Sitting handsomely dressed in a light blue, brushed-cotton shirt and stirring a cup of hot water and lemon, Michiel Huisman looks perfectly at home amongst the chic surroundings of the library at The Soho Hotel. But then again, the 39-year-old actor has mastered the art of looking perfectly at home just about anywhere.
He’s every bit the dashing romantic lead (The Age of Adaline, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society), the convincing and repulsive villain (Indian Horse), the thinking woman’s eye candy (Nashville) or the rugged lieutenant vying for the love of Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones.
Huisman’s CV is that of a well-established star. Yet, you get the feeling that even in his native Holland, he’s still able to pop down to his corner shop to buy milk (“nobody there gives a shit!” he exclaims).
"I have turned down brilliant roles because the audience already knows them too well..."
That might just be about to change with his latest project, The Haunting of Hill House, Netflix’s first original horror series. Hailed as “the new Stranger Things,” it’s part Gothic horror, part dysfunctional family drama, with Westworld-style plot twists thrown in for good measure.
We took the opportunity to find out everything you probably didn’t know about the actor, and whose chameleon cover might have just been blown…
Michiel Huisman doesn't believe in the supernatural (but he does believe in 'energies')
“It was something that helped me relate to my character — who is the sceptic of the family,” says Huisman who plays Steven, the eldest of the five children. Each of them are struggling to deal with the tragic events of their past at Hill House, the family home which may be the host to malevolent forces.
“Steven doesn’t believe that anything his siblings experienced in the house was real, and thinks their fear can all be explained away as mental illness”.
"My character thinks his family's fear can all be explained away as mental illness..."
So, Michiel himself has never had any spooky encounters with a higher power? “No,” he laughs “but then, I believe that the human mind is a very powerful thing, and that it can can allow us to feel energies”.
Michiel Huisman has turned down more than one ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ role
A glance down his filmography will tell you that Huisman has made a habit of playing roles that come with more than a little baggage. Whether it’s the high scrutiny of real-life portrayals, such his depiction of the Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev, or taking on the mantel of a role from another actor (Huisman replaced Ed Skrein as Daario in the third series of GoT).
And yet, he has made the choice to turn down more than one role which felt a little too steeped in public adoration — in particular from classic literature, “it’s a scary thing. I have turned down brilliant roles because the audience already knows them too well. They will have preconceived ideas about what the character should be.”
Michiel Huisman might have become an architect
“I would have liked it. I think it’s about being in control of the construction of something. That’s one of the reasons I am now so taken with photography — I have total control there.”
Incidentally, Huisman is equally talented at capturing life from behind a camera. Sharing his thoughtfully composed snaps, always shot on film, with his nearly 400k Instagram followers.
"I am now so taken with photography — I have total control there...”
As a man in the public eye, who enjoys artistic control, perhaps Instagram has provided the perfect tool with which to tell his own narrative? “I think so, for now. But I am trying to spend less time looking at this tiny screen.”
Michiel Huisman doesn't really like horror films
Whilst this might seem an ill-advised admission PR-wise on a press circuit for a horror series, Huisman explains that what attracted him to this show was its unique combination of the intelligent and tortured family drama amongst the (genuinely terrifying) horror elements.
“It isn’t straight-up horror, because that wouldn’t really be my thing — I don’t watch it. But this series was so complex, and too exciting to miss.”
"It isn’t straight-up horror, because that wouldn’t really be my thing — I don’t watch it..."
Indeed, what Netflix have got so right with this (albeit loose) interpretation of Shirley Jackson’s classic 1959 novel, is recognising that it takes more than a jump-scare to produce a great horror. It requires the understanding that the hauntings we really fear are not paranormal spirits, but memories.
Michiel Huisman doesn’t want to be recognised
“The first time somebody asked me for an autograph, I remember thinking ‘really?! Why would you want this? What can you do with my signature?’ But I guess that they’re pretty old school now, it’s all about the selfie!”
Can you ever get used to a selfie? “In a weird way, yes! But really, I’m still very able to escape all of that. Whether it’s at home in New York or our place in the countryside in Holland, I really feel like nobody gives a shit. And maybe they do, but I never notice it. So perfect! I don’t care.”
Michiel Huisman takes his coffee black (when he's not drinking hot lemon)
And he has one or two double espressos a day. Now you know.
Our conversation ends, and Michiel moves into the hotel lobby with all of the unmistakeable gravitas of a star (maybe it’s simply that he’s strikingly handsome). But no phones are thrust in his face, and nobody asks for an unsettling autograph. This, we presume, is just the way he likes it.