Schoenaerts, 41, still lives in Antwerp, Belgium, where he was born, preferring to “step in and hop out” of Los Angeles, he said in a phone interview. But distance hasn’t kept Hollywood at bay. He’ll soon appear in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Laundromat,” about the Panama Papers, and Terrence Malick’s “Radegund,” about the Austrian conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter.
During a break from shooting Jérémie Guez’s mob drama, “The Sound of Philadelphia,” Schoenaerts spoke about prison reform and why he wants to kick people in the heart.
Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
How did you prepare for this grueling role?
From an actor’s perspective, it’s a hell of a scary part. You can only put as much heart in as you can. Over the course of a year and a half, we went to visit four maximum security prisons, having long conversations with longtime inmates to get a sense of what it is to have a life in there — and what it is to maybe, after so long, have a life outside of it. And a lot of extras in the movie are former inmates that were part of that [WHIP] program, so we felt that we were constantly connected with the truth of the subject.
I can’t imagine that they let you in the corral with some of those very spirited horses.
We had three different energies of horses. There was one that was freshly broken and one that was already properly trained and then one that was about to be broken. Of course, for safety purposes, they couldn’t take the risk of me getting smashed by the horse. I was ready to do it all, but I think production didn’t really love that concept.
Seven years ago, after the double punch of “Bullhead” and “Rust and Bone,” there was a lot of talk about your Hollywood breakthrough. Now you’re working with Steven Soderbergh and Terrence Malick. Have you finally arrived?