Being human. And being other humans.
Actress, filmmaker, and World explorer Lisanne Sweere has appeared in several short films and appears regularly on stages throughout Amsterdam. We sat down with her and talked about how traveling as a student played a major role in keeping her true to her childhood dreams, as well as the similarities she sees between the art of being human and the art of acting.
How did your journey into acting begin?
I grew up in Eindhoven, Netherlands. I attended school and took acting classes there from a young age. Acting was an important part of my childhood, but there came a time when I felt Eindhoven wasn’t giving me enough challenges. At the age of 13 I started doing auditions, but I actually had no clue what was expected of me back then. I was just doing something. Sometimes I would skip school to secretly take the train to Amsterdam in order to do certain auditions. I’m not sure where it came from, but something in me really wanted to be an actor.
You started acting at a very young age. Was your family supportive?
In the beginning I was doing auditions while they thought I was in school, so for a long time they didn’t even know. Yes, my mom was very supportive, but my dad wasn’t at first. But I was able to convince him to keep going to auditions since my grades at school remained quite good even though I was putting so much time into auditions. When I was 17 and had not yet graduated, I went to an audition for a theater school in Amsterdam. It didn’t make any sense because you had to have a high school degree in order to start there, but I went in order to know what the expectations were. That way I would know how to prepare once I had my degree. I stayed in Eindhoven until I was 18 in order to finish high school, but I was always thinking about finding the next opportunity to stand on a stage.
It’s quite amazing that at age 13 you did an almost two hour train ride alone to a city the size of Amsterdam for auditions. How do you feel about that when you look back now?
I’m amazed by the things I did back then in order to stand on a stage. But at the time I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing at all. I was so focused on getting to auditions and nothing was going to stop me. Looking back at it now I do find myself a bit naive. I was quite vulnerable for abuse in any sense.
And then the long awaited day was finally there: graduation.
Yes, it was the moment I’d been waiting for. I immediately moved to Amsterdam and did audition at the acting school. Unfortunately I wasn’t accepted, was found too young and needed to have more life experience according to them. But at least I was living in Amsterdam so I decided to choose the most interesting study that was also the closest to acting. Film, TV and Media sciences. Once in the second year I specialised in film. I loved that. It also gave me the opportunity to participate in an exchange program where I could study for a half-year abroad. One of the options was New York, which I applied for, but I didn’t really think of an alternative option if it didn’t work out. Fate ended up taking me to Sydney. Six short months later it was time for me to return to Holland, but I didn’t want to go back so I decided to stop school with no idea of when I might pick it up again. I intended to restart it at some point in the near future, I just didn’t know exactly when that would be. I continued travelling in Australia, New Zealand and the Fiji islands. Another six months later I was supposed to return to Holland, but something inside of me wanted to continue exploring. So I did. (unable to hide the resulting smile that lights up her face) I decided to go to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. I was 21 when the adventure finally ended. I had a scholarship for the initial trip to Sydney and lived very minimally. My budget in Asia was €10 per day. It was a fantastic experience with a lot of ups and downs. When I finally returned to Amsterdam it was not easy to fit in again. I finished film school, but something more important happened during the trip. I realised afterwards that, more than anything, I wanted to be an actress. When I think back about at it all I have the feeling that I am constantly seeking new experiences in my life. My soul is eager to learn, to look at the World in many different ways. I feel a sort of restlessness every day because I enjoy so many different things in life. I have to stop myself from time to time in order to sit down and have a day of rest. Travelling opened up my eyes and heart in so many ways. I’m still processing the impressions it gave me.
How does the time you spent at film school compare to theater classes you’re taking now?
Film school was fairly easy to go through, I really enjoyed the time with other students. It was just a great time. Full stop. Theater school is something different. It confronts you with your true inner self. It holds a mirror in front of you, which can be very intense sometimes. It really feels like growing up. There are only 20 second-year students at my school now, so two classes with 10 students each. I combine attending school now with working in the city and taking different acting jobs. My theater classes are more practically focused: singing, movement, theater history. There are also a lot of teachers supporting us in many different ways, each with each their own vision on acting, so that sometimes makes it challenging for us to make sense of it all.
