Gay movie heartthrob Felix Maritaud talks about his role in the new Sauvage/Wild
We’ve seen a whole lot of Felix Maritaud in gay cinema circles lately. Over the past few years alone, he’s had prominent roles in BPM (Beats Per Minute), Boys, Knife+Heart and the gay short film collection Male Shorts: International V2. You’d think we would be sick of him by now, but we simply can’t get enough. Between his smoldering good looks and his intense and committed performances, we’re consistently excited to see what he’ll do next.
A premiere at last year’s Cannes Film Festival his new film, Sauvage/Wild takes us on the riveting and vibrant erotic journey of a 22-year-old male prostitute named Leo – who trades in love as much as lust and wanders through his life without rules or restrictions. Through a series of encounters that offer a glimpse into the complicated and visceral world of male sex work, Leo finds himself searching for affection anywhere he can get it – whether it’s the unrequited love for his hustler friend Ahd (Eric Bernard) or in the arms of an older, vulnerable client. Will Leo choose his freedom and the dangers that come with it, or the comforts of a stable relationship? After all, in this unpredictable world, who knows where he’ll end up?
INTERVIEW WITH FRENCH ACTOR FELIX MARITAUD
Tell us a little about Leo…
Leo is a young man who is really free and very much in love. In love with a capital “L”. I’d go so far as to use “Agape”, the term referring to unconditional love.
His freedom also involves a form of loneliness.
His freedom lies in the fact that his body is not bound by a productive system, be it higher education, a job, a mortgage, etc. His loneliness is due to his belonging to a section of society that is thoroughly marginalized and precarious. Today nobody lives in such a primal way. He doesn’t need a cellphone to contact people, he gets by on his own with his body, his presence, his luck. With Camille we have worked a great deal on animality. Leo catches things almost as though it were always the very first time. The way he physically reacts is very direct, very much head-on. There is a kind of instantaneous consciousness about him, nothing is ever calculated, manipulated, or systematic.
Would you say that your character is always on the receiving end?
Yes, he is, but this does not necessarily have an effect on him. He merely happens to be there, much like a drop of water among the waves. He experiences such powerful things in a simple way. Therefor for him to feel an emotion, experiences must be very strong. And indeed, there are in the film some strong emotions, moments of huge distress. I think the character is able to withdraw himself from the world, from sociability, from empathy towards people, and yet, paradoxically, he gives himself relentlessly. No sooner do his eyes fall upon something than some goodwill, or even some naivety arise. Even when he is looking at his plants, he finds some love there. Anyway, this is what he instills and spreads around him.
How would you describe the complex relationship between Leo and his friend Ahd?
You can feel that they are bound together by the same story, they’ve known each other for a long time. Leo is in awe of Ahd, in a somewhat sickly way, whereas Ahd doesn’t know what he wants. In some way they are opposite characters: Leo is always open and completely selfless, while Ahd keeps repeating he is not a faggot and is always in control.
How important are drugs in Leo’s life?
They just are there, it’s as simple as that. Some people will eat a chocolate croissant in the morning, just because one day in their lives they happened to be with people who eat chocolate croissants for breakfast. The same goes for Leo and drugs. They were there around him, the way they are in the woods among the boys. Once he got started with them it became a habit, part and parcel of his weekly routine.
How did you approach this unfathomable character?
I got into the film with slightly preconceived notions, since I had already studied in art school topics like queer, gender, the link between sexuality, the body, and society. Anyway, I had a very intellectualized view of the world of prostitution and the political issues connected to it. Ultimately when I played the character, at some point I let him take over, I was no longer responsible at all for what my body was doing. Camille was of great help as to let the character lead the way. He would guide me and did not leave me alone. There was this one scene though, halfway through shooting, when I lost control. I was so focused, there was such intensity. In the next couple of days, I was a little scared this might happen again, but Camille was around to help me find my way. The challenge with this character was like taking a devastated landscape and kindle a flame in the middle that would lighten up the rest. It could be said that what is unfathomable comes from the outside, and that Leo breaks this by making everything thoroughly humane. When we started working on the character, we felt that we absolutely had to make him very radiant, otherwise it would have been too depressing for everyone. And politically, it would have been wrong to devise a character who would have been the archetype of the guy who feels unwell. What we did was the opposite: everything goes badly in this guy’s life, but he remains flamboyant and luminous, come hell or high water.
Did you bring anything from your personal life, like clothes for instance, to create the character?
When you’re an actor, you arrive on set with everything that makes you who you are. You don’t bring like a selection of yourself, you’re totally open and available. So, surely, I did bring some stuff that belonged to me, for instance tattoos, or the shoes that Leo wears in the film. At the end of shooting, I left this pair of trainers in Strasbourg in the open! I’m lucky enough to be working with people that respect what I am and my viewpoint on things.
Did you have any reservations about the shooting, considering how bodies really take center stage in the film?
In art school, I had worked a great deal on the use of bodies and sexuality for political ends, not only in theoretical terms, but also through actual performances. This way of ridding the body of its inhibitions helped me to approach the character. What is interesting is that the sexuality displayed in the film is not about sensuality, but rather about the productivity of a sexual body. I was also involved in some dance workshops with a choreographer, Romano Bottinelli, who had me work on the act of falling, on weightlessness, how you align your body, etc. It helped me a great deal to set things in order. It allowed me to be there, to be present in my body, to give life to the character. My body would become a mediating element, and Camille guided me through this. At the end of shooting, I had a little rebellious phase, this came after six weeks when I had spent most of my time being tampered with, being rejected, thrown to the ground, groped… Maybe I felt the same kind of saturation that Leo himself felt, this form of interconnection between reality and fiction is bound to arise when you do a film.
Before Sauvage, in which you play the main part, you had played in BPM (Beats Per Minute), a film based on the contrary on collective values.
When we made BPM, I didn’t know what acting, or creating a character meant. Robin Campillo hired me because when we met, the person I was corresponded to the essence of the character he had in mind. I played an absolute activist, we didn’t know anything about his feelings or his personal life. Whereas with Sauvage, it was a genuine character study. I’m really different from Leo, for instance I make jokes every five minutes, but I love him very much anyway.
After such an intense shooting, did you feel like you had made a huge step forward as an actor?
When you experience such strong emotions on a shooting, naturally you think that you won’t always find so fascinating characters. Because I am really passionate about Leo, he is an oddball, a parasite. I remember the last hours of the shooting, it was really moving because, of course, I was aware of what we had just accomplished. That shooting taught me a lot about the relationship you can build with a character, and a director. Camille is a really demanding director, he knows exactly what he wants, sometimes he went as far as to tell me how to pronounce some words. So when you work with someone like that, you’re bound to make progress. I also felt a lot of gratitude, when I realized that my body could be used to give life to a body abandoned by the world, like Leo’s. From the end of the shooting until today, I have felt as though I was taking a leap into the unknown, with a ghost behind me. It took me two to three months to let go of Leo, or rather for him to let me go.