French actress Maria Schneider has been the subject of an outpouring of sympathy this week after it was revealed parts of a violent sex scene in her 1972 movie Last Tango in Paris were filmed without her consent.
Schneider was just 19 when she starred alongside a 48-year-old Marlon Brando in the controversial film.
The furore it generated was just the beginning of her tumultuous adulthood involving drugs, a stint in an asylum and a battle with cancer that claimed her life at only 58 years of age.
A 2013 interview with the film’s director, Bernardo Bertolucci, resurfaced on Sunday. In the clip, Bertolucci admits he didn’t tell Schneider the details of a particularly graphic scene involving a stick of butter.
Wow. I will never look at this film, Bertolucci or Brando the same way again. This is beyond disgusting. I feel rage https://t.co/uvaLogvv7I
— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) December 3, 2016
Bertolucci said he and Brando conspired to surprise the then-teenager by adding the butter without her knowledge.
“We were having, with Marlon, breakfast on the floor of the flat where I was shooting. There was a baguette, there was butter and we looked at each other and, without saying anything, we knew what we wanted,” Bertolucci said.
“I had been, in a way, horrible to Maria because I didn’t tell her what was going on … I didn’t want Maria to act … I wanted Maria to feel the rage and humiliation.”
‘Fat, sweaty, manipulative’
Bertolucci clarified his comments on Monday, calling the backlash a “ridiculous misunderstanding”.
“I specified, but perhaps I was not clear, that I decided with Marlon Brando not to inform Maria that we would have used butter,” he said.
“Somebody thought, and thinks, that Maria had not been informed about the violence on her. That is false!”
However, Schneider revealed to the Daily Mail in 2007 she felt “a little bit raped” by Brando and Bertolucci.
“I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can’t force someone to do something that isn’t in the script,” she said.
“Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie’, but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears.”
Schneider called Bertolucci “fat and sweaty and very manipulative” and she had “a bad feeling” before accepting the role.
‘I had a bit of a breakdown’
At the time of its release, Last Tango in Paris received a positive critical reception but was met with public outrage. It was banned from cinemas and Bertolucci was tried for obscenity in Italy.
Schneider became a sex symbol, which she said “turned me a little crazy”.
“I did not like … the image full of innuendo, naughty, that people had of me after Last Tango,” she once said.
“People who come up to tell you unpleasant things on planes. I was tracked down, and I felt hounded.”
After Last Tango, Schneider never did another nude scene, instead taking a role alongside Jack Nicholson in the 1975 drama The Passenger.
Soon after filming wrapped, Schneider “had a breakdown” and was fired from her role in 1977’s That Obscure Object of Desire, and walked off the set of 1979’s Caligula.
Schneider turned to drugs to cope with her newfound fame, revealing to the Daily Mail she took “pot, then cocaine, LSD and heroine” in the 1970s.
This dark path led her to several suicide attempts.
“I suppose it was like a suicide when I overdosed two or three times on drugs, but each time I woke up when the ambulance arrived,” she said.
However, Schneider credits an anonymous “angel” she met in 1980 with helping her stop the downward spiral.
A stint in an asylum
In 1975, Schneider, who was bisexual, voluntarily committed herself to a mental hospital in Rome in order to spend time with her lover, photographer Joan Townsend.
“They locked her up, and so I had to do it out of loyalty,” Schneider told Roger Ebert.
“She was schizophrenic,” she later told Daily Mail. “I wanted to help. She eventually went back home to the States but now, I don’t know what has happened to her.”
Maria Schneider, who checked herself into the psych ward for a few days so she could be with her committed lover Joan Townsend. Even there they were harassed and photographed. RIP beautiful lady. I'm so sorry that art became pain rather than release for you. (Image courtesy of Old Loves Tumblr)
A photo posted by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on
Her final years
Towards the end of her life, Schneider found peace, moving back to Paris after a long period in Los Angeles.
In July 2010, she was awarded France’s Chevalier medal in the Order of Arts and Letters for being “the singular image of today’s woman”.
Speaking to The Daily Beast‘s Holly Millea, Schneider argued she still had plenty to say as an older actress.
“I have things to express through my acting, my face, which are very rich and touching to the younger people today,” she said.
“You know, 47 is not old for a woman – we can live until we’re 90!”
Unfortunately, Schneider died in Paris in 2011 at the age of 58 after a battle with cancer.
She never had any children but was survived by her longtime partner, Pia Almadio.