Felix Maritaud (“BPM”) on Playing a Love-Starved Gay Hustler in the Graphic “Sauvage/Wild”

"I think people were shocked by the dildo scene, but we could have been taking those things further

On the surface, Sauvage/Wild is a film about a series of raunchy sexual encounters, but it’s actually a haunting character study of a young hustler named Leo (played by the amazing Felix Maritaud) and his quest for fulfillment amidst the detritus of his life.

Leo is homeless, on drugs, unhealthy, and turning tricks, but he still grasps onto romanticism, choosing to kiss clients, but only when it feels natural, and also pining for his hustler boyfriend (Ahd, played by Eric Bernard), though Ahd is abusive, dismissive, and utterly uninterested. The movie starts with Leo being examined by a doctor who turns out to be a john acting out a sexual scenario, and it culminates with Leo visiting a real doctor, who is so caring and concerned that they tenderly hold each other in the midst of the examination. In between all that, scenes involving sex with a disabled man, a dildo, and lots of party drugs are just a backdrop for Leo’s quest for connection and satisfaction.
 

Sauvage/Wild—which just played the New Directors/New Films festival and is opening April 10 at Film Forum (with more visibility to come)—is the first film by Camille Vidal-Naquet, who researched sex workers in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne public park for three years. That’s a lot of Bois! His leading man, 26-year-old Maritaud, previously grabbed attention in Knife + Heart, a murder mystery about lesbians who produce gay porn, and the award-winning BPM (Beats Per Minute), set amid 1990s AIDS activism. He won a Rising Star award at Cannes for Sauvage/Wild, and took the time to candidly speak to me about his character’s sexuality—and his own.

Hello, Felix. You’re terrific in the movie. How were you cast?

We were shooting BPM, and one morning I came to the makeup area and Nahuel Perez Biscayart [who played Sean, an HIV-positive ACT UP member] was reading the script. They wanted him to play the role. I asked him what it is. And he said, “It’s a role for you.”

So you stole it from him? [Laughs]

Nahuel is a really smart person. He was exhausted and maybe he wanted to do some other kind of movie, not that intense. And he had already played a prostitute—I think that was the main reason.

When you read the script, how did you respond to it?

What I liked was the freedom of the character. He’s so outcasted from everything about society. It was really intense. When I read it, it was like a punch in my stomach. That’s the kind of emotion I like.

How was the film received in France?

The reception was good. It’s a strong movie with graphic sex scenes, but we put so much love into this character that people get it. As this character is giving a lot of love, people received it and that’s quite beautiful. People are seeing the tenderness and love.

Sauvage/Wild

Not the dildo?

The dildo, too, but I think they close their eyes. I think people were shocked by the dildo scene, but we could have been [taking] those things further—though that was not the point of the movie. Leo feels that once you have a contract with somebody, he’s going to go to the end.

He’s professional.

I don’t know if he’s professional, since he doesn’t belong to the same rules as other prostitutes, but he’s really intense: “I said I’d do this, so I’m gonna do it.”

But at one point, Leo goes along with a fellow hustler’s plan to fleece a customer.

He’s looking for exultation through life and following people where they can bring him. The film doesn’t have a view on good or bad behavior. I think he’s just alive and trying to be alive every way that he can.

Sauvage/Wild

I feel like Leo will always be in love with Ahd, and that colors all his decisions.

That’s the point of this toxic love.

Ahd says he’s strictly gay for play. Is that bullshit?

I don’t know, but I think you can give tenderness and love to a man even if you’re not gay. You have a relationship, tenderness, and protection. I don’t want to label them as gay because that’s reducing them

Even Leo? He’s not gay?

For me, Leo doesn’t belong to anything of our society, so I don’t want to label him. It’s a vibrating heart. Sure, he likes men and wants contact with men, but to be gay belongs to a form of sociability, and it’s not about emotions and feelings.

Leo flinches when asked about his parents, but we don’t know why. Did you come up with a backstory for him?

No, because I didn’t want to make a psychological approach to this character. What’s strong with him is you don’t know anything about him, but by the end of the movie, you know him as an entire person. That was interesting to me because I was working more in the vibration state of the character rather than psychological background. He’s not existing elsewhere than in the movie, so I didn’t want to create something or choose his life for him. Camille and I never talked about Leo’s past.

As for you, Felix, I liked when you told a reporter that you’re a “fag.”

We gay people, everybody describes us as that. Since I was a child, everyone calls me a faggot, so yes, I’m a faggot and it’s not a problem to me, and being a faggot is something I’m proud of. Words can be changed by the way we perceive them. We can change the perception to have younger people protected. A straight, patriarchal guy calling me a faggot, I would explain to him that he doesn’t own this word, I do. I own the right to use it to myself. My friends and I call each other fags because other people call us fags. We love each other as we are. “Fag” is better than “gay.” Gay is cheesy and so nice. Being nice and cheesy? No, that’s not who I am.

Sauvage/Wild

But “gay” is better than “homosexual.”

That belongs to medicine.

Here in New York, we have reclaimed the word “fag” since the 1980s.

I know.

What excites you about a role?

I’m a freedom fighter. I want to play roles that are changing the perception of what being a man is, about masculinity—toxic masculinity that is everywhere. It’s not something I choose, it comes to me all the time. I feel really lucky. You can have a director and use him for what you want—it’s always like a collaboration. We’re creating a human out of fiction, and that’s what makes me feel good in this job.

