• Industry

A Conversation with Erik Van Looy on his Perfect Timing

Nineteen years, that’s how long it took to do a remake of the Belgian movie De Zaak Alzheimer. In Memory, directed by Martin Campbell, we get to see Liam Neeson as an assassin-for-hire who becomes the target himself after he refuses to complete a job for a dangerous criminal organization. In an exclusive interview, Erik Van Looy, who helmed the original from 2003, told HFPA journalist Kristien Gijbels that he couldn’t be happier with the end result: “The fact that my name is attached to another Hollywood movie, is an absolute dream come true.”


“Nineteen years may seem like a long time, but it’s actually not that unusual,” Van Looy opened our interview. “Often times you have to wait for the right moment to find the right actor or wait until a pandemic has passed.” The Belgian revealed that numerous actors and directors were in talks to do the movie, but that for years, things just didn’t seem to line up: “Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino and Morgan Freeman have all been approached or showed interest at some point, but we had to wait for the right moment to actually make the movie. Liam Neeson turned out to be the right actor at the right time. He’s perfect for the title role. Twenty years ago, he would not have been able to play the main character, just because he wouldn’t be old enough. So, I’m really glad it worked out this way.”

“It’s a really great cast,” the Belgian director added. “They also did an amazing job modernizing the script. They got everything right from the original, and then they added a lot more action to it. Mine was a melancholic drama with some thriller elements to it, Memory is a popcorn action thriller. It’s just what people needed after all this ‘covid shizzle’.”

Van Looy knows a thing or two about perfect timing. The original De Zaak Alzheimer’    took about 15 years to make. “It took almost as long to make the original then it took to do the remake. I remember that at one point, we had a script and cast ready that we were really excited about… and then ‘Memento’ came out. We immediately decided it would be a bad idea to go ahead with our release, because we were afraid that people were going to think we copied everything from them. We put the whole thing on hold and didn’t proceed until three years later. The ironic thing about it is that Guy Pierce played the main character in Memento and that he’s now doing Memory.”

“In Hollywood, things take a very long time to get the ball rolling,” Van Looy continued. “Focus Features originally acquired the rights, but the project just sat there for years. They were supposed to get Clint Eastwood on board to direct, but he backed out because the rewrites differed too much from the original. At least, that’s what I heard. Unless you are doing a DC or Marvel movie, this is just to be expected. Most of the time, you just have to sit around and wait.” Van Looy noted that director Martin Campbell was the one who ultimately set things in motion: “He was really interested in the project. He had been attached to it for seven or eight years and really pushed to get the green light. He took the whole thing very seriously, otherwise you don’t go looking for a big cast like this. I’m pretty sure none of it would have been possible without Campbell’s determination. I couldn’t be happier with a director like him. Campbell is an extraordinary action movie director. Casino Royal is the best James Bond movie from the past thirty years.”

The team from Memory set up an advanced screening for Van Looy and the producers: “We watched the movie in Ghent. I really appreciate that Campbell sent us a version of the movie that we were able to watch in theaters. That was such a nice thing for him to do. He wanted to know our opinion, so one of the producers called him up afterwards. I totally get it: when you’re doing a remake, it’s always nice to get the blessing of the guys who did the original. He sure has mine,” he added with a grin.

Van Looy turned 60 the day before Memory released. “The release softened the blow (of getting older), because my name appears in the opening credits. I tried to take a screenshot of it during the screening, but it came out too blurry. I’d have to go back and watch it again, just so I can take a better picture,” he laughed. “But in all seriousness: this is such a dream come true for a guy like me from Borgerhout (a neighborhood in Antwerp). I’m so proud that my movie made it to Hollywood and that it’s getting a worldwide release. I don’t care if it’s going to be a flop or that it turns out to be a big box office hit. Just the sheer fact that this happened and that it happened with Liam Neeson on board, makes me very, very happy.”

Throughout the years, Van Looy – who directed Loft’ in 2015 – has been getting multiple offers to direct movies in Hollywood, but the Belgian is no longer interested in a career overseas. “Hollywood used to be my favorite city, but I have other priorities now. I host a really fun quiz show on Belgian tv (De Slimste Mens Ter Wereld) I have everything I need. I have no interest in living out of a suitcase again. Been there, done that.” 

Nonetheless, the director has very fond memories of his travels to Tinseltown, from his first vacation with his grandparents when he was just fourteen years old, to dinners with Keanu Reeves, Kevin Costner and Katie Holmes. In fact, Van Looy has so many stories that he wrote a theater show about it, named Verslaafd (Addicted in Dutch, referring to his love and ‘addiction’ to movie stars.) “Being a director in Hollywood was like a fairytale. Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn once invited me over to their house. Goldie made lentil soup for me. Those thirty minutes that I heard her shuffling pots and pans in the kitchen, were the best thirty minutes of my life. I said, ‘Erik, you f*cking made it!’ I was absolutely delighted… until I tasted the soup! (Laughs) All jokes aside, I’m forever grateful for all those unique moments I got to experience as a filmmaker in Hollywood.”