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Springboard: Karl Glusman on the Fear and Freedom of Shooting Gaspar Noé’s 3D ‘Love’ Sex Scenes

Springboard: Karl Glusman on the Fear and Freedom of Shooting Gaspar Noé's 3D 'Love' Sex Scenes

READ MORE: Why Gaspar Noé Directed on Cocaine, Masturbated in His Own Film and Shot a Live Birth

Indiewire’s Springboard column profiles up-and-comers in the film industry worthy of your attention.

Karl Glusman has been a fan of provocateur Gaspar Noé ever since he caught a screening of “Enter the Void” at New York’s IFC Center. Little did the budding actor know that Noé would be in the audience that evening for a post-screening Q&A, or that the director would call on him to ask a question. This small moment was indirectly the beginning of a very ambitious collaboration. 

Flash forward five years, Glusman is now the star of the director’s latest drama, “Love,” which chronicles the sexual and romantic odyssey of an American living in Paris. In typical Noé fashion, the movie is full of explicative sexual moments (most notably a 3D ejaculation). The press has focused mainly on this graphic side of “Love,” though the film truly belongs to the fearless Glusman, who charms and terrifies in equal measure.

As he expertly navigates the seduction of young love and the volatile rage of it all going sour, the actor commands the screen with a breakout performance that is as memorably bare emotionally as it is physically. The actor was shaking when he got the call from Noé to be in the project, and “Love” is just the beginning of a career that’s already taking an arthouse evolution. Next up, Glusman will join Tom Ford and Nicolas Winding Refn for “Nocturnal Animals” and “The Neon Demon,” respectively. 

“Love” is now playing in 3D in select theaters. Check out the trailer for the film and above and continue reading for Indiewire’s Springboard interview with Glusman.

I didn’t get to read anything until Gaspar actually flew me to Paris to meet him. All I knew was that it was a love story and there’d be nudity — that Gaspar wanted to try and portray something that felt as honest as possible. He sat me down at a café and disappeared behind the corner to get the eight page outline, which is the script, and he let me read it. I was so excited and overwhelmed. Here’s this guy who is sort of my cinema hero — he’s kind of like my Stanley Kubrick in a way. I was definitely scared and intimidated reading it.
Many of my friends and colleagues said, “You can’t do this. It’s going to be huge mistake. You’re going to regret it.” This kind of stuff frightens a lot of Americans. It’s a different mentality here, so my friends thought this would be a career-ending move. In the end, I thought that what I lack in experience perhaps I can make up in bravery. At least if I do something daring, regardless of how it turns out, people will think, “Okay, this guy has some balls.” My initial reaction was utter fear and intimidation, but then I came around. 

I saw [“Enter the Void”] and I was just blown away. I was absolutely transported and stunned. I felt that I had seen an art installation — a real piece of art in a movie theater, which I think is so rare. Although I do love popcorn movies — I’ll totally be there to see “Star Wars” — it’s rare to see something in a movie theater that goes beyond our expectations. People don’t want to invest on something like Gaspar — they wan’t to know what they’re going to get when they pay for it, and Gaspar’s films are the antithesis of that. With “Enter the Void,” I didn’t know you could go to this place of surrealism in a movie. I felt sick when I watched it. It really stuck with me. 

3D has its own challenges. It takes about twice as long to set up each shot, if not quadruple the time. You have to deal with an extra set of operators who are the 3D focusers. There are two lenses that have to move with each other depending on the depth of the subject in the shot. You have to think about your body more. You may be at a certain angle on set, but in 3D it looks totally weird. So it wasn’t just about playing this character, but playing him in a 3D setting. 

We would show up to set and I had no idea what we were going to shoot that day. Gaspar doesn’t have a shot list except what is in his head. He and the DP, Benoît Debie, would figure out the shot for 45 minutes to an hour and keep it a mystery to everyone else. I would always be asking him, “Do I keep my pants on for this take? Am I allowed to wear clothes?” It was like two guys throwing paint at a canvas and they would find the shot, put you in position and then say, “Okay, so, she just did this, you think she’s cheating on you with your drug dealer, what would you say?” They hit record and we had to improvise and just do that over and over again.

The whole nature of the film was immediacy  not knowing what we would get, what was going to come out of people’s mouths, what the shot was going to be. I think Gaspar thrives in that sort of immediacy. For me, it was both nerve-wracking and freeing at the same time. I’m someone that likes preparation time, but that was impossible on this film. It’s a different dance when you tango with Gaspar. 

I suggested to [co-star] Aomi [Muyock] that maybe we just should kiss once before we begin this whole thing, and she didn’t want to. She dropped me off at my hotel and I had proposed that we just smooch once on the street and she didn’t want to. I went upstairs to my hotel room and someone buzzed me and she was still outside. I asked if she needed anything, and she just started sprinting down the street away from me. I don’t know why, but I started running after her and we’re like sprinting around the block in Paris at night. We walked back to my hotel and we were breathing really hard and she walked away. I think I yelled something like, “You’re crazy!” The first time we ever kissed is in the movie. 

The love scenes, they all came from a true place. In love stories, sex is a key element. Sex is a key in all of our relationships. We’d be lying to say sensuality and intimacy is not a key ingredient when falling in love — especially when you’re young. With that in mind, it felt that this was a necessary ingredient in telling this story. That eight page outline had a mission statement at the beginning of it challenging the norms of cinema. It said what was acceptable to portray and depict, and it questioned it. It was a challenge — why is sex misrepresented? Why is it false so many times in movies? Our mission was to tell a love story in the truest way we know how, and sex has to be a part of it, and hopefully that’s what you see. 

When you really are losing yourself and forgetting that a camera is rolling, that’s the most exciting part of acting. That happens in the tender, quiet moment and sometimes in the all out having-an-argument moments. When it does happen, you kind of blackout, or at least I do. It’s hard to remember the experience of doing it. Even watching the movie, it was like seeing things for the first time because I didn’t even remember doing it. On this film, that happened 95% of the time. It was a roller coaster. 

READ MORE: Cannes Review: Hardcore Sex Isn’t the Craziest Thing About Gaspar Noé’s 3D ‘Love’

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