In this series, we explore the portrait of Vera Bulder. Vera is a multi-talented model, actress, and culturally, a hybrid: although proud of her Dutch roots, her story as a woman has also been shaped by being part of the dazzling spiral of the modelling industry in New York and LA from an early age. She is represented by talent management NO agency NYC and Abrams Artists, as well as LA Models. Besides acting, she is currently working on adapting her first stage play. In this story, Elina Nova, a Russian born photographer who has been working in Amsterdam, LA and NYC for the past decade, captures Vera in an intimate setting that also speaks volumes of their close creative friendship. We discuss the meaning of femininity, the challenges of today’s modelling industry and Vera’s connection with environmentalism.
Words: Hanna-Amanda Pant
You are an actress. What allures you most about the field of acting and the film industry?
I love acting for several reasons, the main one being that it allows me to live my truest split personality life, haha! I've always felt like I'm a hundred different people. One day, I'll feel very timid and quiet, but the next, I can be loud and almost obnoxious. Acting allows me to inhabit the spirit and character of all kinds of people. I also love studying human behaviors, their movements, speech and accents, and want to be able to mimic them all. I'm a real parrot.
Tell us more about your latest appearance.
I play this American junkie in "de Libi", a Dutch feature coming out this summer. The entertainment industry is very tight knit in Holland, so you often end up working with the same people. It's fun that it's small and more intimate, but it also means there’s fewer roles available. Since my American English is so believable, I've always wanted to try have an acting career in the US, so that's what I've been working toward in the past 6 years.
Personally, I truly admire Emma Westenberg's legacy. How was it working with the film maker?
Emma actually "discovered" me a few years back. She saw a picture of me with a buzzcut online and put me in a music video after that. We have been working together ever since and she's become a close friend. She is kind of a loose cannon and creative Einstein: she's incredibly smart and I admire her work immensely. It's been incredible watching her blow up. We'll work together again soon!
“Is there ever a right time or place to be "ready", even if there is such a thing?”
You are also working on your own first stage play. Share with us the story overview in a nutshell.
My dad starred in the dutch adaptation of this play about a year ago, and I was completely blown away by the story. It's based on a Dutch novel and years later adapted for the stage, which was the play my dad ended up doing. I knew the world had to see this play, so I started working on translating and adapting it for the American stage. It is set in mid-nineteenth century France, and revolves around a young woman suffering from mental and addiction issues. The subject matter is timeless and it's and incredible role for any actress to really sink their teeth into. I don't want to give away too much yet, but I'm very exited about it!
You started modelling at the early age of 17 and moved to NYC from Amsterdam. What are some of the hardest parts about modeling work that perhaps no one wants to talk about? And then again, what are some of the best things you've learned from being in the industry?
I started modelling when I was fourteen actually, back home in Amsterdam. I moved to NYC at seventeen after graduating high school early. I wanted to go to acting school, but I felt I was still a bit too young, so I decided to take a gap year and go to America. That kind of turned into a seven year gap year! Modelling really isn't hard, anyone that says so is exaggerating, in my opinion. It’s the easiest job in the world, but sometimes the days are long and it can get boring. The main thing I've taken away from it, though, is that you always have to speak your mind on set when it comes to personal space and comfort. It works in everyone's favour to know where you're at, and it saves time not having to beat around the bush about stuff. If you don't like your clothes or make up, suggest an edit. If you need a break, take one. And if you're not comfortable doing something, speak up, and don't do it. As long as you communicate these things, and don't get mopey or bratty about it, everyone's job is much easier at the end of the day.
“I'm glad to see people of colour being represented more in fashion. I was on set with Nike in Uruguay last year, and was the only white model there. In that moment, I did feel that times are changing for the better and that was a very special shoot to me.”
What's your relationship with your own body - have you overcome your own body image challenges when being constantly judged and looked at? What do you think, have there been any positive changes eliminating sexism from the industry thanks to activism work lately?
