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He gave me my first role — I think I was 22 — so I always feel like I owe him everything. I was such a big fan of The Last Tango in Paris — I had the poster in my room — that I was desperate to get the part in his movie. And maybe it’s because it was my first film, it was probably one of my best experiences. We used to go to his house every weekend, and Bernardo would tell us stories about the movies he’s made, about music and art in the 1960s. He was so kind and generous and sort of a father figure.
I always called him the Little Buddha. There was something very wise about him, with his very naughty, mischievous but kind eyes. I learned so much from him. He was very open to the unexpected, to the spontaneous. For example, we had a scene in the kitchen and my hair caught on fire. And [my co-star] Michael Pitt kind of jumped on my hair and stopped the fire. Bernardo just kept filming. If you look at the movie really carefully, you can see my hair on fire for a second.
Because it was my first movie [my parents] were worried. They thought I would be damaged because there were stories about what happened to Maria Schneider on The Last Tango. But I met Bernardo for a few screen tests and I liked his vibe.
I do not want to undermine Maria Schneider’s experience. I’m sure she really suffered. But as for my own experience, he was always a gentleman. Very respectful. He knew how nervous I was about the sex scenes but he never pushed me. He just let us do things. There was never anything odd. There are so many worse directors — he was just a wonderful person and maestro.
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