Glass speaks to Felix Maritaud, star of Sauvage

FELIX Maritaud is a fan of leather. He wore a leather duster over his tux at the 2018 César Awards (essentially the French Oscars) when his film BPM won best picture. He was head to toe in leather at this year’s ceremony when new film Sauvage was nominated, and, today, in admirable contempt of the hottest (winter) day in British history, his black leather jacket and marine leather trousers are a brave choice.

“I’m not living my life for other people. I’m having my experience, my personal view, and people… (he shrugs his shoulders and slaps his leather thighs). They can feel it, or not.” This isn’t a rebuke to traditionalists who favour linen in 21C heat, rather a response to the fallout following a recent  interview in which Maritaud said, proudly, “I am a faggot.”

Actor Felix Maritaud in Sauvage (2019)Felix Maritaud in Sauvage (2019)

While he understands that to many it’s a phrase that should be buried altogether, Maritaud favours the idea of applying his own agency to the word. “I think [using it as a term of endearment] is a good way to empower people, but it’s not a big deal to me … I cannot choose what people think of me, so I just try to be more coherent within myself.”

Indeed, there’s no media-trained trepidation typical of young actors branded with the ‘new-hot-young-thing’ tag, which is perhaps a reflection of his atypical journey up to this point. Maritaud left a small village home just west of Dijon as a 15 year old and spent his formative years as a modern flaneur, hitch hiking across swathes of France and Belgium. When he takes off his leather jacket he traces around the tattoos that adorn his left arm, pausing on a red figure 8. “When I was on the streets, everywhere I went I would always find this card, so it must be special.”

Actor Felix Maritaud in Sauvage (2019)Felix Maritaud in Sauvage (2019)

He eventually settled somewhere in Metz, where someone saw something in Maritaud and encouraged him to try his hand at acting. His resume to date is brief, but meaty, combining important, critically acclaimed work (an eye catching turn in the 1990s AIDS activism drama BPM) with a bit-part in future cult classic Knife + Heart – think William Friedkin’s Cruising, reimagined in a bizarre world of kitsch magic realism. In these relatively small parts he’s been restricted to impressing on the fringes, but in new feature Sauvage, directed by Camille Vidal-Naquet, Maritaud is undoubtedly the main attraction.

He plays Leo, or Draga as he’s commonly known (“It’s honey in Serbian”), a sex worker living on the streets in Strasbourg. It’s a raw, devastatingly tender performance, exploring the pain of unrequited love and the difficulties of domesticating a man whose life in the wild has left him perilously feral. It’s one of those roles that, one imagines, takes a lot out of an actor. In return Maritaud was awarded the 2018 Rising Star award at Cannes.

The obvious common theme in Maritaud’s work is male homosexuality, always approached with unabashed vigor, so I ask him if he worries that his reputation as a “gay actor” will prevent him branching out and scoring heterosexual parts.  

“Sure, it’s already a thing! Straight directors have to be really educated and really open minded to think a homosexual can play a heterosexual character, [but] on the other side it’s really not a big deal, because there’s a lot of heterosexual actors that play gay characters and get awards… [for example] Call Me By Your Name, and Rami Malek who just won an Oscar playing a really assaini (sanitised) gay character. I love Rami Malek, I think he’s a great actor, but … I don’t like Queen.”

Actor Felix Maritaud in Sauvage (2019)Felix Maritaud in Sauvage (2019)

As if suspecting his distaste for Queen may have upset someone, but at the same time not really caring, he flashes a distinct grin that’s quickly becoming his trademark. It’s a smile usually reserved for especially indignant children, the types who swear they haven’t eaten the chocolate cake with a face covered in chocolate.

“I think for sexuality it’s one thing, but for trans people, for example, it’s really hard. Because there are a lot of trans actresses and trans actors that need to work, and what do you see? There is Scarlett Johansson, who gets a trans role (Dante Gill in Rub & Tug)  … and it’s like “hey?!” It’s annoying. It’s annoying from her, actually, to accept it, to take the job of somebody else, just to be better in her own [career]. It’s very individualistic.” Johansson eventually backed out of the project following immense public pressure, and has yet to be replaced.

Actor Felix Maritaud in Sauvage (2019) Felix Maritaud in Sauvage (2019)

Ethics aside, does personal experience have a practical impact on an actor’s ability to play a role convincingly? “I think … this is something that can take a lot of time [to understand]. I will say something that Robin Campillo (the director of BPM) said to me when we were shooting the film, that he took a lot of gay actors to play gay characters because during the scenes where we are all meeting, a heterosexual white guy will look like a politician, not like an activist!”

Perhaps detecting that his words may have made me, a heterosexual white guy, feel like a square, he shrugs, slaps his leather thighs and summons his best sorry-not-sorry grin. “I think that it’s important that we don’t have to defeat public opinion…you do movies because you want to speak your own mind.”

by Charlie Navin-Holder

Sauvage opens in the UK today