I've worked with creepy photographers. It's happened a few times at the start of my career, where people felt inclined to take advantage of my inexperience. Fortunately, I've always been lucky enough to get myself out of iffy situations. For a while, I tried to be skinny, but gave up when that proved to be very hard: it’s hard for me to lose weight, but also to gain it. I naturally have wide set Dutch hips, but also a fast metabolism. I'm glad to see change in the industry, but more importantly I'm glad to see people of colour being represented more in fashion. I was on set with Nike in Uruguay last year, and was the only white model there. In that moment, I did feel that times are changing for the better and that was a very special shoot to me. Change surely is happening.
“I've always felt like I'm a hundred different people.”
A complex issue I've recently discussed with a few key people. What's your opinion (especially based on the modeling industry) - does being beautiful give people any advantages when going through life? (e.g. getting a job)
It definitely does. People want to be friends with beautiful people, be liked by them, it's a tale as old as time. On the other end, people are often under impression that models/handsome people are not smart. I meet people all the time that turn up their nose when they hear I am model. All I can think when that happens is; well, who really is the stupid one here?
You've recently collaborated with Elina Nova and shot these mesmerizing portraits we're featuring. What was the mood you wanted to capture on set that the viewer could identify with?
Elina is so good! She really knows how to capture a good, classic image. She is very focused on lighting, so I feel like that's always our starting point, and we kinda just go from there. We get along very well and have know each other for years, so when we shoot it’s catch-up time, too. We just hang out and take some pictures, and they always turn out great, because she is.
You are also an environmentalist. How does it reflect in your fashion choices? How can we make sure we opt for more eco-conscious choices and harm the planet less in our pursuit to look good? Share your best shopping tips.
For two years now I've shopped ‘nothing new’. I've always loved hunting for great vintage or used pieces. It's definitely a hobby of mine. And of course, the less I pay, the better the kill. I do invest in nice sustainable pieces by ethical designers, like Mara Hoffman, Stella McCartney, Reformation and even American Apparel. The Good Trade was a great place for me to start, they have dozens of articles dedicated to sustainable brands, in every clothing and accessory category possible. Whatever you're looking for, they know of someone that makes it, completely ethically produced. So, even if vintage or used clothing isn't your thing; there is still ways to chose clothes that have don't impact our planet the way fast fashion does. My other big shopping secrets are Depop and Ebay. It's so fun to look for things on there, for instance, if there's a specific shoe that i love but have worn out, I'm very likely to find another pair in those places. And you often end up paying far less.
Personal growth is a topic that deeply interests me, and I've lately come across the following quote "The ghosts of all the women you used to be are all so proud of who you have become". Would you have a personal story to share with us linked to how you have evolved as a woman during your multi-dimensional artistic years as a model, actress, writer and environmentalist?
Moving to NYC at 17 all by myself pushed me to start figuring things out on my own pretty quickly. Looking back at that time, I'm not totally sure if I was ready to live in foreign country and city without a job, much money or real place to live. But then again, is there ever a right time or place to be "ready", even if there is such a thing? My parents trusted me enough to let me go off on my own, but not all of their friends supported them in that. It was hard trying to adjust to New York, I didn't know anybody. It was a huge cultural shock, too. I'd never seen a city that highly paced and bursting with energy. It can be ridiculously wealthy, but extreme poverty lies literally just around the corner. It was almost like I had to re-raise myself in a way. Today, I'm sort of stuck between feeling like a European, Dutch woman, and a woman that had to find her way in NYC at a young age by herself. It isn't always easy, i find myself asking who I identify with most, and the answer lies somewhere in the middle. But as I get older, I feel more and more connected to my roots and my people in Amsterdam. As much as I love New York and LA, I will for sure move back at some point, in some capacity.
Share some of your future projects, hopes and dreams with us. What are the big things awaiting next?
I will promise you, one day I'll be a super hero, or super villain in a Marvel movie. Preferably a character with a long story line, so I can shoot several movies (laughs). There's something about that franchise that fascinates me, it's so highly entertaining to so many people. I would love to be a part of that. I also want to do a TV show and star in a play. And learn Italian and sign language. Oh, and I'll take a house in the south of France with four dogs please! A girl can dream...