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‘Love’: How Karl Glusman Was Cast in Gaspar Noe’s 3D Erotica

As an aspiring actor, Karl Glusman studied at the William Esper Studio in New York, where his instructor once chided a classmate for really shaving in a scene. What would happen if the student cut himself and bled all over the stage? “He turned to the class and said, ‘It’s too real. No piss. No s—t.’” He also banned a third bodily fluid, which is prominently featured in “Love,” the indie that’s been billed as Argentinian director Gaspar Noe’s 3D pornographic film. “I was a little worried I was going to disappoint my teacher Bill,” Glusman recalls, with a chuckle, on a recent afternoon.

“Love” isn’t your typical movie romance. When it premiered at Cannes at a midnight screening, it pushed the envelope with even a European crowd. The movie not only features full frontal nudity — there are many close-up shots of genitalia — but oral sex, intercourse, ejaculation and a threesome scene with a transgender partner. There’s a reason “Love” was called “The Most NSFW Movie of the Year” by The Daily Beast.

Many of the scenes in the film were improvised from a short outline written by Noe. The basic premise of “Love”: a young American named Murphy (Glusman) falls for a French girl in Paris, Electra (Aomi Muyock), and the film chronicles the ups and downs of their relationship. Although it only opened in the United States on Friday, “Love” has already changed the trajectory of newcomer Glusman’s career; he has been cast in Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” and Nicolas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon.” On a recent afternoon, Glusman spoke to Variety about his risky performance.

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If there was no script for “Love,” how did you get this part?
A couple of years ago, I had a very intense breakup. I ended up flying to Paris to heal myself, and my friends brought me to this club one night where I met a girl at the door name Ambre who found out I was an actor. I told her my favorite movie was “Enter the Void.” She said, “Oh, Gaspar! He’s my friend.” Six months later, she said, “Send me a selfie. Gaspar wants an American in his next movie.” A week and a half after that, he called me on Skype. He asked me how I was doing, and if I was comfortable showing my d–k in his movie.

Did you talk about the story?
I didn’t know the specifics. He flew me to Paris. It was supposed to be for two days to see if he could stand being around me. And then he liked me so much, he extended it to four days. He eventually sat me down and came back with a little eight-page outline. It was a mission statement challenging the norms of cinema and arguing that some of the key aspects of love are false in cinema. He wanted to change that.

Did he tell you it was in 3D?
He did. I thought that sounded ridiculous. I said, “Why would you want to do that?” Actually, the 3D cameras were subsidized by the French government.

Some people are calling “Love” pornography.
I think the whole 3D porno thing is a bit of a marketing gimmick. If you go online and look at porn and compare it to the movie we made, there’s a big difference. In pornography, there’s often no pubic hair. There are no breakups and fights. There’s very little emotional investment from the performers. To put it frankly, I doubt Thierry [Fremaux, the Cannes director] would put a straight porno in Cannes. If you look at the definition of pornography, the chief purpose is sexual arousal. Unless people are masturbating in the movie theater, you can’t call our movie porn. I haven’t heard of that happening yet. But if it did, I’d be pretty flattered.

Did you use any body doubles?
I have to say — a magician never revels his secrets.

How did you prepare?
I watched a lot of movies. Gaspar is constantly watching films and sending me titles. I watched “In the Realm of the Senses.” I watched “Don’t Look Now.” I admire Mark Rylance immensely. He did a movie called “Intimacy,” where you see him put a condom on. I thought if Mr. Rylance could do it, and I want to be like him, I could follow. It was very hard to prepare when you don’t know what you’re going to shoot and you don’t have any dialogue to memorize.

Was the entire movie improvised?
The outline is all we had. The call sheet was a joke. We never had any dialogue written down. Anything could come out of Aomi’s mouth. Often, we’d do a take, and I’d come up with something, which I thought was pretty clever. And then when we did a second take, one of the girls would steal my line.

Did you know how explicit the sex would be?
Well, as far as close-ups in the movie, Gaspar likes surprises. And so the first day of shooting, he said, “It’s time for your big close up!” He lowered the camera to my waist level and got the focus right. And he said, “All right, take your pants off!” The scene [with the ejaculation] was on the first day of shooting. That was my ice breaker.

Did you think about quitting?
I went to the bathroom to garner some courage. I looked in the mirror. It felt like the scene in “Boogie Nights,” where he’s pumping himself up. I was like, “What are you doing?! This is not you. You can’t do this. You should run away.” I definitely had a moment when my heart sped up, and I thought, “This is a huge f—ing mistake.”

Why didn’t you leave?
I thought about the rest of the crew. I didn’t want to let them down. I think many young actors want to be daring. They want to surprise their fellow actors as well as their audiences. I just thought, “If I don’t do this, someone else will, and I will regret it forever. I will be so jealous once the movie comes out that I didn’t have the balls to step up to the plate.”

Did you set any limits?
The night that we shot with Stella [Rocha], the transgender woman that Electra and I pick up, I kind of drew an invisible line. I said, “I didn’t want to get invaded in a certain way.” Of course, that invited Gaspar to encourage Stella. She was so confident, I was extremely intimidated by her. In the end, it was a fun scene to shoot. And then we spent some time where Stella chased me around the room. I don’t know if you can imagine that. We had a 75-pound 3D camera and I’m naked running away in a little hotel room. There’s a famous porn star in Paris named Rocco [Siffredi]. Gaspar would joke and call me Rocco, which turned to Rocky. He started to hum the Rocky theme song in the morning when everyone came in.

Did you have an agent at the time you took the role?
I did, and a manager and a lawyer.

Were they worried the movie would hurt your career?
I didn’t consult them on it, because Gaspar Noe to me is one of the greatest living filmmakers. I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to work with him because of an agent’s fear that Disney isn’t going to hire me.

Have your parents seen “Love”?
No they have not. Before we started, I asked my mother and sister to promise not to see it. I didn’t want to be thinking about them when I was shooting.

Do you think your mom will ever see it?
I think my mom will read a lot of articles on it. Both my parents are doctors. Anatomy doesn’t freak them out. My mother has always been a proponent of equality on the screen. She thinks there’s a double standard for females to show their breasts in movies. It’s less common to see a man’s organ. So in a way, this is for her.

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