Gustav De Waele: ‘Everyone at school sympathized with the Oscar nomination’

Monday night is here. Then we will know whether the young Brussels actor Gustav De Waele can raise the Oscar for best foreign film. At home, cinema is in the genes and the reaction to the unexpected breakthrough of the 14-year-old is remarkably sober. A conversation with father and son. “If it doesn’t work out in the film world, there are still so many things that I’m interested in.”

  • Born in 2008 in Ixelles
  • Lives in Schaarbeek with his parents, younger brother Edgar (13) and older sister Marthe (17)
  • 2014-2020: Municipal primary school Everheide, Evere
  • Follows direction Word at the Kunsthumaniora Laeken since 2020
  • After a workshop at BRONKS, auditions for Close in 2020 and gets the role of Rémi
  • Last week, the 300,000th Belgian visitor to the film was given flowers in Cinema Palace
  • Takes oboe lessons at the academy of Hoeilaart

The jet lag of his first trip to America is more or less gone after three days by Gustav De Waele (14) when we greet him at his parental home within walking distance of the town hall of Schaerbeek. But the impressions still linger richly. “What a difference with Brussels,” it sounds disarming when we ask the young actor – casual in an Adidas sweater on the sofa – about his spring break in Los Angeles. “Especially the enthusiasm was striking. In America they give much more compliments and there were long queues everywhere to say hello in person and ask for an autograph or photo. That took some getting used to.”

He used to see how Close was experienced from a Belgian or Western European point of view. “This time it was nice to be confronted with how Americans experience the film. Apparently they are quite different. (laughs) While the questions here were often about the message of the film, over there the focus was more on our acting performances. Together with my co-star Eden Dambrine, I also did some Zoom interviews with journalists from Asia and South America, because the film is coming out there now, and then we got another perspective. I found that all very instructive.”

The recent ‘working holiday’ was therefore a completely different experience than the red carpets of the film festivals. At the world premiere in Cannes, where Close won the Grand Prix, Gustav met his idol Tom Hanks. At the Césars he ran into Brad Pitt more recently. “John Savage, who in The Deer Hunter may not be such a sounding name, but he made for the most special moment of the week. When Eden and I get a compliment, we often giggle, but when he came to congratulate us with a very intense, serious look, we couldn’t help but be impressed. We were really enchanted by the way he told us that the world likes more movies Close need.”

Director Lukas Dhont emphasizes time and time again that the film is not only about the close friendship between two boys, but especially about how it comes under pressure when they learn the codes of adult society in high school, in which a man virility and certainly no sensuality and gentleness is expected. “If I hadn’t found that an important theme myself, I wouldn’t have taken part in the film,” Gustav says firmly. “The world is built up in boxes and stereotypes are in each of us. But we should try to avoid it and let people be who they want to be. Lukas shows that things can be done differently and deliberately reverses the roles. He makes my film father burst into tears to highlight the strength of my film mother.”

Special friend

“What I like about the film is that an innocent question from a girl (‘Are you a couple?’) starts the whole drama,” says Tonie De Waele, Gustav’s father, who follows the interview from a distance. . “She doesn’t do that with the intention of hurting anyone.” For example, Dhont subtly makes it clear that he does not divide the world into good guys and bad guys. Everyone gets gentle features, something that the young actors can also agree with. “Lukas thought it was important that his characters were an extension of their interpreters in terms of character. On the road with Eden I am the quietest anyway. Sometimes I talk a lot, but I’m more of a listener anyway. Like my character, I don’t need a lot of friends because I also like to be alone. But you do need at least one good friend with whom you can be completely yourself.”

© Saskia Vanderstichele

| At the age of twelve, Gustav decided to enroll at the art school for theater training. His teacher Oliver Roels, a good friend of Dhont’s, sent him an email after a workshop at Bronks asking if he would like to participate in the casting for Close.

Gustav was very excited that he could also involve another great love in the film with his oboe. He has been playing the wind instrument for eight years now. “You also play the oboe a lot alone. It’s less boulevard than acting, but just like in a role you have to get into it. The screenplay actually said I had to play the piano, but they changed that. So I didn’t have to take lessons for six months like Eden, who plays hockey in the film. (laughs) I thought it was great to bring something like myself into the film. Also because my oboe and – by extension – the wind are used to indicate that I am missed when I am not in the picture.”

After a year of word lessons at the academy – “just for fun” – Gustav decided at the age of twelve to enroll at the art school for a theater course. His teacher Oliver Roels, a good friend of Dhont’s, sent him an email after a workshop at Bronks asking if he would like to participate in the casting for Close.

In the final round, thirteen candidates remained for two roles. “It was really exciting, but getting to know Eden that day made me feel that a selection was in it. I don’t know what exactly happened there, but we immediately spent all our free moments together. In the final questionnaire we had to write down which person we liked the most in the world. We then filled each other in, even though we only knew each other for one day. By playing some intense scenes together, our bond made and I wanted Eden to get the part as much as I wanted to get the part. I think Lukas was also looking for two people who shared a real friendship, because that’s what the film is about.”

