took it just to avoid staying here. Life was different when I did finally come back to Amsterdam: it was easier because my boyfriend moved here too, meaning we had a kind of security in each other. I was still frightened, but I gave it a shot.
After three weeks of playing Ophelia in a production of Hamlet, I seemed to wake up suddenly and started to love it here. I began to discover the city, because finally I had colleagues and friends, which of course makes a big difference.
Amsterdam has a lot of contradictions. On the one hand you live in a supposedly major world city, with a big image and inhabitants of all kinds of nationalities; and on the other, it is a tiny place. You can ride around on your bicycle between small neighbourhoods, and get anywhere in 10 minutes. I like that unique contrast - in fact, I do not even have a driving license!
I travel a lot with my work, but I have never seen this combination of being in a village - like, really in a village, where you can meet your friends by accident - and yet having all the shops and everything you want. Amsterdam has the benefits of a big city, but stays small.
It is a good place for me to live: not just because of my friends, but because it is healthier for me. The attitudes here keep you connected, grounded. Maybe I will live elsewhere for a year, and at times I do go away for months when I make a movie, but I will always return.
Even after being here for so many years, I still have moments when I walk through the streets at night and think, Wow, it is so beautiful here! The old houses across my street look like a museum and I love that. Friends of mine have an apartment near the Anne Frank House, and some tourists think they are extras in the museum, acting out that they are living there!
Best Theatre Venues
When I was just 11 years old, my Groningen theatre group came to Amsterdam to play at a beautiful theatre called De Brakke Grond. We went on to have a look at the Stadsschouwburg, one of the city’s main theatres on Leidseplein and it all made such a massive impression on me. I looked up at the building and dreamed, One day I will be onstage here…
After I arrived in Amsterdam, I joined a group called De Trust, and they were based in the Kloveniersburgwal. That theatre was special, because it was so small and intimate, with only around 400 seats - it is still there.
Nevertheless, I must admit that I am still in love with the Stadsschouwburg. We have two theatres there: the beautiful old-fashioned hall, and a more modern one called the Rabozaal that is completely different. The windows are huge, so we often have a crowd outside on the Melkweg side, looking in and watching us rehearse.
We like that; we want to be involved with the city, to be in contact with the people of Amsterdam, whatever their nationality - that is why we show surtitles in English now, so that we attract visitors and expats, as well as locals."
Part of this interview with Halina Reijn has previously been published in "Amsterdam... The Essence," by David Beckett.
Photos by Joost van Manen