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The Industry

Actress Dian Biemans talks to us about her journey to success as a self-represented performer, and how she landed her breakthrough role in television series ‘Slave Market’

Dian Biemans hails from a small countryside village in the southern part of the Netherlands. After studying for two Bachelor of Science degrees and a Master of Science degree, as well as working as a international model for years and a stint of TV presenting, Dian realised acting was her true passion. Cue a move to Amsterdam and plenty of drama training. Dian now sees herself performing internationally on screen in her native country the Netherlands, Italy, Indonesia, and, most recently, the Middle East.

It was Dian’s recent leading role playing ‘Nadakha’ in MBC Studios’ epic drama series Slave Market that has fixed her firmly on the acting map. Now, Dian has her sights firmly set on the UK, so we caught up with her to find out more about her journey and how she took her acting career international – all while being self-represented.

Hi Dian! How did you first get into acting?

I used to do many pranks on the phone for fun, and a girl that was producing for television knew about that and they were casting for candid camera shows. She was like, ‘She loves to prank people, we need to ask her to come to an audition.’

So, I auditioned […] and they loved how I was improvising for all these different characters and how I was able to prank all these people. Nothing is scripted, and because it’s a real-life situation, you constantly have to adjust. I got the role and I did three or four candid camera shows on television.

I loved playing different characters so much that I really wanted to go into acting. I didn’t have a background in acting, so I took classes. I didn’t go to drama school because I’d already done so many studies, I didn’t want to go to school for another four years.

What training did you do, and do you think drama school is necessary?

I did loads of training because I think you should always keep on learning new things. I did Meisner, Chubbuck, combat and stunt training, accent training, different languages [and] comedy classes because I was taught to do drama and not really comedy.

I don’t necessarily think that you need [to go to] drama school. I really like to prove people wrong, so if they think that you need it, I love to prove to them that you don’t. I know many great actors that didn’t do theatre school.

I think the most important thing you need as an actor is to fully empathise with your character. To not judge your character, and to find the similarities you have, instead of looking at the differences.

Preparation is very important, make sure you fully understand how your character thinks and feels so you can adapt to every single situation. For example, if a director asks you to play something in a different way, then you just have to think how your character thinks or what she will feel and it will come out naturally. It becomes real.

What’s the main difference between working in the Netherlands compared to the UK?

The Dutch market is different from other markets in the world because no one speaks our language. So, the market is small and there aren’t many actors cast from abroad for Dutch productions. Only from Belgium. The Netherlands and Belgium feel like one country for the market because it’s so close, we speak the same language, and we have many co-productions as well.

Even if they need, for example, a Spanish-speaking person, they’re first going to try to cast it in the Netherlands. And search abroad if they need something really specific that they can’t find over here.

I don’t think there’s much difference in the auditioning process because, since COVID, we do mostly self-tapes for the first round, like in any other country.

Do you have advice for other Dutch actors who might be looking to work overseas?

Be on top of things. Work very hard. Prepare yourself and make sure you’re trained well. If you’re in between jobs, keep yourself busy.

Start filming things with colleagues, friends and make something yourself. Keep on training in all different kinds of skills. Audition as much as possible, but also give yourself some time to rest.

Give yourself time to get back to reality, because that’s something I underestimated when I played that heavy role. I thought I’d just rest for two days, but if you play a role that is emotionally heavy for months, then your body and your mind need some kind of recovery, too. Most people underestimate that, like I did.

What was your breakthrough role and how have things changed for you since then?

Definitely my role as ‘Nadakha’ in Slave Market. Before that role I was typecast as a successful business woman or as a happy housewife, everything that’s happy and smiley. And of course, if I get offered a job like that, I’ll take it, but that’s not necessarily the thing I want most as an actor. You want to play a character that has barely anything in common with yourself.

‘Nadakha’ is a poor mother of three children that were sold by her drunken husband to a slave trader. So, that’s a very intense role and there’s a lot of layered acting in there. With this role, people could actually see that I’m an actress with the capacity to carry such a role. Because of that, I got more serious auditions for bigger roles and deeper roles. I’ve [been] invited on talk shows, [including] one of the biggest talk shows in the Netherlands, to talk about this role. I was in every single newspaper in the Netherlands.

Dian Biemans as Nadakha in ‘Slave Market’

How did you land the role?

