‘Being Maria’: Anamaria Vartolomei and Matt Dillon on ‘Challenge’ of Embodying Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando in Upcoming Biopic (EXCLUSIVE)

Jessica Palud’s showbiz drama “Being Maria” reframes the short career and tragic life of “Last Tango in Paris” star Maria Schneider in a post-#MeToo light. “Happening” breakout Anamaria Vartolomei plays Schneider, while Matt Dillon takes on the role of her co-star Marlon Brando. Orange Studio is handling international sales.

Currently in post-production and aiming for a festival premiere later this year, the film in part tracks the controversial production and wrenching fallout of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1972 masterpiece — a landmark that made Schneider an icon while locking her into a sexualized image she never could escape. Palud’s sophomore feature also marks a fitting echo for the Gallic auteur, who kicked off her professional life on the set of Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers.”

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Stepping into Brando’s shoes gave Dillon a unique task, not least because the French-language film required the actor to work in an unfamiliar tongue. “I thought to myself, this is something Brando himself might have done, because he was very courageous that way,” Dillon tells Variety ahead of Unifrance Rendez-Vous in Paris, where Orange Studio is launching the project. “So I liked that challenge, of playing him, but also doing him in French.”

“I also have a real love for Marlon Brando, and he’s been with me since I started acting,” Dillon continues. “He’s always been with me, [while ‘Last Tango in Paris’] had a profound effect because of the personal nature of [Brando’s] very courageous performance. So that was the temptation. Of course, there were times I was going, ‘You idiot, how can you even [dare?]’”

For her part, Vartolomei wanted to honor Schneider’s spark, and not just dwell in darkness. “Maria was a very positive figure,” Vartolomei says. “She was fire, mischief, freedom — an electrifying presence.”

“I have great admiration for her and her career, because she managed to draw on the strength she needed to make herself heard,” Vartolomei continues. “She wanted to lift the veil and break the silence on taboo questions of violence and sexism within the industry. She wanted to protect future generations, and that unfortunately resonates with current events.”

“Reading articles from the era, I was shocked by the sexism she suffered, by the very different way journalists questioned her compared to Bertolucci or Brando,” Vartolomei adds. “Maria never flinched, never compromised, never reduced herself to the low status she was given. She carried a voice that still resonates today.”

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