Félix Maritaud: The hottest young actor on the planet you've never heard of
The breakout star of Robin Campillo’s award-winning BPM laughs off the hyperbole
Félix Maritaud in Sauvage (2018) Photograph: Pyramide Distribution
You don’t have to have attended last year’s Cannes film festival to know that Félix Maritaud is the hottest young actor on the planet, but it would not have hurt. With just three features and a handful of shorts to his credit, the 26-year-old has been heralded as “the new hero of French queer cinema” in the pages of Têtu, France’s most popular gay magazine.
That’s quite a reputation considering the current post-Stranger by the Lake resurgence of Francophone LGBTQ cinema. (Stay tuned for the release of Sorry Angel in late March).
The breakout star of Robin Campillo’s award-winning BPM (Beats per Minute) laughs off the hyperbole: “I think it’s really reductive to say that I’m the hero of something, of anything,” says Maritaud.
“I’m happy to hear that I’m part of queer cinema. My culture is queer. I’m a product of queer culture. Being queer is my life. I make movies that speak to queer people from queer people. But I don’t think of the movies I’ve made as queer cinema.
“What was interesting about BPM (Beats per Minute) the movie, for example, was that people came from everywhere. You didn’t have to be queer for it to speak to you. I don’t know about for you in Ireland, but in France, it was huge. No one thought a movie about HIV-positive gay people would ever make that much money. Such a thing never happened before.”
Last month, he provided the Revelations César 2019 with its most fabulous spectacle by arriving in bright blue leather trousers with his newly adopted “godmother” Béatrice Dalle on his arm. Her advice to the young actor – “We will only be rich in our hearts, my darling. Integrity pays” – has become his abiding mantra. It’s a good fit for a man with a tattoo that reads “Rien à foutre” (“Don’t give a f**k”) and, as a philosophy, it seems to working out so far.
Last May, Maritaud’s performance as a porn actor in Yann Gonzalez’s Knife + Heart (Un couteau dans le coeur), had turned heads on the Croisette. The actor’s turn in debut director Camille Vidal-Naquet’s Sauvage, however, inspired the kind of furore normally reserved for Lars von Trier films. (More than a hundred people walked out of The House that Jack Built that same week, so Sauvage languished somewhat in the outrage stakes.)
Vidal-Naquet’s film follows Leo (Félix Maritaud), a kind-hearted 22-year-old gay prostitute working the notorious Bois de Boulogne district of Paris. The film includes a graphic and humiliating encounter with a sadistic gay couple who examine Leo’s teeth, call him filthy, and finally, insert a large butt plug. It was this fearless sequence that inspired walk-outs and tears at Cannes.
“I met Félix quite early on in the casting process,” says Vidal-Naquet of his young star. “He had just finished the shooting of BPM (Beats per Minute), the editing was still on the way, I hadn’t seen any image of the film. Our complicity was immediate. What impressed me the most about him is that he isn’t afraid of anything. He can do anything, get completely lost in his character, whatever the scene, without watching himself play. Félix is a really instinctive actor; on set he throws himself into the scene, whereas I am careful, I move slowly, I hesitate. Yet, even though we took different paths, we always followed the same direction.”
For Marituad, Sauvage was “a very intense six-week shoot”. For the film’s writer-director it was a labour of love. Working with an outreach charity, Vidal-Naquet spent years interviewing workers on the Bois de Boulogne and developing the project around a fictional character with “an unquenchable capacity for love”.
What those Cannes walkouts don’t know – and will likely never find out – is that, for all the unpleasantness Leo experiences in Sauvage, he remains touchingly loving and open. Beyond this organising principle, with studied nods to Sandrine Bonnaire in Vagabond and Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, Leo remains curiously untethered to any biographical details or history.
“We had conversations about the character,” says Maritaud. “But mostly we worried about his feelings, his emotions, his vibrations. We didn’t want to create a backstory for the character. I had some details in my head. But there was nothing constructed around him. We just focused on what was happening to him now.”
In this spirit, the director drafted in choreographer Romano Bottinelli to prepare the actors for various scenes of sex and intimacy. There’s an obvious analogy to be found between acting and prostitution, notes Maritaud, not least because both professions are required to “rent” out their bodies.
“You have to create the body of the character,” says the actor. “Because of what he does, he’s going to be really into his body. So you have to create the body of the character in the way he moves. So when I was having conversations with the choreographer, I got instructions like: ‘Now, you’re dancing frustration’ or ‘Now, you’re dancing happiness’. I thought about my body is a way of conveying emotion.”
Maritaud rightly received the Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star Award for his moving, unforgettable performance in Sauvage. It’s a surprising twist of fate for someone who wasn’t really aiming to become an actor.
“I was a waiting here in Paris in quite a famous bar,” recalls Maritaud. “And somebody came to me and said you want to try for casting. I had not thought about being an actor. I didn’t think it was possible to be in movies. But I was a fine art student and I was really into using my body to create art. So I’m not that surprised to have ended up here.”
After BPM (Beats per Minute) won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2017, Maritaud was approached by a major US-based agency. The actor who backpacked around France and Belgium before catching a big screen break is in no hurry to leave the continent.
“In French cinema it feels like everything is possible right now,” he says. “I feel like French cinema is flexible and open at the minute. I’ve a lot of things to learn. I think men get their best roles between 32 and 38. So I’m not in a particular hurry to go anywhere else. I have lots of time to learn.”
Sauvage is released on March 1st
GOOD HUSTLE: MALE PROSTITUTES ON SCREEN
Midnight Cowboy (D John Schlesinger, 1969) Jon Voight in the title role alongside Dustin Hoffman in the Waldo Salt scripted Oscar-winner, still the only X-rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
American Gigolo (D Paul Schrader, 1980) A high-priced male escort (Richard Gere) becomes the prime suspect in a murder case in a crime drama from the sequence that brought you Taxi Driver, Light Sleeper and The Walker.
Hustler White (D Bruce LaBruce, Rick Castro, 1996) Wildly imaginative, satirical riff on Sunset Boulevard in which a European writer falls for a male prostitute, despite the latter’s sordid past. And present.
My Own Private Idaho (D Gus Van Sant, 1996) Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, and Henry V are reworked as a fable about narcolepsy and street hustlers starring River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves.
Mysterious Skin (D Gregg Araki, 2004) A teenage hustler (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a UFO nut (Brady Corbet) uncover a terrible, shared secret in Araki’s criminally underrated masterpiece.
Sugar (D John Palmer, 2004) Based of short stories by Bruce LaBruce, Sugar is a Canadian coming-of-age tale that winds up on the wrong side of the tracks with a crack-addicted rent boy.