They were looking for a red-haired woman. She needed to be 50 years or older, and voluptuous. I’m pretty small, I’m in my thirties, but I got a request for that role. I was flying to Lisbon for a commercial job that day, but my flight was delayed. I had some time to kill at the airport, so I was like, ‘Well, I’ve got time anyway, so I’m just going to film the self-tape. And maybe a producer will notice me for another project.’

A few days after, the casting director told me, ‘I showed the director your video because I really liked it, and he liked it, too. And we want you to audition for the leading role.’

So, I auditioned [and] I got the leading role! It was such an amazing role and I really prepared well. I love playing that character.

What did you do to prepare for the role?

Preparation is so important because you need to understand how your character thinks and feels. We were filming the most dramatic scenes on the [first] day and I did not agree with the script at that moment. I prepared my role so well that I could tell the director why I did not agree with the script.

The director said, ‘We’ve only got two takes. I trust you fully, I know that you prepared well. We’re just going to do it however you think [Nadakha] would feel and whatever she would say, we’re just going to improvise it. Whenever I think what you’re doing isn’t right, I will tell you.’

So I was just playing the scene and he didn’t say a word.

What I didn’t know was the mother of the girl that’s playing my youngest daughter filmed the scene [and] the reaction of the crew. I saw myself playing the scene, and then the director said, ‘Cut. Bravo.’

And he was clapping and the whole crew were in tears!

Is playing Nadakha your favourite role so far?

Yeah, definitely, because it was so layered and emotional. It was very far from myself as a person. I don’t have children myself and have never experienced anything like losing your children. So I had to find similarities between the character and myself as a person, emotions that I have felt, and events that happened in my personal life. I love to put in the work, so I can make it my creation. I want to feel and think like the character, and to play with it on set.

Your accent is great in ‘Slave Market.’ Do you have any tips for learning accents?

I’m Dutch and there are not many people speaking Dutch on this planet so at a young age, I already learned to speak many different languages. I speak Dutch, English, German, French, and Spanish. So, for me, learning a language is kind of easy. I had to learn [because] if you wanted to do something international, no one will understand you when you speak Dutch, so you need to speak multiple languages.

When it comes to accents, try to talk as much as possible with a person that speaks that language or accent. If that’s not possible, listen to videos. I prefer videos over audio because then you can see someone’s mouth moving. And it’s very important how someone moves their mouth because in every different language and accent, there are sounds that you don’t naturally speak in your own language. You really need to practise on sounds that you’ve never spoken before.

Listening is also important. Listen carefully. Most people want to try it [speaking with an accent] themselves immediately, but first you should listen.

Do you have an agent or are you self-represented?

I didn’t have an agent before Slave Market, and then after, the agent of my youngest daughter [in the show] wanted to represent me. So, she’s representing me now from Barcelona. We Zoom quite a few times. She sends me voice messages when she wants to tell me something or if she has a request. I’m going [to Barcelona] in October to meet her and to see how the Spanish market is.

I don’t have an agent in the UK or the US, but I’m looking for one. I think that if you really want to work well in the UK market, you need to have a UK agent.

Do you have any tips about how to manage yourself successfully?

I’m very on top of things. Right now, I’m sending everything to my agent like new headshots, scenes I’ve played, monologues, my updated showreel, any new skills, new training, my availability.

I also discuss my plans with casting directors here in the Netherlands and with directors I know.

Try to tell people as much as possible what you’re doing, where you want to go and what you want to do. They can’t guess if there’s something you really would love to do or that you’ve trained in something or have special skills. You need to tell people, as silly as it sounds.

Do you intentionally look for overseas work?

I love to work abroad, I love to travel. I’ve been on Spotlight for five years and I look for jobs abroad often because the Dutch market is really small. Most movies and series are only shown here, and I would love to work internationally. If I get booked for a leading role here in the Netherlands, I’d love to do it as well, but I prefer to make my world, and the audience, as big as possible. I just want to entertain as many people as possible with my work.

What do you hope to do next?

I really hope to do something in the UK or in the US. And many more big productions and exciting roles. I would love to dive into a new exciting character and make that my own.

A huge thank you to Dian Biemans from all of us at Spotlight.

Image credit: MBC

Headshot image: Maikel Thijssen