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‘Last Tango in Paris’ actress dies at 58

Maria Schneider earned fame in steamy 1972 movie starring opposite Marlon Brandon.

Schneider

Maria Schneider, the French actress who appeared opposite Marlon Brando in "Last Tango in Paris," the 1972 movie whose strong sexual content stirred international controversy, has died. She was 58.

Schneider died in Paris on Thursday after a long illness, her family told Agence France Presse.

She was a voluptuous, 19-year-old newcomer with long, curly brown hair framing a youthful face when she was cast in writer-director Bernardo Bertolucci’s "Last Tango in Paris," in which she played a young engaged Parisian woman looking for an apartment to rent. Her character begins an anonymous sexual relationship in an empty apartment with a grief-stricken middle-age American (Brando), whose French wife had just committed suicide.

The X-rated film, which critic Pauline Kael called "a landmark in movie history" and which critic Roger Ebert said was "one of the great emotional experiences of our time," was banned in a number of countries for its sexuality and nudity.

"It’s amazing," Schneider said in a 2007 interview with the London Daily Mail. "I’ve made 50 films in my career and ‘Last Tango’ is 35 years old, but it’s still the one that everyone asks me about."

The movie’s infamous sex scene, involving butter, was not in the original script.

"The truth is, it was Marlon who came up with the idea," Schneider said. "They only told me about it before we had to film the scene, and I was so angry. I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can’t force someone to do something that isn’t in the script, but at the time, I didn’t know that.

"Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie.’ But during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Brando and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take."

In his review of the film when it was released in the United States in 1973, Charles Champlin of The Los Angeles Times wrote that Schneider "is a triumph of casting — petulant, self-indulgent, and convincingly terrified as someone who has gotten in beyond her depth."

In the 2007 Daily Mail interview, Schneider said she "never went naked in a movie again after ‘Last Tango,’ even though I was offered many such roles. People today are used to such things, but when the film opened in 1972, it was scandalous."

The film, which earned Brando and Bertolucci Oscar nominations, brought Schneider worldwide fame.

But the glare of the media, she said in the 2007 interview, "made me go mad. I got into drugs — pot and then cocaine, LSD and heroin — it was like an escape from reality. … I didn’t enjoy being famous at all, and drugs were my escape. I took pills to try and commit suicide, but I survived because God decided it wasn’t the time for me to go."

Schneider’s most notable post-"Tango" film credit was starring with Jack Nicholson in director Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 drama "The Passenger."

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