Up Close With Willem De Schryver: “I Want To Change The World!”

The new generation of media personalities has the power to change our society and perspective on life and tries to use their influence for the good. In collaboration with Tommy Jeans, we portrayed five influential frontrunners and had an introspective talk about their personal motives, views on our society, and future plans. We already had an intersting talk with Flo Windey, Chris Bogaert, Chrostin and Miss Angel. Next up: upcoming actor Willem De Schryver.

Willem De Schryver is only 19 years old but is already one of the most popular upcoming actors in Belgium. Thanks to his sublime performance in the Belgian web series WTFock, he gained popularity among teenagers and became a symbol of following your dreams. In his first-ever interview, we talked about his development as an actor, the power of social media, and above all, his immense passion for acting.

You just finished filming your first TV-series, the Flemish series Déjà-vu. How was this new experience for you?

It was a very interesting project, and I’m very grateful that I was able to work on it this summer. Corona made shooting a little bit difficult because we had to be extremely careful, and we were tested a lot. We even had to stop shooting for a couple of days, and the schedule changed a few times, but it was definitely an unforgettable experience to work on this big project.

I believe that the story of the show will please a big audience and many will recognize themselves in it. There’s a good twist to it, so it’s absolutely not an ordinary plot about dramatic situations.

What kind of characters do you think are more interesting? Those close to your own personality or the ones where you have to leave your comfort zone?

I think it’s important to make a difference between acting for theater and acting in front of a camera. When I have a theater play, I love to think about details like how my character walks, how he shakes hands, or what kind of accent he has. I like to explore how I can shape the character and invest all my creativity in it.

“I like to explore how I can shape the character and invest all my creativity in it”

Acting in front of a camera is another cup of tea. The two projects I already did were very different. It’s very interesting and challenging to portray someone who differs a lot from your own personality. I always try to think about how I can reflect my way of thinking in the character. I immerse myself in the environment of the persona and contemplate the methods I can use to be as natural as possible.

On the other hand, a film role close to your own personality is very comfortable and is a bit more relaxing to play because you don’t overthink too much. It doesn’t always have to be the easy road, but choosing between the two options is tough.

What is the other big difference between performing on stage and being on set?

In movies and series, they can zoom in on a couple of aspects of a story. You’re very flexible to choose a point of view with a camera and can anticipate the emotions of the viewer. Every movement can be smaller and subtler but can have a great effect. Only a look in your eyes can, for example, show that you love someone while you have to express yourself with words in a theater piece. That’s probably the greatest power of television and screens.

“I love the interaction with a real audience”

Theater is, for me, very thrilling and compelling and gives me so much adrenaline. You only have one shot and it’s just make it or break it. When you forget your monologue, you have to improvise, and I love that suspense. I also love the interaction with a real audience because applause can show so much appreciation and is so rewarding for the effort you put into it.

You’re currently studying Drama in Ghent. How do these studies help you to develop as an actor?

Once again, there’s a difference between television and theater. For television, I believe that experiences are very important for your artistic expansion. My studies are focused on theater, and I’m very thankful that I can follow all these lessons. I learn, for example, how I can write creatively or how I can define the scenography of my piece. Those different aspects, that are taught separately, coincide in the end because all these little pieces are an important part of the puzzle. I feel that I’m learning things that will forever accompany me in my career as an actor.

Our current situation challenged creatives to find new ways to reach an audience. Do you sometimes ponder about innovative ways to tell a story?

People think way more out of the box and question if you have to perform in a classic theater environment with an audience, a stage, lights, etc. Corona is the ideal moment to rethink storytelling by doing it, for example, from your home with a camera and text. It allows you to reach people that might not come to a theater hall.

It’s challenging to attract people that have never been to a theater because they often have prejudices and don’t know the beauty of theater. That’s why I think it’s interesting to break the traditional way open and look for new circumstances to perform like on the street or in a park. Maybe that can ignite a fire for theater and the arts.

You write pieces yourself. What are they mostly about?