Gays of Thrones

The ultimate drag queen collaboration, the 33rd annual Night of a Thousand Gowns at the Marriott Marquis, was a swirl of tucking and tiaras, a safe place where people named Taryn Thru-U could catch up with Hy Falutin on the way to Viagra Falls. (Thanks to Get Out magazine’s straightforwardly named Mike Todd and Eileen Shapiro for getting me a place at the table.)

A benefit for Trinity Place Shelter, the Imperial Court of New York event was stately, heartfelt, and as glittery as the decorative jewelry in the gift bag. Before we sat down to dinner, I chatted with the new Emperor, Antonio T. Ventura, and Empress Chuleta Devine, both of whom I hear had to submit three letters of recommendation, plus prove their dedication to causes and money raising to get the titles. It’s almost the same process as applying to a co-op board! Their platforms? “The youth and the elderly,” said Ventura, to which I replied, “Well, I’m young, so that covers me!”

Have they ever experienced homophobia on the job? “No,” said Chuleta. “I’ve been with my husband for 39 years and being gay has never been an issue in my family. I have a gay uncle and a gay aunt. It’s in the blood.” And guess what was also in the gift bag? Some air freshening strips to hang from my nipples at the Black Party. Win-win!

As for a real lady who lunches, two-time Tony winner Patti LuPone joined Twitter last Tuesday, and her first tweet was priceless: “Contain me with only 280 characters? Fuck that.” Even more impressive is the fact that Patti quickly amassed tens of thousands of followers, and she, in turn, is following…no one. It makes sense. The woman was never a follower.

But please follow me to the Laurie Beechman Theatre starting this Friday night. I’m the Center Square in a rollicking gay version of Hollywood Squares called Times Squares, with zany LGBTQ guest stars and lots of zingers. I’m honored to step into Paul Lynde’s very light loafers. Buy tickets here.

Everything’s Up to Date in Oklahoma!


Spoiler alert! Broadway’s new revival of Oklahoma!—which has been dubbed Wokelahoma! by some—is not your grandmother’s Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, even if granny was gay. Yes, this version of the show—based on Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play about settlers, Green Grow the Lilacs—retains the old songs and characters, but it’s all been tweaked and subverted and underlined in mostly thrilling ways.

The houselights are on the whole time (except for a few scenes in pitch darkness) to reveal a long, wooden stage, flanked by long tables, with a country band situated on one side, Mylar hanging from the ceiling, and hazardous looking assortments of guns positioned on the walls all around the theater. Welcome to the schoolhouse—but all cuteness is thrown out in favor of realness, immediacy, and avant-garde theatrics, some of which veer on annoyingly risible, though most often they bring exciting textures out of the material and make things as immediate as the flounce of a gingham skirt in your face. In this production, the lead cowboy, Curly, plays guitar, Aunt Eller cooks up a storm, four women husk corn as they angrily sing “Many A New Day,” and meatless chili is served to the audience during intermission. (I wasn’t surprised to not be given a utensil with it, instead having to use a crumbling piece of cornbread to pick up the chili. Again, it’s real.)

As directed by Daniel Fish, danger hangs in the air and cowboy boots are literally falling from the ceiling. A normally peppy number like “The Farmer and the Cowman” is worked over for urgency and menace. The dispirited but yearning Laurey (an effective Rebecca Naomi Jones) is very #MeToo, fuming at mistreatment so much that she could practically sing “I Hate Men” from the nearby Kiss Me Kate revival. Her Curly (a terrific Damon Daunno) is a bit out of a Coen brothers movie with his gangly bravado and dopey moxie, though he ends up having reserves of decency and sings with a rockabilly charm. Mary Testa brings a wonderful salty spunk to Aunt Eller and disabled actor-activist Ali Stroker stops the show as Ado Annie, with a freewheeling, Dolly Partonish “I Can’t Say No,” making sure to flirt with a female violinist as she spins her wheelchair around the stage.
 

One running theme of Oklahoma! has men constantly telling women what they want from them, which seems extra relevant, especially when a troubled hired hand named Jud Fry manhandles Laurie and practically begs for comeuppance. (Some of Patrick Vaill’s performance in the role is flashed via video on the wall and some of it is in darkness, but he always rivets.) The way the show’s women (and their talents) are passed around and bid upon is made extra clear—as are the pitfalls of mob justice and the tough hide that frontier living necessitates—and though the blood-soaked finale might seem out of character for Curly, it’s one of the production’s boldest moves, and leaves you fascinated rather than just humming the score.

And in this version, with the hero flat out murdering the baddie, which the baddie practically begs for, things are more complicated than the original, if straining credulity and taking us away from the realness into a more stylized arena. In a more traditional tone, Will Brill is amusing as the continually tricked-into-marriage Persian peddler Ali Hakim and James Davis has fun as the slow-witted-but-controlling traveling cowboy Will Parker, both of whom make much ado about Ado Annie. But out of synch with the show, the Dream Ballet is an overwrought misfire that truly drags on, though the forgiving might give it an O-K for effort. “This isn’t Oklahoma!” someone was heard to complain at intermission. Well, if so, that’s the fun of it; it’s definitely a “brand new state,” as promised in the title song. Now eat your chili.

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.
@mikeymusto