Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull is an actress and plastic artist. She is Emmanuelle, the mother of Tito (Vince Galliot-Cumant) in Climax. The following interview was made by e-mail.
Did you already know Gaspar Noé, and otherwise, have you seen all of his movies since then?
Yes, when I was still [studying] Beaux-Arts, his whole filmography.
How did you get involved on the shooting?
My profile was offered by some acquaintances and [Gaspar] saw me a few times in Paris and then saw me in a voguing ballroom.
How did Gaspar Noé introduce you the project?
He immediatly told me about a cis mother [ed. : “cis”, from “cisgender”, describes a person whom social gender match with their assignated sex at birth] who would have a child, and a mother who might be under the influence of a severe, hard drug.
The shooting seems to have been trying…
YES that’s a fact, but I don’t think it was in itself because we were there exclusively for this: room and board. The anxiety came from the outside… For instance, I became homeless during and after the shooting, thankfully they were there to allow me to enjoy a hotel room and to support me morally.
As in his previous movies, Gaspar mixes moving shots and long static shots, sometimes more chatty : did you improvise differently at each take or did you follow a kind of a common thread?
[SPOILER : select the black area] We shot more or less chronogically. As for me, my only difficult static scene was the one shot in which I’m dead, we’ve shot a few alternatives, I was laying in blood and in the cold… It was my last scene. At the end, I couldn’t get up or move and I cried because of all the feelings accumulated during the last 15 days of shooting.
Tell us about your experience
I’ve studied Beaux-Arts, then ran away from my hometown to start my life… I’ve started my (gender) transition after a tragic event. I then wandered in a few jobs that payed the bills and on missions or casting offers. Until Gaspar’s where I’ve got an important supporting role. I didn’t want to be associated to a disastrous casting linked to my transidentity, like the renowned roles of prostitutes, usurpers or freaks. This is why I was particularly touched by the role of a cisgender mother because if I’m not mistaken, it’s the first time in a french movie that a trans woman has a role of a cis woman.
What relationship did you have with Vince Galliot-Cumant (Tito) ? What links did you establish with the other members of the cast and crew ?
Vince aka Tito, is the son I could never have in a biological way, we’re still in touch and I’ve made friends with his parents. We saw a few children with Gaspar during the casting and at the moment he arrived I felt that he would be my child.
With the other members of the crew, it’s simple : I knew some of them before the shooting but usually we got on well together, like children in a summer camp ahahaha.
The movie is advertised as “inspired by true events”. Do you know more about these events ?
Well, as for me, I’ve learnt it was inspired by true events the day it was screened in Cannes ahahahha .
You agreed to shot in the movie without knowing the plot… Would your choice be different if you were explained your character and her development?
Yes at first, but in the end I would have accepted, who would decline a project with Gaspar Noé ? He properly sold the thing by talking of Isabelle Adjani in Possession : the scene I love in which she turns crazy in the subway. I was seduced.
Tell us about your best memory from the shooting
It was not during the shooting since I experienced it as a job, but I’d say it was the togetherness of the places and of the crew outside the shooting, especially when they told me I could sleep in the hotel when I had to leave my apartment. I was so worried to find myself being homeless that it was a release…
If Climax got good press, it’s paradoxically challenging towards the audience. How did you react at the very first screening in Cannes ?
I didn’t react…. For real, since I couldn’t take a step back towards the shooting… I was thinking “wow, actually everything fits perfectly between the scenes, we’re beautiful and everyone has a slice of the cake in the movie”. Then, going back to the theaters and noticing the first reviews, I didn’t expect it neither to be restricted under 16 nor to be that violent ahahaha.
On social networks, you talk about your feeling and gratefulness towards Gaspar Noé, for giving you a cis woman role while you’re a trans woman. If you had to give some advices to young trans people who want to become actors, what would they be?
That there are some filmmakers and casting directors who will always see them as freaks and that sometimes not highlighting your transidentity can tip the scales in your favor during those castings.
Countless of times, roles given to trans people are assimilated with prostitution, monstrosity, fantasy…. I remember on a casting [for which I didn’t got the part], hearing from the director : “you’re too far in your transition for the role, I wanted a transexual (here again, it could be a better term*) that looks like a man, well a tranny…”
Actually, those people don’t understand that our transitions are linked to our life’s ordinariness… so in the end, it’s better not to talk about it, wether it is for trans roles or cis roles, go ahead, self-confident. Being trans is just a detail of who your are and I hope that your life doesn’t only go around this.
It’s important to keep in mind it’s a casting for you, go with all of your skill and your professionalism, you’re just as viable as the skinny, white woman, blond-haired and blue-eyed in the prime of her life. You, you are probably better because to reach the point you’re now, you surely fought for it. Go ahead.
*ed (corrected by Claude-Emmanuelle) : The word “transexual” and words linked to “transexuality” refers historically to a psychiatrying pathology and needs (etymologically) a gender reassignment surgery orchestrated by doctors self-proclaimed experts on the subject. The word “transgender” (or “trans woman” if it’s about a person identifying with feminine gender, and “trans man” when it’s with masculine gender) fits better because refers to a gender identity (and not necessarily to a gender expression), without the obligatory requirement to make gender reassignment surgeries, which is in itself not necessarily the aim for every trans people.
In Cannes, you appeared in two movies : actress in Climax and extra in Yann Gonzalez’s Knife + Heart. Are you willing to become an actress and if so, how did this desire happen?
It sort of happened despite myself, with social networks and word of mouth… it’s not an easy job on a financial point of view but hopefully an agent will be confident with me in order to make it my daily job and that I could play in movies and dramas in - let’s say a permanent contract ahahahha.
In plain language, yes I completely dream of becoming an actress or/and temporary show business worker, but also keeping my work of plastic artist, modeling, carrying on and find enough bravery to publish my DJ sets so that I mix in parties, as well as activism to give trans women and people concerned by transidentities a voice because on this side… we’re late absolutely everywhere in France.
Have you shot in other movies? Who would you like to work with?
I’ve played in a web series called “Les Engagés” (“The committed”) I’ve worked on a shortfilm by Nicolas Medy called “Bientôt le feu” (“Soon the fire”) and I just missed a first role in next Martin Scorsese’s production Port Authority (I speak an awful english).
I’d dream to shot in a movie by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Pedro Almodovar, David Cronenberg, Sébastien Liftshitz, Francis Ford and Sofia Coppola, Romain Gavras, Lars von Trier, Xavier Dolan, in another Yann Gonzalez, Luc Besson, Wachowski Sisters, Ryan Murphy and of course, in another Gaspar Noé.
If they read this, I’m ready to cancel everything ! Ahahahah