Thanks to elongated storytelling opportunities, the opportunity for intimacy and creating a strong bond with characters, not to mention the increasing tendency to binge-watch series, we are living in a decade where cinema no longer reigns over the small screen. A prime example of the TV drama revolution is hit Dutch crime series Penoza (Black Widow to Englishspeaking audiences), which has been exported to multiple countries including the UK since its launch in 2010. Dubbed ‘The Dutch Sopranos’, it tells the gripping story of Carmen van Walraven-de Rue, the titular Black Widow, as she is forced to take over her family’s drug-smuggling business. After nearly a decade of drama, the fifth and final season recently finished airing in the Netherlands, so we caught up with the programme’s leading lady Monic Hendrickx to discuss life after Penoza.

Having portrayed the matriarch Carmen for five seasons, 50-year-old Hendrickx admits to having mixed emotions about the show’s finale. “It’s a double feeling,” she muses. “It’s good that the story is told, but I could go on forever with the character – and also with the colleagues. The children I’ve seen grow up. Stijn Taverne, who played Boris, the youngest son, was ten or 11 when we started. Now he has a driving licence. He’s 18!” Fortunately it was a case of ‘au revoir’, rather than ‘goodbye’, as a Penoza film is in the pipeline for next year and Hendrickx is already looking forward to reuniting with everyone. “It’s been a lot of fun, I can tell you that,” she smiles. “You get attached to the people you work with and also the crew. It’s a good team; the light guys, the sound guys, the camera men, you get to know them all over the years.”

The role of a lifetime

For Hendrickx, Carmen was the role of a lifetime, and one that saw her receive numerous accolades including a Golden Calf for Best Actress in a TV-Drama in 2013. From the moment she read the first script, the actor knew she had discovered something special. “I was fascinated from the start – it’s a really good idea to put a woman in charge of a gang. It’s the combination of the criminal world with daily life: getting the kids ready for school – all the things that we are struggling with. That captivated me from the start but we never knew that it would become so big. You know, everyone is fascinated by it. It’s really amazing how it conquered the Netherlands.” Hendrickx has played countless characters throughout her lengthy career, from an Afghani woman who has escaped from a brothel in 2007’s Unfinished Sky to the writer Sonja in Paula van der Oest’s 2001 Oscar-nominated romantic comedy Zus & Zo. She admits that Carmen has been one of the best roles she have ever sunk her teeth into, allowing her to experience life in the underworld vicariously.

A captivating character

“Carmen is kind of bluffing all the time. It’s so much fun to play; to be one of the guys and to be cooler than you are. To be in control, or as if you’re in control. That combined with the vulnerability within the family…that’s really a good combination,” she enthuses. “It’s interesting because she stands for dilemmas I don’t know. It’s fascinating, the criminal world, but it’s also dark. I’m glad that I’m not in it for real, but it is captivating. You can go to the limit in a way – it’s life or death and it’s really vivid. In a way you are living it when you play the character.” For many years the film and television industry had been lacking in strong, interesting and complex female characters, but thanks to programmes such as Homeland, The Wire, and of course Penoza, female roles no longer seem to be confined to cliches. “It’s really fun to be the main character because then you can play the whole history; you can put so much in it,” says Hendrickx. “I understand the fight for good female characters. For me there have been enough roles, but I’m in a luxury position in my country. Often you are the wife or the sister of the leading character and often it’s like a caricature. For example, with Shakespeare, I’ve played Desdemona [in Othello] and she’s really difficult to play. Do you play the virgin or do you play the whore?”

Future projects

Now that Penoza has concluded, Hendrickx would be interested in pursuing more roles in European cinema. The actor would relish the chance to perform in a foreign language again, revealing she believes it can often heighten the acting experience. “When you play in another language you’re not too focused on the things you have to act. You don’t think ‘I have to be crying’ at that moment or ‘I have to burst out laughing’ at that moment. You have a layer of focus to the language and for me that’s kind of a liberation. It seems that the acting is better, almost.” One of Hendrickx’s early roles was in the 2001 Frisian-spoken costume drama Nynke (The Moving True Story of a Woman Ahead of Her Time) about the turbulent marriage between a writer and a socialist politician. “That was really fun to do,” she recalls. “I did a Frisian language course for, like, three months. You really get into the musicality of it.”

A double life

For her next project, would like to do something slow burning, allowing her to really delve into a new character. “What I miss in acting right now is that it has to be so fast all the time. I’m looking to really get into a story. “I would love to do a long project, like filming over nine months. That was fun in Carmen too, because I was really in the depths of a character,” she concludes. “It was almost like a second life. Although I’m really happy that my second life wasn’t my real life. Carmen has to look over her shoulder all the time and trust no one!”

TEXT: ANNA VILLELEGER | PHOTO: RALPH VERMEESCH