Out gay actor Nicolas Maury steals his every scene in director Yann Gonzalez’s audacious thriller, “Knife+Heart,” set in the gay adult film industry in Paris, 1979. When several actors who work for porn producer Anne (Vanessa Paradis) are murdered — by a masked killer wielding a dildo that turns into a knife, no less! — she is questioned by the police. Oddly, Anne is inspired to turn these scenes from her life into “art.” She casts an actor and director in her crew, Archie (Maury), as her screen alter ego in a porno called “Homocidal” that recreates her police interrogation scenes as erotic comedy. “Knife+Heart” gets serious — and stranger — as Anne tries to solve the crime.
Maury’s loyal right-hand man supports Anne as she grapples with the death of cast members and her breakup with girlfriend Loïs (Kate Moran), the adult film studio’s editor. His scenes add comic relief to this naughty thriller.
In a recent interview via WhatsApp, Maury explained that making the film — and the erotic film-within-a-film — was fun for him.
“I was like a puppet,” he said. “Sometimes when I act, I consider myself like a Barbie, and it’s interesting — like in Fassbinder’s films — because I love to be a little doll in the hands of the director.”
“Knife+Heart” is Maury’s second feature with Gonzalez after playing a transvestite in “You and the Night.” (He also appeared in Gonzalez’s 2017 short “Islands.”) Maury appreciates the director’s fertile vision and his films’ setting in worlds that are dreamlike and poetic.
“Yann shot ‘Knife+Heart’ on film, in 35mm, which is uncommon,” Maury said. “Yann and I believe in the power of film. You film the aura and soul of things. Maybe Yann films the soul of porn, or the dick, or the sex. He’s like a shaman.”
But Maury also gets the opportunity to be creative. He improvises an amusing bit in the film where Archie tells a group of porn actors to undress. When one actor throws his underwear at him, Archie sniffs it, generating a laugh.
“That was my idea,” Maury admitted. “It’s risky, but it had to be to be funny.”
Likewise, when Archie plays with the film’s cum or masturbation scenes, it is ridiculous, even absurd, but that’s what makes “Knife+Heart” edgy and funny.
The actor explained that he approached playing Archie with his body.
“I had a trainer, because I would have some sex scenes and some nude scenes, so I wanted to be in good shape,” he said.
Speaking of sex, Maury addressed the huge question of why we like to watch pornography.
“We’re in this era where it’s easy to watch porn, but this film is about the preciousness of images and the rarity of the image and unconscious images,” he said. “For me, voyeurism is about fetishism. It’s very important for me to sample it — like a wine taster — it’s about exigence.”
To get into the character of a porn actor-director in 1979 France, Maury bleached his hair blonde, grew a porn ‘stache, and wore vintage clothes, such as a pair of revealing hot pants.
“All the looks they wanted me to wear were real clothes from the era,” he said. “What was difficult was the green trench coat, which Vanessa [Paradis] and I had to share. We both perspired, so it was really wet. I felt bad for her. We used vodka to mask the [smell of] perspiration.”
As for working with Paradis and playing her on-screen alter ego, Maury gushed, “It was overwhelming for me, since I have been a huge fan of hers since I was seven. She really inspired me. It was intense between us on the set.”
He described Archie’s relationship to Anne bluntly.
“I’m her pet,” he said. “I loved playing that because it’s important to show that in the job and in friendship.”
But he also noted, that while he may play “someone’s dog” in this film or in his current Netflix series, “Call My Agent,” where he plays Hervé, a dedicated assistant to a French film agent, he is not like these characters in real life. Maury, who talks in a soft, gentle voice, often plays effeminate gay men but he does so with confidence, not shame, thereby shattering the stereotypical “sissy.” Oozing charm, he asserted, “It’s my elegance.”
Maury had more to say about being a gay man who frequently plays gay roles.
“It’s being more deeply myself,” he explained. “Sexuality and gender for an artist is not that important; we are monsters. I want to define myself with texts, authors, projects, and the style of the film I choose. Okay, I’m gay. Maybe it’s obvious for certain people, but I played a part of a young father last November and it was another side of myself. It’s a sweet battle. I’m not in war, I’m not a soldier, but gentle. I think maybe my part can move the mentality sometimes. I get a lot of messages from young gay guys about Hervé, and that moves me very much.”
After all the talk of sex and sexuality, there is one point left to discuss. Given that “Knife+Heart” is a thriller, Maury spoke about what scares him. He said,
“Homophobic people, the stupidity of people, the lack of desire of people, the lack of curiosity in humanity, and people who lie,” he said.
And then, after a dramatic pause, Maury added, “And mass murders too.”
KNIFE+HEART | Directed by Yann Gonzalez | Altered Innocence | In French, with English subtitles | Opens Mar. 15 | Roxie Cinema at the Roxy Hotel, 2 Sixth Ave. at Walker St.; roxycinematribeca.com | Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn, 445 Albee Square West; drafthouse.com/theater/downtown-brooklyn
Director Yann Gonzalez will appear for post-screening Q&As on Mar. 15 at the Roxy and Mar. 16 at the Alamo.