Chatting With Director Gaspar Noe and Actor Karl Glusman About Their 3D Erotic Drama, Love
Gaspar NoÃ© and Karl Glusman
"I was born in the ego jungle," laughs Gaspar NoÃ© as we chat in a suite overlooking the Toronto skyline. It's the Toronto International Film Festival and the Argentinian director is poking fun of his home country ("you know how an Argentinian commits suicide? He jumps from the top of his ego!") amidst chatting with us about his latest film, Love, a 3D movie about a young couple's torrid romance (and subsequent mÃ©nage Ã trois) in Paris that's been getting buzz for its explicit sex scenes. He's joined by his lead actor, Karl Glusman, who gamely gets in a few Argentina digs of his own while opening up to us about the rollercoaster ride that was the film, one in which he did full-frontal nudity and ejaculation scenes. They're on a new rollercoaster ride now -- although one that seems to be on a steady ascent without any dips, twists or turns -- as the film rides a mounting wave of good press following its screenings at Cannes and TIFF. Ahead of its release on October 30th, we heard more about the film's rocky start, what it's like to have your family watch your sex scenes and their thoughts about falling in love. Read on but beware of spoilers.
Gaspar, what does love mean to you?
Gaspar NoÃ©: The answer is in the movie: mainly love is the light. It's like a hardcore drug; you get addicted to it. You get addicted to being in love. It's like all these chemicals that get released in your brain: serotonin, endorphins, dopamine. They link to your brain and help you fall for a person's smell and their energy. You get stoned with the idea of falling in love. And the moment the relationship falls apart, you're in total pain like a junkie without his needle in his arm. You're shaking. It's extremely addictive. The best moments of my life have been moments of love. These carnal moments of hugging, kissing, fucking with someone you're obsessed with.
So then, what does hate mean to you?
GN: It's not the same but it's not really the opposite. When you hate something it's because you feel attacked so it's a protective mechanism. You feel the world is against you for one reason or another. When you're in love, you're going towards the world or space around you. And that becomes your obsession. It's weird because the word love can contain different meanings. You can love people you're not attracted to. You can love your father, mother, sister, brother, your friends, your son. You can also love your present girlfriend or ex girlfriend without being in love with the person. Yet you can be in love with a person without loving them as a human. If you can find the combination of the two, that would be great.
When I watched the film, it felt like the love between Electra and Murphy was so passionate, that it sometimes morphed into hate. You have Murphy scream "you fucking cunt" in an attempt to get Electra back, for instance.
GN: That's things people say in real life when they're in love and they turn angry! When you're in love -- you want to protect and be protected. You don't want to lose the object of your desire. You turn paranoid when you're in that moment of passion. Jealousy can be exciting but also very destructive. This movie didn't focus on the issues that destroy couples most nowadays: emails and cellphones that are checked by someone (in the relationship) who is suspicious. If you are suspicious you will always find a positive answer to your suspicion. You'll find a text that reads "I miss you" and that's when the monster is unleashed.
Karl, how was it to shoot these extremely sexual and passionate scenes?
Karl Glusman: Often when you're extremely emotional, you sort of black it all out. Especially with the way we were shooting with no scripted dialogue, Gaspar liked to surprise us. He wouldn't want to talk too much about what we were shooting that day. He'd just fiddle with the lights with our DP and then tell us what just happened in the film and it helped create this anxiety and excitement. And it's not nice to yell at someone as long as we were, especially when you become friends in real life. I found myself apologizing and hugging.
GN: I think the most horrible thing was what Karl said to Omi. The insult in the cab. He asked her "what is the meanest thing I could tell you?" and she said "that I'm going to be a bad mother to my baby." And I didn't know she said that to him and as we were shooting he yelled that at her.
KG: And she would say to me "you're stupid, stupid!" We'd leave the camera rolling for 45 minutes at a time sometimes. It was exhausting.
GN: The thing is with the 3D cameras, when you stop the camera, the technician would have to come on to recalibrate, and against his will would kill the mood. So I decided for us not to cut the camera and the takes. It was a way to keep the energy and mood flowing.
Karl, was there anything you wouldn't do sexually in the film?
KG: I don't want to offend anyone, it's my own personal preference and I don't want to discriminate against anyone's sexual orientation. I didn't want to be invaded in certain ways. Every day Gaspar would come to set and say "today is Christmas." And I drew an invisible line when Gaspar screamed on one specific night that "It was New Year's eve" and that's when I got scared.
What do you mean by that?
GN: In the film, the couple's relationship is going wrong. So they think if they add some fun, things will start to get better. They decide to pick up a transvestite. In the script it says nothing happens -- once Murphy sees her naked in the film he gets scared and can't have sex with her. But on the set, Stella was so funny and it was a joyful moment.
KG: I was intimidated by [the transvestite's] confidence.
GN: I decided to keep it a mystery in the film as to whether something happened between the two of them.
KG: I knew for sure, if anything did start to happen Gaspar would not call cut. He would throw me to the wolves.
GN: And I'm sure you were thinking of your mother. His mother is going to see the movie. And as an actor, it's a question to whether you think you can bring your family to the film or share it with your loved ones. And I'm sure when we started shooting that, he thought, can I bring my mother to this movie?
Karl, how did your family respond to your role in the film?
KG: My mother had tears of joy [for me] to be able to go and present a movie at the Cannes Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. It boggled her mind. She's extremely proud. I did, however, talk to my sister and my mother ahead of time about it. I told them that there's going to be a lot of love scenes in this movie and it might be strange for you to see it. I told them they could sit this one out if they wanted to. I wasn't going to require them to see it.