“When he came home from that last casting, I thought he was going to start talking about everything he should have done,” recalls father Tonie. “But the first thing he said was, ‘Daddy, I’ve made a new friend!’ At the time, of course, we didn’t know where all this would lead, but now I often think of that moment.”

1835 Gustav De Waele 1

© Saskia Vanderstichele

| Gustav De Waele was delighted that he was also able to involve another great love in the film with his oboe: “It is less bouleversant than acting, but just like in a role you have to get into it. The screenplay actually said I had to play the piano, but they changed that.”

Movie genes

For both parents, the sudden film career of their son is a curious life turn. After having been active in the world for years, they consciously made a career switch a few years ago. “I worked for the Film Archive (now Cinematek, ed.) for fifteen years and I am in second grade at De Kriek municipal school in Schaarbeek,” Tonie continues. “My wife Nathalie Schmitz worked for film distributors Progrès Films and Cinélibre and also for a while at the Film Archive. Now she teaches yoga and French in adult education.”

“We could hardly grasp that shortly after the casting Lukas was already revealing his scenario here in the living room. Of course we knew him Girl and his course with Victor Polster. By immediately telling us very recognizable things about Gustav’s character, he quickly convinced us of his good intentions and his psychological insight. Cinema hangs in our house, but it remains bizarre how this all turned out, regardless of our own trajectory. Both my wife and I have often been to Cannes for our job. Now we have been able to experience everything there from the other side. I had covid during the first screening of Close and saw it for the first time at the festival. I thought it was fantastic to be guided back into that world in that way. My wife has always continued to go to the cinema, but I had dropped out a bit. In Cannes we agreed to go again with the whole family every time a film comes into the theaters that was in competition with Close in Cannes and handing out our own stars.” (laughs)

1835 Gustav De Waele 5

© Saskia Vanderstichele

| Gustav De Waele, with his father Tonie: “When he came home from that last casting, I thought he would start talking about everything he should have done, but the first thing he said was: ‘Dad, I have a new friend made!’

On the recent trip to LA, Gustav and Eden had their mother with them. “The US film distributor insisted that a minor be accompanied by (one of) his parents, but we wouldn’t have let him go alone anyway,” continues Tonie. “It was also good for us to be able to step away from the film world for a while,” says Gustav, who recounts their joint trips to the Pacific, Universal Studios and the Walk of Fame. “I liked that last one overrated, but as a Billy Wilder fan, Sunset Boulevard was a highlight for me.” Like the local pancakes, as will be shown later, even though they taste completely different from here. “By the way, I suspect that Lukas, who was more stressed than us, was also enjoying our surprised look, because it was all new to us. Although after all this time he remains a very mysterious guest for us as well.” (laughs)

Hollywood the rest

Gustav realized very well in advance that this would not have been possible without an Oscar nomination. The anticipation of the announcement of the shortlist was therefore particularly great, also at the art schools, where everyone sympathized. “I had set my timer for the moment of truth the day before. When the other students heard ‘beep beep beep’ during dance class, they immediately knew what time it was. We started telling the good news in all classes, but that was actually no longer necessary, because everyone had been scrolling along.”

1835 Gustav De Waele 2

© Saskia Vanderstichele

| Gustav De Waele: “The anticipation of the announcement of the shortlist was therefore particularly great, also at the arts high school, where everyone sympathized. “The day before, I had set my timer to the moment of truth. beep’ during dance class, they immediately knew what time it was.”

“I don’t expect us to win the Oscar immediately,” Gustav is sober, with the strong competition from the German heavyweight All Quiet on the Western Front in mind. “Being nominated and being among all the big names in the film world is a victory in itself. I’m going to enjoy it and think of it as the end of a fairy tale that ends with ‘and they lived happily ever after’.”

The future doesn’t necessarily have to be in Hollywood for Gustav. “I will not turn down a new movie offer, but if it doesn’t work out in the movie world, there are still so many other things I’m interested in. It will be difficult to choose, because besides acting and playing the oboe I also find science and history very fascinating.”

“Actually, I want to know as much as possible. If I see a book about a theme that I know nothing about, I will often start leafing through it. I also have an eclectic taste in music, but today’s music doesn’t interest me. On the radio I listen to Classic 21 or Musiq3 and I’m a big fan of it Le Sacre du Printemps (Ballet music by Stravinsky, ed.). Now that my high school is focusing on arts subjects, my dad is giving me extra math and one of his co-workers is coming over to teach science. Although others tell me they find it boring, I just really want to know how the world works.”

The 95th Academy Awards will take place on the night of Monday, March 12 to Tuesday, March 13 at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Gustav Waele school sympathized Oscar nomination