Are Wil and Lode Based on Real Antwerp Police Officers?

Netflix’s ‘Will’ is a war drama that follows the story of two police officers who land themselves in a tight spot after accidentally killing a Nazi officer. Wilfried Wils and Lode Metdepenningen are on the lowest rung in the Antwerp police force. During the Nazi occupation of the country, their hands are tied, and they are forced to do whatever is asked of them by the SS officers. Wil and Lode, however, get entangled in a very tricky situation, which only makes things worse with time. Considering their arc in the story, one can’t help but wonder if they are based on real people.

Wil and Lode are Based on Real Nazi Collaborators During WWII

‘Will’ is a fictional story based on the novel of the same name by Jeroen Olyslaegers. While the author concocted this story in his mind, he based it on the things he’d heard or read about the collaborators during the Second World War. A couple of things made him want to write this story, which explores the moral and ethical dilemma in the time of war and how it affects a person’s psyche. The first thing that made him ponder on this topic was his grandfather.

Olyslaegers’s grandfather was a collaborator during Belgium’s Nazi Occupation, and unlike most collaborators, he never shied away from talking about it. Over the years, Olyslaegers heard many stories from his grandpa, who called himself an “idealist” and justified why he became a collaborator. He would pose the question, what would you have done, or say, you don’t know because you weren’t there when asked why he chose to collaborate. When the war ended, his grandfather was sent to prison and became a free man in 1947.

Another thing that caught Olyslaegers’s attention was an invitation from a history professor called Herman van Goethem. He had invited the author and other non-experts like him to study a police report from the summer of 1942, in which the officer described the rounding up of Jews by the Nazi forces and the Antwerp police’s participation in it. The details from this report make it into the final scene of the movie when the Jewish population in the street is pulled out of their homes.

It was quite a terrible thing to read, but it made Olyslaegers wonder why someone would do such a thing and write an entire report, implicating themselves in a crime they’ll later have to answer for. It made also made him step into the mind of that police officer and consider the situation, asking himself why that man and others like him would agree to such a thing. This is what made him choose two police officers to be the center of the story in ‘Will.’

Another thing that Olyslaegers wanted to emphasize through his characters was the timelessness of their situation. He stated that while ‘Will’ takes place during the Second World War, it is not so different from what is going on in the world today, and how a lot of us are choosing to be collaborators or silent witnesses, who’ll later be asked by their future generations why they didn’t speak up or why they didn’t do enough to stop what was clearly an evil unfolding in front of them. Wilfried, in the story, also has to answer for this, and that’s where his narration and the tone in which he tries to justify his actions come in.

When it came to preparing for the role, actors Stef Aerts and Matteo Simoni read Olyslaegers’ book to know more about their characters. Aerts revealed that he took lessons from a dialect coach to get his accent right but also tried not to come too prepared, as advised by the director, Tim Mielants, who wanted his actors to be clean slates so they could allow the characters to evolve organically with the story.

Considering all this, it is clear that the characters in ‘Will’ are not based on any specific people but are rather a combination of people at the time, morphed into one to give the audience as deep an exploration of morality and survival as possible. While Olyslaegers’ grandfather was one of the stepping stones to the story, he isn’t specifically an inspiration for the characters of Wilfried Wils and Lode Metdepenningen. Instead of picking one real person and following his story, the author chose to take the fictional route to get to the heart of the matter and put the audience into the shoes of his very real characters.

Read More: Will (2024): Where Was the Netflix Movie Shot?