GN: Also, the thing is nowadays everybody knows when you're making a movie you're playing a game. Things are not true -- they're imitated. Not everything is real. Most parents have never seen their son with an erection.
KG: I think my mother was just happy that I was working. [Laughs]
Karl, was this your first film?
KG: This was the first film that was released. I shot a movie right before this, which I'm actually presenting here at TIFF, called Stonewall with Roland Emmerich. But Gaspar edited his movie faster. He got it done and out before Roland.
How did you select the actors for this film?
GN: I met Aomi more than two years ago. I saw her in a party and then I briefly talked to her. I got her contact from a mutual friend. I ended up skyping with her and then she came to Paris. We met for dinner and we continued to talk after that. At the beginning she told me that she's not the person for this movie. She was very happy to meet me but didn't want to do the film. So I kept on casting for Murphy. I was looking for an American or British actor. I wanted him to be English speaking. I knew this girl who used to be a bouncer at a club and asked her if she knew anyone who would be good for my film. She told me she met this guy who was visiting Paris and lived in LA and thought he'd be a great fit. So I had him filmed with another girl I was casting from LA and flew them over. I introduced Karl to Aomi, who happened to also be in Paris at that time. Around the same time, I also met Klara. She was dancing in a club. So I took her number and introduced her to Karl. At that time, I was thinking it would be best to find a real life couple to star in the film but I couldn't find anyone with the energy I need. And then suddenly everything fell into place for casting. Aomi decided she wanted to be a part of it and Karl made a deal with his producer very quickly, jumped on a plane and decided to do it pretty last minute. And then five days before we started filming, the co-financier decided to pull out of the film. We had all the casting, the crew, the location and the camera but half of the money disappeared. I felt like I was on a plane and the grenade was ready to explode. For two days I thought the movie was over and that I was going to be in major debt. But then we found another producer to finance and just like that it all clicked.
KG: It was an emotional roller coaster leading up to that moment. I was nervous to meet him in the beginning and then so excited to just have the opportunity and then I thought I got the job. And Gaspar is such an honest and truthful person and he's telling me all these things as they are unfolding. It was going up and down like a roller coaster and it felt crazy. He was telling me everything about the money, and not having the money, and for awhile I felt like that ship sailed.
GN: Will moves a mountain. Collective energy made the movie.
Going back to the transgender story in the film, why was this an important addition to the movie?
GN: You could cut that scene out of the movie and it wouldn't change the movie. It was just part of the games they are playing. They are pushing the limits beyond their natural needs. In the beginning, they are talking about having a baby. They want to play the sweet couple yet keep it open minded. Towards the end, once the jealousy enters into their minds it's like once the worm is inside the apple. Then they get into more anarchy and their love story becomes power. They both start to suffer and that's when they have sex with the neighbor. You know, the transgender scene was the funnest day of shooting. It was very joyful. In situations like that, when you become partners in crime, sometimes you push your needs beyond to see if you can make it. They weren't standing on safe ground when they got there. That's why they can't handle it. But that wasn't the breaking point -- they didn't quit each other. The breaking point was when the neighbor got pregnant and asking for her to get an abortion. That's the real end of their love story.
The opening and closing of the film are both vulnerable depictions of Murphy. I'd love to hear more about them.
GN: Love is a mammal feeling. It's made of willing to be protected by protecting people. You do that with your kids, your parents, your best friend, your partner in life. Falling in love is a complex process in your brain with addictive feelings. Love is an obsession with tunnel vision and that's what the beginning and ending are about. A love story can last for long but passion cannot because it's physically exhausting. In the movie, at the end when you see Murphy hugging his baby -- he replaced his love for Electra that way.
What are your relationships to New York? Would you make a film there?
GN: Yes -- you know actually I was raised in New York. My father and mother are Argentinians. He got the Guggenheim grant as a painter. So when I was three or four months old my parents moved to New York and I was raised there until I was four or five years old. The first images I remember are of living on Bleecker St and of Fifth Avenue and of the Angelika Center. When my parents decided to move back to Argentina, my schoolmates called me 'the Yankee' because I had an American accent. Because they called me that, the truth is I had these other issues. My last name is NoÃ© but initially it didn't feel like a real last name. I decided to tell people my last name was Murphy, which was my mother's first name (and the name of Karl's character in the film). I'd say Gaspar Murphy or Gaspar NoÃ© Murphy. New York is the most natural city of the world because I lived there. Things have changed though. I guess the energy during that hippy time was very different from the more commercial energy that you have today in New York. Maybe it was a wilder, more dangerous city but also there was something crazier that now is sometimes missing. You know I found that crazy energy you can see for example in the movie Taxi Driver in Tokyo. Tokyo is very sleazy and dirty and rich. You have everything there.
My last question's a bit of a spoiler alert -- are we ever supposed to know what happens to Electra in the film?
GN: Actually, we shot some additional scenes that I cut from the movie. I thought maybe we'd need more footage of the present time. So I filmed Murphy talking with people, asking "Do you have any news from her?" and I added voices in the footage. In one of the versions, I had her leave with the shaman. But it was too funny so I cut it out. He already stole Murphy's first girlfriend so I thought it would be too much. Maybe she turned into a junkie. Maybe she survived it all. Maybe she committed suicide. Maybe it's better not to know. If there is an answer, then the problem is solved in your head. The fact of not knowing what happens creates a tension that stays with the audience.
KG: I think she went to Argentina for a better life.
GN: Maybe. Maybe, she turned lesbian and adopted a cute baby. Cuter than yours.