Amsterdam has been very important for you already since you were very young. What does the city mean to you?
It’s the centre of film and theatre in the Netherlands. I love the city’s atmosphere, the way of thinking, and the open minded look at the World. It’s easy to meet other people, and a lot of people here dare to dream and think out of the box. There’s no judgement. Everything is fun and possible. This is very different from the rest of the country. The people that make up Amsterdam are very open for anything that happens.
How would you describe Amsterdam in one word:
When I walk here past theatres and cinemas, as well as see the people who’ve made it here as actors, it stimulates me every day to work hard so that perhaps the next day I can stand next to them on stage.
Why do you want to be an actress?
We had to answer this same question in one of our acting classes. We had to sit across from each other and ask this question to the other person. Over and over again. It made us all cry by the end of the class. It happens a lot during acting school that we have to ask ourselves why we are doing so many things in life. ‘Why’ this? ‘Why’ that? So to really respond to your question, I think it originates from specific interest in the different ways to be a human, the belief that I sincerely can place myself in other peoples lives, and also that I want to place myself in another person’s life. For example I think that I should be able to feel how a homeless person feels and lives, as well as how a queen thinks and lives. Psychology is very important for me. It’s also about wanting to be seen. Not that I want to always be seen and be very visible to others, but that I do want to shine in something. As a little girl when I watched tv or plays, I did try to identify with the roles and imagine that I was playing alongside them. Acting is a very challenging profession. You’re never ready for a new part or role. That makes it sometimes frustrating. But having this as a purpose to get up for every new day makes me happy.
And what do you personally take away from putting yourself in the skin of so many different types of people?
When you look at real life, you’re limited to what is socially expected from you or how people think you have to be. But when you can play different roles, it can be liberating to be somebody who you actually want to be but can’t be because of the limitations we put on to ourselves in everyday life. For example I’m not someone who becomes very angry at someone else, so I really enjoy playing that role. I love that. And I can give many other examples, the list is endless.
What is a beautiful moment you’ve experienced so far as an actress?
When I did auditions for my first role in a film, it was with a big casting office and was quite exciting. I walked in and the owner of the casting office and the director were sitting there together. I wanted to shake both of their hands, but the director was doing something on her computer and gave me a look like she wasn’t interested in shaking my hand. I felt horrible. I was just standing there looking awkward. So I just started my audition, and the director loved it. A few days later they called me to say they absolutely wanted me in the movie. They didn’t know what role yet, but they absolutely wanted me in it. It was very good for my self-confidence. I was proud of myself. I achieved something great with my talent.
What is your HeadSpot, EyeSpot, MouthSpot?
The Amstel River is my favourite HeadSpot. It helps me to empty my head so I can make space for something new. And observing helps me to create new ideas in my head, so watching that same Amstel is my EyeSpot. I just love the river going through the city and seeing people’s lives happen around it in so many different ways. As a MouthSpot, it’s hard to pick one. I really love sitting in a park and eating something that I’ve brought. I also like to go sometimes to Bagels & Beans for lunch.
What is your Amsterdam song?
No doubt, Migration by Bonobo
X This conversation had place in the Summer of 2017
X Interview and photography by Johan Bockstaele
X Images captured with a Nikon Df
X Interview conducted in Dutch and has been translated and edited by the clever ZOTEYE minions
*a place in the city where the person being interviewed goes when he/she needs a place to get inspired, contemplate about life or think about what to eat that evening (HeadSpot), a place to look around and give the eyes a blast or a meditative session (EyeSpot) and a place where he/she keeps going time after time to eat and/or drink something because it is ri-di-cu-lous-ly yummie. (MouthSpot)