Gaspar Noe is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of taste. The director's films including the brutal rape-revenge drama Irreversible and the nausea-inducing Enter the Void, which is shot entirely from the POV of a Tokyo drug dealer. So few were totally surprised when the Paris-based filmmaker revealed that his latest project, Love, would feature unsimulated sex – with everything shot in 3-D (yes, everything). While Noe insists the film is a relationship melodrama above all else – "I couldn't make a movie about love addiction without showing the carnal side," he says – Love's conceit still puts a heavy burden on its stars, including male lead Karl Glusman, who had just a few credits to his name before he was asked to bare all. The actor spoke with The Globe after Love showed at September's Toronto International Film Festival.
Were you nervous leading up to the film's premiere at Cannes this spring?
I thought we'd get booed out of the theatre. Cannes is a fun festival, but some people use it as a place to smash a movie, or to destroy it.
Some critics can be particularly vicious there for the sake of being vicious, especially when it comes to a Noe film.
Yeah, it's like they're hunting and you're a deer. But I did get to hear from the audience, too, and see people laugh and cry. It's not for everyone – none of his movies are – but when people come up to you in the streets and say how profound an effect the film had on them, well then, mission accomplished. If you watch a movie and you feel nothing, what's the point? You hope it's like a dream that sticks with them. Or a nightmare.
Audiences also know that with a Noe film, there is an expectation of extremes.
I think people expected a much more crude film than what they got. Some of the marketing for this movie created the impression that you were going to get something much raunchier. I think what we turned out is tasteful and beautiful and honest. I like that, for once, expectations were not met, because people often want something dirty, whether they want to admit it or not.
The love scenes aren't really pornographic, either. I mean, they are raw, but slow and realistic, too. It's not really titillating.
When people say what we're doing is so brave or this and that, well, we're not portraying anything that most people haven't tried or experienced or thought about. There's nothing unnatural in this film. With the nudity, my mother always said there was a double standard when it comes to how sex is portrayed on-screen. Women take their tops off, or women can show their lower halves, but men often don't. So, it was very uncomfortable at times lying there naked while Gaspar was focusing this massive 3-D camera inches away from me, but sometimes I'd just think about my mom, and how this was for her.
Did you have any trepidation signing up for this, though?
When Gaspar first called me on Skype, I was obsessed with him. This guy was a hero to me. The first question out of his mouth was, "How are you doing?" Second question was, "How do you feel about your erect dick in my movie?" Um, sorry? There was nothing more I wanted to do than work on a movie with this guy, but I also wanted to continue acting for the rest of my life. I asked friends, would you put your penis in a movie? They all said no, that's a mistake. But I thought if I wanted to be the daring actor I dreamed of being, this is kind of it. I thought I would regret it for the rest of my life if I saw some other guy do the movie.
What was the atmosphere like on set?
In the beginning, it was very hard and uncomfortable to get undressed with people all around me. I was never a guy particularly proud of his body. But by week two, I was just stripping anywhere while people set up lights and cables. I felt very European very quickly.
No regrets, then?
None. You want to make movies that people are going to remember. I'm nothing but grateful.
This interview has been condensed and edited.