I must admit that the things I write are amateurish and are mostly for myself or my studies. I enjoy writing about things that happen to me. I try to put myself in the perspective of, for example, a woman I see on the street. Recently, I had a task where I had to write about a leaf that fell from a tree and was surprised by the number of directions you could go in. I try to not limit myself when I write.

What does a plot need to be interesting to you?

I don’t think a story needs to be thrilling and can be quite heavy and shallow. I like stories that are capturing moments or sentiments we witness or feel in our daily life. I want people to recognize themselves in the story, even if it’s turned into something artistic, and that it resonates. My goal is that the viewer leaves the venue as a new human and that it has a lasting impact on them.

I know it’s a utopian thought, but I want to change the world. Artists have the power to change our society and help people to get an insight into their life which may help them to be better people. I deplore that the arts aren’t appreciated like it should be, especially because initiatives like theater can break taboos and create new mindsets.

Speaking of creating new mindsets, your final thesis at high school was a very personal piece about your parents’ divorce. Did that help you conclude a chapter in your life?

When I was in my last year, I had to make an important decision between continuing with drama or studying something different. Thanks to this piece, I became aware that acting was what I am born for.

In terms of the story of the piece, the divorce of my parents, I don’t think I’ll ever have closure. It will always affect me and every decision I will make as a person. I told this story as the kid of divorced parents because I want to raise more awareness about it. I don’t want to generalize at all, but I often have the feeling that people think that a divorce is the easy way out. I understand that it sometimes simply doesn’t work out but children are often forgotten in that process.

“The divorce of my parents will always affect me”

I was six when my parents divorced, and I noticed that I couldn’t move on until I was seventeen. When I made this piece and ended my performance. I stood there with tears in my eyes because I was so moved by the applause. I saw my brother and friends in the audience with tears, and I felt that we were all united in that specific moment.

The situation was never convenient, but the performance made me feel as if everything was like I was used to; that we were reunited as a family. It was great to sense that emotion, and it surely had a huge impact on me. The whole experience partially closed a chapter in my life, but I think that the book will always remain open.

You have a very fanatic fanbase. Are you surprised that there’s a whole community build around you?

It is sometimes shocking because your privacy sometimes vanishes but, on the other hand, it’s also a confirmation that people like your work. It’s cool to see that people are convinced of your talent and see potential in you, but it was quite overwhelming to get so much response. On social media, it’s very easy to get negative feedback, and I sometimes struggle with that. You can get 50.000 messages telling you how good you are, but it’s the one negative comment that keeps spinning in your head for two weeks.

Social media is something very powerful. It can be very positive and create connections between people but it’s also very dangerous. We have to be careful because people might forget how hurtful their comments can be and how deep it can hit even though it isn’t said in your face.

You became an idol for a lot of teenagers. What kind of message do you want to bring across?

It’s a privilege for me to have a platform where I can address topics that should get more attention, in my opinion. Especially when I want to change something or create something theatrical, it’s nice to have a fanbase that backs you up. When I think of a specific message I want to stand for — it might sound very cliché — it is that you should follow your dreams. I’m definitely not the only one giving this advice but it’s really true. Clichés exist for a reason.

“You need a positive ‘fuck it’ attitude”

Everyone is put on this earth to walk a certain path and, even when that path has winds, heights, and lows, it will still lead you to a place where you can, possibly, find happiness. Maybe it’s not now, but that moment will come. That’s probably the vicious circle of life where every low is followed by a high and the other way around.

I suggest you put on your best walking shoes and walk this path as optimistic as possible. Everyone that tries to hinder you: fuck them because it’s your path. You have to see that you love yourself, that you do what you want to do, and that you don’t get influenced by the expectations of others. You need a positive “fuck it” attitude, and I’m sure everyone is able to hunt for their dreams.

Willem is wearing sneakers, jeans, hoodie and oversized shirt from the latest collection of Tommy Jeans.

Photography by Ines Vansteenkiste-Muylle
Productionstyling and creative direction by ENFNTS TERRIBLES StudioDries Vriesacker
Makeup and hair by Gladys Ferro
Interview and text by Maxim Meyer-Horn, assisted by Nelke Roose
Photography assistant: Syntyche Boda

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