Climax, the latest project from provocative filmmaker Gaspar Noé, feverishly danced its way into theaters in Los Angeles and New York this past weekend, and on Friday, it is headed into more theaters around the US courtesy of A24.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with the star of Climax, Sofia Boutella, and during our interview, the actress discussed her thoughts on having the chance to collaborate with Noé and surrendering herself for the demanding role of Selva, a choreographer who ends up spiraling out of control on a bad trip alongside her dancers, when someone spikes their drinks after a practice performance. Boutella also chatted about her Possession moment in Climax, finding her character through the choreography, and more.
So great to speak with you, Sofia. I would love to start off at the beginning and talk about your initial inclinations into wanting to be a part of this project. Because it is so unusual, it is so different, which is Gaspar's MO in a nutshell. Can you talk about what made you want to take on this film and take on the character of Selva, because essentially, it's something you really almost have to surrender yourself to?
Sofia Boutella: Yeah, I definitely surrendered myself to working with this director who I think is a true artist and I love his previous works: Enter the Void and Irreversible. I admired him for his techniques and his shots are pretty amazing. I just love his work. I did not know exactly what character I was going to play to begin with and he just had the idea of exploring dancers with LSD and he wanted to see what would happen if dancers lost control. So we built almost as we went. He had a few ideas, a few characters that he wanted to see, and directions that he wanted to explore, and all with the goal of exploring an extremely disturbing situation.
Speaking to that, I'm guessing the collaborative process on this film with Gaspar was probably a lot different than anything you've ever really experienced before in your career.
Sofia Boutella: Yeah, absolutely. We didn't have a script, we only had a five page treatment and we discovered the story of the movie as we went, and I think only when we wrapped did I know what we shot, or did I realize who the characters were or who my character was entirely, too. Every day, we would come up to set and have no idea what we were going to film. We would rehearse between four and five hours and we would rehearse 8 to 10 minutes of long sequence shots and then we would have lunch and then we would shoot between 14 and 17 takes. But everything we shot, everything you see in the result in the film is something that was well-rehearsed. There was room for spontaneity within the rehearsal, but once we shot, everything we were saying was all pretty much set. We just took the time to rehearse everything for that day, but it was all in the moment.
When you guys were working out the choreography, can you talk about that process? Because there's something really intriguing about how the choreography becomes this way of establishing each character, and helps define their traits without a single word.
Sofia Boutella: Yeah, it was really important that I found some language and specific way that Selva moves, being a choreographer and all. I wanted to personally to explore a choreographer who probably didn't get the chance to dance to the extent that she had wanted to, who had some years on the stage at that point, and was trying to desperately relate or fit in within the youth, but try to be also nurturing to them. But there is a part of her that is not just bitterness, which means she is incapable of being the fully nurturing person that she wished she could be. And so she has that dark side where she doesn't know truly where she belongs; then, once the spiral begins, you see her losing her mind as she reconciles these feelings. That’s what I was trying to do in the film.
I definitely think you get there. And there is also, of course, that incredible hallway sequence where we're following you where it’s almost like this Possession moment where once the drugs have really kicked in. There’s such a fluidity and freedom to that sequence, and I was wondering if you could talk about working through those long takes and just letting go? It was absolutely hypnotic.
Sofia Boutella: As an actor, I have never had the chance to explore something to that extreme like that, so it was fun. I love that Gaspar gave me that opportunity. It was a lot to deal with, but in a good way, and I enjoyed it. I was just happy to see that I could go there, but at the same time, it was also really tough. Yes, when I spoke with Gaspar about that scene, I told him that I had seen the movie Possession, and there is that sequence where Isabelle Adjani has that moment, and I always wondered if she worked with a contemporary choreographer or a movement teacher and to achieve that, because I had never seen her that way before. And I still don't know the answer, to be honest. But I remember just asking Gaspar about using that as my influence, and he told me that he didn't know yet quite where it would go because he leaves so much space for spontaneity, but I told him, "Can I explore something psychologically similar to that moment that she has, but doing it in my own way?" And he said, "Yes, absolutely," because he’s a big fan of Andrzej Żuławski's work and he likes that movie a lot. I was happy that he gave me that freedom.
Was there anything special you did to prepare yourself for Climax?
Sofia Boutella: I did a lot of research into what kind of choreographer I wanted to play, and also, what extreme of being high that I wanted to have. I also researched a lot of different drugs and that really terrified me just by seeing what’s out there online. There's this drug called flakka or this other one called Krokodil, which I had no idea that these things even existed. I knew about the common drugs that we know about, but I did not know about flakka, and it's really a terrifying one where you see people aren’t even human beings anymore when they’re on it. They look like zombies almost—it’s bizarre. One person was caught eating another person's face and this woman ate her own eyes. There are some really extreme drugs out there, and that was very surprising. All of that research has stayed with me for a long time.