One of the most controversial rape scenes in Hollywood history was filmed without the consent of its lead actress.
Maria Schneider received critical praise for her performance in 1973’s Last Tango in Paris — lauded for her gut-wrenching performance by Roger Ebert as an actress who “doesn’t seem to act her role so much as to exude it.”
But if Schneider’s acting felt realistic in the controversial scene in which Marlon Brando’s character rapes her 20-year-old character with the aid of a stick of butter, it’s because Schneider didn’t know what was happening at the time.
Director Bernardo Bertolucci admitted in an interview at La Cinémathèque Française in Paris in 2013 that he and Brando came up with the idea for using butter as a lubricant for the rape scene that day — but chose not to tell Schneider about that element before shooting it.
“I’d been in a way horrible to Maria because I didn’t tell her what was going on, Bertulocci said in the recently surfaced clip. “Because I wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress.”
“I wanted her to react humiliated,” he added. “I think she hated me and also Marlon because we didn’t tell her.”
Schneider was an unknown actress when she was cast in Last Tango in Paris. Her U.S. film career dissipated after the movie’s release — though she continued working steadily in France. She never filmed another nude scene.
She died on February 3, 2011 in Paris. She was 58.
In an exclusive essay to the Daily Mail in 2007, Schneider wrote she felt violated by the experience.
“I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci,” she said. “After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or [apologize]. Thankfully, there was just one take.”
At the time of filming Last Tango in Paris, Brando was 48 while Schneider was just 19.
As news of the action resurfaced, many reacted on social media about the controversy — including actress Jessica Chastain.
“To all the people that love this film, you’re watching a 19 year old get raped by a 48 year old man,” the Oscar nominee tweeted. “The director planned her attack. I feel sick.
Bertolucci and Schneider didn’t stay in contact once the film was released. “After the movie, we really didn’t see each other because she was hating me,” Bertolucci said.
He added that while he felt “guilty” for what he did, he did not regret the choice.
“To obtain something I think you have to be completely free,” Bertolucci said. “I didn’t want Maria to act her humiliation her rage, I wanted her to Maria to feel, not to act, the rage and humiliation. Then she hated me for all of her life.”