Late Actress Maria Schneider Felt 'Raped' by Brando on 'Last Tango' Set
French actress Maria Schneider has died at age 58 after a long illness. Schneider was just 19 years old when she landed her most famous role, co-starring with Marlon Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris, a notoriously controversial film about the lustful affair between an older man and a younger woman who meet for anonymous sexual encounters.
But even now, nearly four decades later, Schneider's story remains a cautionary tale for young actors. In a 2007 interview with the U.K. Daily Mail, Schneider talked about how the role that made her career also ruined her life.
The film's most famous scene, which features the actress face down on the floor "while Brando applies butter to her nether regions and performs a sex act on her," was actually not in the script and left Schneider feeling like she had been "raped" by Brando. Schneider told the Mail:
"That scene wasn't in the original script. The truth is it was Marlon who came up with the idea. They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry. 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, but at the time, I didn't know that. 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. I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn't console me or apologise. Thankfully, there was just one take."
The actress said that she almost turned down the film but could not pass on an opportunity to act opposite Marlon Brando, and admitted that she "didn't understand all of the film's sexual content" but "had a bit of a bad feeling about it all." When the movie resulted in her sudden fame when it was released amid scandal in 1972, Schneider was unprepared for the attention and turned to drugs to escape.
Schneider also said that she felt Bertolucci took advantage of both her and Brando. And while she considered her relationship with Brando her fondest memory of working on the film, she reserved no such feelings for her director:
"He was fat and sweaty and very manipulative, both of Marlon and myself, and would do certain things to get a reaction from me. Some mornings on set he would be very nice and say hello and on other days, he wouldn't say anything at all."
Schneider continued to act in over 50 films in her career, including The Passenger with Jack Nicholson in 1975. Towards the end of her life, she ran an organization called The Wheel Turns that helps aging actors find work ("It is not so easy for actresses over 50," she said, "and the irony is that when a woman gets old enough to have something interesting to say, people don't want to hear her speak.").
"I felt very sad," Schneider said of her experience after filming Last Tango in Paris, "because I was treated like a sex symbol - I wanted to be recognised as an actress and the whole scandal and aftermath of the film turned me a little crazy and I had a breakdown. Now, though, I can look at the film and like my work in it."
-- Daniel Lehman