We meet in a busy hotel bar, but no one approaches Michiel Huisman to ask for a photo, or to say hello. He cuts a handsome figure (particularly in the guise of Game Of Thrones’s Daario Naharis), but he still rarely gets spotted. ‘People can watch two different films I made and not realise I’m the same person,’ he says, stoically.
This is despite his recurring part in GoT, roles in films like World War Z, Age of Adaline and Wild, and multiple appearances on popular TV shows like Orphan Black, Nashville and Treme. So how has he stayed under the fan-radar? ‘It takes so much time before people put two and two together, and realise that I’m the same guy in all these different movies. I’m a bit of a chameleon,’ he says. ‘It’s part of the fun but that doesn’t help. It makes it [being recognised as an actor] take even longer.’
‘Right now I’m just trying to follow my instinct’
Jokes about his chameleon qualities mask what must have been a hard slog to reach the success he has now. Born in Amstelveen, Holland, in 1981, he’s been in the business since he was a child, starring in long-running Dutch shows and TV movies before making the leap to Hollywood and English-speaking roles in his early twenties. His rugged good looks have had him frequently cast in handsome love-interest parts thus far in his career, including in his latest film The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which sees him play opposite Lily James. Does playing the heartthrob get boring? ‘Not to me. I still feel like the roles have been different enough so far.’
Huisman is pragmatic about what he needs to do to climb Hollywood’s greasy pole. ‘I am also still building a career,’ he says. ‘Right now I’m just trying to follow my instinct. If I like a story, and I can add something to the character, then I’m interested.’
This work ethic and his bursting résumé demonstrate a drive to be creative that’s patently obvious. As well as acting, he also had success as a musician in Holland with his band Fontane and later as a solo artist. Now, his creative personality has taken on a new challenge: photography. ‘Quite organically it has become more and more of a thing for me. On the set of Guernsey the stills photographer and I were always talking about photography. One day he came to set with his Leica film camera and a 50mm lens. He offered it to me to try, and ever since I’ve only wanted to shoot on film. It’s become my thing.’
Huisman shoots extensively for his own projects, featuring his work on his social media feeds and now for The Jackal with the photo that accompanies this piece. Although a keen amateur photographer, he’s nervous about calling himself an artist or exhibiting his work in a public space that’s not Instagram. ‘I don’t want to be some other actor coming out with an exhibition with just okay pictures. I’d rather take my time,’ he says.
‘I still feel like I’m just getting started’
This self-effacement is typical, but perhaps a little off-kilter given how hard Huisman’s had to work to get where he is today. He says he has no set career ambitions, which is hard to believe. You don’t reach the heights he has in Hollywood without a certain amount of grit. ‘Once that’s out there then the goal is set. What if you don’t make it?’ he explains, which accounts for his hesitancy to set firm objectives.
Even so, you get the feeling that he’s after something more. ‘At the moment I’m looking for great filmmakers to work with. Having a good script is one thing but at the end of the day it’s really about the filmmaker,’ he says, which makes sense. Working with a well-known director – a Michael Bay or a Steven Soderbergh – would give him the challenge he’s looking for.
In fact, Huisman’s at a crossroads in his career: he has to make the leap from playing the love interest to being a leading man in his own right. His next project, The Red Sea Diving Resort (slated to be out next year) might just be the film that does it. Starring Chris Evans, with Huisman also heading the bill, it’ll tell the real-life story of the evacuation of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants to Israel in 1981, and promises to be Huisman’s first blockbuster action flick. Even with his lengthy résumé, it’ll be new territory for him, and will almost certainly up his visibility. ‘Even though I’ve been doing this for such a long time, I still feel like I’m just getting started,’ he says. ‘And I want it all.’
With his track record and his dogged determination, we’re sure he’s going to get it.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is out now