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  • Tim Turner

The rise and rise of Félix Maritaud

(Félix Maritaud in Sauvage)

In the space of two years, French actor Félix Maritaud has become one of the most sought-after actors in Queer Cinema. After debuting with the hugely successful 120 BPM about the actions of ACT UP Paris at the height of the AIDS Crisis, he then starred in Queer tense thriller Boys, before featuring alongside Vanessa Paradis in Knife + Heart, which will be released in the UK later this year. Now, he appears as the lead in Sauvage, the story of a sex worker who refuses to abide by the same code as others working on the streets. The Pink Lens caught up with Félix to talk about his new film (which we reviewed as a full ***** last week) and his remarkable career so far.

You’ve had an amazing 2 years. How did you feel when 120 BPM won the Grand Prix at Cannes? Did you expect it to do so well?

All of the actors from the movie were aware of what we had done, but I was surprised that movie has had such a big life around the world and been so strong for French cinema this year.

It’s certainly been well received. Has the film’s success had any impact on your daily life?

I became an actor! Which was quite the change. Before 120 BPM I wasn’t an actor, I was just living my life being an artist, so it’s changed quite a lot. It’s quite strange to begin your career with the Grand Jury prize at Cannes.

You’ve been in three films nominated for the Queer Palm (with 120 BPM actually winning) in the last two years, do you worry about being typecast in gay roles?

I’ve done lots of gay roles and sometimes I think I have to try and do less gay roles, but in a way I feel like I should do gay roles because it’s important to play gay characters too. But it’s a decision that doesn’t belong to me and it’s not something I have to think about, because I have to think of my characters as human beings and not just as gay people.

(Félix Maritaud in 120 BPM)

In both Boys and Sauvage, you play an angry and wild character. Do you prefer this kind of role to playing someone more accessible?

I like great sensations and intensity in life, so maybe I do feel better doing a wild character. I have a lot of energy anyway, so maybe it’s better if I play characters who need a lot from their actor.

So it’s an extension of your own energies?

I read scripts and I fall in love with some characters. I try to make them human in movies. I just feel like I don’t fit in the mainstream.

What research did you do to prepare to play a sex worker in Sauvage?

I actually didn’t do a lot of research because I didn’t want to know what a normal street sex worker is like because my character is an outcast from their rules and doesn’t live by their code. The way I prepared for the movie was through my body: we were working through the scenes by feeling the emotions, by waiting, by doing things that don’t belong to psychology or society. It was just about feeling the emotions. And there were physical preparations too: dance workshops, choreography and trying to create the emotive landscape for the body of the character.

Do you think the film’s title refers more to your character or the society he’s living in?

I think the title refers to the dynamic and the energy of the movie, not the character. It’s a movie about this character, of course, but it’s about the energy; instinctive and of the moment. It’s describing the state of being.

(Félix Maritaud in Boys)

There are some pretty harrowing scenes in the movie. Were there any scenes that you felt uncomfortable with shooting?

No. If I had felt uncomfortable with any of the scenes then I would never have done the movie, but Camille (Vidal-Naquet, the director) wants to reassure his actors. I had to accept everything with this role because he’s a prostitute and he’s using his body to work. He distances himself from his body, so even if I did feel something I had to be respectful to my character and keep letting it go so I could feel the emotion. It’s always intense to shoot a movie and play a character, but you’re surrounded by people and you’re not on your own, so that makes it a really good experience.

Knife + Heart comes out in the UK later this year. What was it like working with Vanessa Paradis?

She’s really nice! She’s a really beautiful and nice person! She has this really tiny voice that is so cute, but she’s someone who is really human and poetic.

Did you take away any tips or guidance from working with her?

I feel lucky because she shared with me her story about entering the public domain when she was young. It was really nice to hear her own experience, but she always said “Don’t hear what other people say about you. You are the owner of yourself.” I think that’s good advice because when you’re shown as an actor, people are always talking about you and if you listen, it can change your artistic way of working.

(Félix Maritaud in Knife + Heart)

You’ve been heralded as the “new hero of French Queer Cinema” in the pages of Têtu. What has been your reaction to that?

I think it’s funny… (that title) doesn’t belong to me! I’ve never considered myself the “new hero of French Queer Cinema”, but Queer is my culture. I was raised by Queer culture, but I can’t be its “hero” because that’s too much responsibility for me. It’s really just a title to make people read, but the reaction I had when I was reading this paper was “OK… but I’m way more than just a Queer person”. I think putting a label on someone is reducing to them. I don’t mind being called it, but I certainly don’t consider myself that way. I’ve been in some of the biggest recent French films that involve Queer culture and feature Queer characters, so I can’t really avoid that title, but it’s not who I am, it’s just what that journalist wants me to be.

So what’s next? What will be your next film role? Is it another gay role?

I’m not sure right now, but I think I’ve done the best I can do in gay movies at the moment, so I’m looking for something different that doesn’t involve my sexuality. It’s funny that I’ve done four gay characters and people are now afraid for my career if I take one more, but I just will just play a character if I fall in love with them. These past two years I’ve fallen in love with gay characters, but I think now I’ll probably fall in love with other characters too. But I’m not really into controlling my career and thinking about what I’ll do next. I just do movies, that’s it.

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