Dutch use casting couch alternative

Sports figures, politicians are finding their way into films

Dutch filmmakers might just have hit on a novel and inexpensive way to boost the production profile of projects: cast a politician.

When Wouter Bos, the vice prime minister here in the Netherlands, was cast in a cameo role as the country's prime minister, no one asked whether he could act.

His appearance in the family feature "Kapitein Rob en het geheim van prof. Lupardi" (Captain Rob and the Secret of Professor Lupardi) hit the headlines and found a spot on Dutch television's primetime evening newscasts.

Director and producer Hans Pos is more than pleased with the attention his film received.

"You are gaining coverage for your production in a way that you would normally never expect," Pos says.

The fact that socialistic minister of finance Bos plays the prime minister of Holland — a job he was seeking during the last elections — made it all the more appealing to the media.

Pos is not the only Dutch director-producer who is looking through the who's who of Dutch life to bolster a cast.

The record-holder for the moment is the Dutch romantic comedy "Alles is Liefde" (Everything Is Love), a local version of "Love, Actually" that includes a wagonload of famous stand-up comedians, TV presenters and veejays, supported by most of the major working Dutch movie actors, including Carice van Houten.

The film was billed as the greatest crowd-pleaser in the fall and logged 100,000 admissions in its opening weekend.

Producer Frans van Gestel says using famous "locals" without acting experience is OK for comedy. "But in a serious film, such as our film 'The Polish Bride,' it would not work. You have to be choosy as a producer. If you only do it for marketing reasons, you can be punished in the end," Van Gestel says.

Amsterdam-based Eddy Terstall, director of "Simon," invited some Dutch VIPs from television and sports for his low-budget production "Sextet." One of the actors is former soccer star Jan Mulder, who played for Anderlecht and Ajax.

Mulder plays an author who is seduced during a signing session by a young female fan and ends up in a series of complicated Kama Sutra sex scenes. A slightly embarrassed Mulder showed up on talk shows here to defend his "role."

The excuse he gave? "I can never say no to any offer."

It seems the use of VIP rather than acting talent is a risk that many Dutch producers are willing to take.

Says Pos: "The trick is to let them play something that is close to their daily life. You cannot ask the vice prime minister to show up as a window cleaner. In our film he is somehow playing himself, an authority figure."

Film publicist Monique van Schendelen, director of the publicity firm MVSP, says the growing number of Dutch celebrities in local movies could also backfire on the individuals involved.

"How will his political opponents react to the appearance of Mr. Bos in the cinema? They might even boycott the film if they do not agree with his politics," she says. "Consider also this: If the film flops, it could also harm the image of the VIPs involved. Still, the amount of extra publicity is in the first case an extra bonus that cannot be denied. And do not forget the vanity. A lot of them, especially politicians, like to stand in the limelight."

This practice isn't stopping at famous Dutch faces.

Recently, one Dutch producer asked some theater owners to play cameos in his film. Not everybody was pleased with the idea. When the film company tried to place the trailer of the feature into the cinemas, some owners refused, offended not to have been asked themselves.

Ultimately, van Schendelen says, "I do not think that these cameos of famous non-actors can save a bad film."