Interview: Getting to know the neighbours in The Swingers
Ivan Radford | On 22, Feb 2017
This Thursday, Walter Presents premieres Dutch drama The Swingers. Known as Nieuwe Buren, or “New Neighbours”, in its home country of the Netherlands, the English title gives you a better idea of what to expect: when Eva and Peter move from Amsterdam into a quiet neighbourhood on the city outskirts, they find themselves getting to know their next door neighbours’ dark secrets in… increasingly intimate ways.
It’s a tough ask for a quartet of actors to play, so the show deliberately set out to find actual couples to play each pair. Top of the list? Golden Dutch couple Bracha van Doesburgh (Bagels & Bubbels – a remake of Beauty and the Baker, also on Walter Presents) and Daan Schuurmans (Framed, or Bellicher, on Walter Presents too). Famous, phenomenally talented and firmly convincing as partners on screen, it was a smart choice.
When we caught up with them in real life, they’re immediately charming and relaxed. Bracha admits that she hadn’t initially read the book the TV show was based on. Daan, on the other hand, had.
“He said ‘Yeah, yeah, it would be nice’,” she explains to us, laughing. “I read the book the summer before we started shooting, and I thought ‘Oh my God! What did we get into?!'”
“I remember the thriller aspect of the book more than all the… you know, the hot scenes!” jokes Daan with an audible grin. “It was quite funny when we read the script and Bracha said ‘Ok… you didn’t tell me…’ [Laughs] But they promised us they would do other scenes, not just the hot scenes only!”
“I said ‘Do you remember what the book was about?!'” continues Bracha. “But it was really nice in the end.”
It helped that they both trusted their other half.
“First, I had a little doubt, because I wasn’t sure if it would work with the two couples and wasn’t sure whether to do it, but we said yes, because we knew the other couple as well, and we liked the actors,” she says.
That trust is key to the series’ success, and not just because of the scenes of a sexual nature – shortly after we meet Eva and Peter, they suffer a tragedy that rings with subtle, tragic truth. For Peter and Eva, though, that screen chemistry comes naturally: they actually met in the National Theatre years ago.
“I fell in love with her during the process of rehearsing Closer, the play, so we had experience playing opposite each other,” reveals Daan.
“I really like to play with Bracha. It’s very relaxed,” he adds. “Certain things you don’t have to play certain things, that’s very nice, but I think that she’s very good – she’s a cool actress – so I enjoy playing with her as much as possible.”
So who’s the better actor? “Of course she is! She is. Of course,” teases Daan. “I can hear she’s in the kitchen and I know she’s listening to our conversation, so I’ve got to say she’s the better actress. She really is. Although I can hold my own!”
Does that familiarity, both personally and professionally, make it easier or harder to play a couple on-screen, especially in such complex and intimate situations?
“I actually thought it was easy,” reflects Bracha. “You know each other, so you have this comfort with each other, so you trust each other in a certain way. Sometimes, when you’re acting it can be a little uncomfortable for certain scenes, but no, I really liked it.”
The bedroom scenes were uncomfortable, but for a completely different reason, she notes.
“Those are the scenes I disliked the most, because you think ‘Oh, people will think we’re like this’ [Laughs] But, of course, our characters were very different from us.”
Was that ever a part of the show’s development? Making the characters more or less similar to them in real life?
Bracha says there was “no need for interfering” in the script.
“When we said it would be nice to do, they started writing, so we were actually involved in it from the beginning,” she continues. “Which was really nice, because normally, you get the script and it’s all done and it’s not very far in advance, but we had the time to read it and sit down with the writers and they went on. It’s based on the book, but also new characters are added, so it’s not exactly the same story. They made a really nice thing out of it.”
And yet the similarities do seem quite striking at times. The couple actually moved around one a half years ago, from Amsterdam to a smaller town outside. Did they get weird looks from their actual neighbours when they moved in?
“No, they didn’t, but when we moved after the first season, the thought crossed my mind. ‘I don’t know if they’ve seen the show…'”
Being involved from the beginning of the project is something that Bracha clearly enjoys a lot – she recently worked with a Dutch department store to design three lines of clothing.
“It was really nice, I really liked it, because I was involved from the beginning and it was really fun to do,” she says. But it took so much time that it’s not on the table for now.
Daan, meanwhile, has tried has hand at directing. There’s a sense of creative drive behind both of them, even as they chat in such a laid-back fashion about their work. Compared to Bellicher alone, the versatility in Daan’s performances is impressive. Is that variety something he deliberately seeks out?
“Oh yeah, oh yeah, absolutely. Peter, he’s a bit dull, and Michael had to run. He just had to run!” reflects Daan. “The transformation is nice, I always look for other characters. That’s one of the nicer aspects of the business, I think.”
While their careers become more varied, they’re both working in an industry that’s undergoing a major transformation: Bellicher was released online as a box set on Walter Presents last year, while The Swingers premieres on Channel 4 at 10pm, before the whole box set is released on All 4’s streaming platform. The rise of streaming is taking place across the continent too.
“I think it’s developing more and more,” says Bracha. “I know in Holland we’re making much more TV shows that are only for online. It’s a becoming a big market.”
“I like that the standard of TV drama is getting higher and higher,” agrees Daan. “Of course, it all started years ago with 24 and The Sopranos, but you couldn’t binge-watch then. You could buy the boxes on DVD. But it was great to watch several episodes and get in the thick of it. But it’s nice. It’s good for the business as well.”
It’s telling, perhaps, that the word “binge-watch” is the same here as it is in the Netherlands. Indeed, while Bracha and Daan’s neighbours might be imagining all kinds of things about what they’re up to behind closed curtains, the couple in real life are more likely to be raising their children – or watching things on Netflix.
What do they stream?
“We have three kids, so Netflix is only on Kids for most of the time!” laughs Bracha.
“We’re actually trying out the one with Winona Ryder, which I hear is really good,” she adds.
“Stranger Things,” says Daan. “We love House of Cards as well. But we have a very busy family life. We have to start binge-watching more!”
The Swingers premieres at 10pm on Channel 4 on Thursday 23rd February. The whole season is then available to stream on Walter Presents.