Maria Schneider (actress): French actress (1952 - 2011)
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Maria Schneider (actress)
French actress

Maria Schneider (actress)

Maria Schneider (actress)
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro French actress
Was Actor
From France
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender female
Birth 27 March 1952, Paris
Death 3 February 2011, Paris (aged 58 years)
Star sign Aries
Father: Daniel Gélin
The details (from wikipedia)


Maria-Hélène Schneider (27 March 1952 – 3 February 2011), known as Maria Schneider, was a French actress. At age 19 she became famous for portraying Jeanne opposite Marlon Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci's film Last Tango in Paris (1972); and the Girl in Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975), opposite Jack Nicholson.

Early life

Schneider was born in Paris to Daniel Gélin, a French actor, and Marie-Christine Schneider from Romania, who ran a bookshop in Paris. Gélin was married to actress and producer Danièle Delorme during his affair with Marie-Christine Schneider; he never acknowledged Schneider as his daughter. Schneider was brought up by her mother in a town near the French border with Germany; she met her father only three times.

As a teenager, she adored films, going to the cinema up to four times a week. She left home at 15 after an argument with her mother and went to Paris, where she made her stage acting debut that same year. She eked out a living as a film extra and a model. While working as an extra, she met Brigitte Bardot, who knew her father. Bardot offered Schneider a room in her house. Through Bardot, Schneider met people in the film business and Bardot introduced her to the William Morris Agency. She was 18 when she had her first break in 1970, appearing in Madly, starring Alain Delon.


Schneider gained international renown for her performance at the age of 19 in the sexually explicit and controversial Last Tango in Paris (1972), directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. She performed several nude scenes in a graphic portrayal of anonymous sex with an older man. In an interview in 2007, Schneider described the director Bertolucci by the following: "He was fat and sweaty and very manipulative, both of Marlon and myself, and would do certain things to get a reaction from me." As for her working relationship with Brando, she said that he had a paternal relationship with her on the set. But Brando suggested the acted sodomy scene, and Bertolucci did not reveal this scene to her until just before the filming of it. In 2007 she said:

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 Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn't console me or apologise. Thankfully, there was just one take.

In 2013 Bertolucci said he had withheld the information from her to generate a real "reaction of frustration and rage". Brando alleged that Bertolucci had wanted the characters to have real sex, but Brando and Schneider both said it was simulated. Actress Jessica Tovey, writing in The Guardian, argued that Bertolucci's defense of pursuing an artistic vision was "bogus" and that what occurred was "a violation." Tovey also observed that is difficult to imagine the "roles being reversed; Brando being brutalized only to discover midway through filming that Schneider and Bertolucci had conspired to add an element of humiliation."

In 2001, she commented:

Last Tango... first major role. In fact, it's a total coincidence. I was friends with Dominique Sanda. She would make the film with Jean-Louis Trintignant, but she was pregnant. She had a large picture with her of both of us. Bertolucci saw it. He made me do a casting... I regretted my choice since the beginning of my career would have been sweeter, quieter. For Tango, I was not prepared. People have identified with a character that was not me. Butter, about saucy old pigs... Even Marlon with his charisma and class, felt a bit violated, exploited a little in this film. He rejected it for years. And me, I felt it doubly.

Schneider and Brando remained friends until his death, although they did not speak of the movie "for a while". She has said that due to her experience with the film – and her treatment afterward as a sex symbol rather than as a serious actress – she decided never to work nude again. Because of the scandal surrounding the film's release, Schneider became a drug addict and suicidal. She later became a women's rights advocate, in particular fighting for more female film directors, more respect for female actors, and better representation of women in film and media. Criminal proceedings were brought against Bertolucci in Italy for the anal-sex scene; the film was sequestered by the censorship commission and all copies were ordered destroyed. An Italian court revoked Bertolucci's civil rights for five years and gave him a four-month suspended prison sentence. In 1978 the Appeals Court of Bologna ordered three copies of the film to be preserved in the national film library with the stipulation that they could not be viewed, until Bertolucci was later able to re-submit it for general distribution with no cuts.

Schneider also appeared in films such as Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975), Boris Szulzinger's Mama Dracula (1980), and Franco Zeffirelli's Jane Eyre (1996).

Schneider worked in more than 50 films and television productions between 1969 and 2008. During her career, she was a strong advocate for improving the work of women in film.

I'm still struggling for the image of women in film and I'm still working, not as much as I would like to because for a woman in her late forties, it's hard to find work. Not only in France. I had a chat with Anjelica Huston last year. We spoke about the same problem, you know. I don't know where it comes from? The writers, the producers, or the directors. But I think it's a pity even for the public. We get a response to see a mature woman in film. We see many, many macho men in film. An actress like Meryl Streep doesn't work as much as Bob De Niro.

Personal life

In 1974, Schneider came out as bisexual. In early 1976, she abandoned the film set of Caligula and checked herself into a mental hospital in Rome for several days to be with her lover, photographer Joan Townsend. This, coupled with her refusal to perform nude, led to Schneider's dismissal from the film. She was replaced by Teresa Ann Savoy.

The 1970s were turbulent years for Schneider, marked by drug addiction, overdoses, and a suicide attempt. Schneider said that she disliked the instant fame accorded to her from Last Tango in Paris. She suffered abuse and began taking drugs.

I was rock 'n' roll. About drugs, we did not know at the time, it was so dangerous. There was an ideal, to change society and especially a thirst for novelty... I have lost seven years of my life and I regret it bitterly... I started using drugs when I became famous. I did not like the celebrity, and especially the image full of innuendo, naughty, that people had of me after Last Tango. In addition, I had no family behind me, who protect you... I suffered abuse. People who come up to tell you unpleasant things on planes. I was tracked down, and I felt hounded.

By the 1980s, however, her life had improved:

I was very lucky – I lost many friends to drugs – but I met someone in 1980 who helped me stop. I call this person my angel and we've been together ever since. I don't say if it's a man or a woman. That's my secret garden. I like to keep it a mystery.


Schneider died of cancer on 3 February 2011 at age 58. Her funeral was held on 10 February 2011 at Église Saint-Roch, Paris, attended by actors, directors, and producers in French cinema such as Dominique Besnehard, Bertrand Blier, Christine Boisson, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon, and Andréa Ferreol, her girlfriend Maria Pia Almadio, half-siblings Fiona and Manuel Gélin, and her uncle Georges Schneider. Delon read a tribute from Brigitte Bardot. Schneider was cremated afterwards at Père Lachaise crematorium, and her ashes were to be scattered at sea at the foot of the Rock of the Virgin in Biarritz, according to her last wishes.

Legacy and honours

In 2001, Schneider was the guest of honor at the 23rd Festival Créteil Films de Femmes. In a master class at the festival, she called film "a tracing of memory", and said that women must be recognized as actors and directors. She also brought attention to the importance of assisting senior French actors who become unemployed and impoverished. Schneider was chosen the same year as vice-president of La Roue Tourne (fr), an organization in Paris organized to support senior French actors and directors. According to Schneider, Marcel Carné, director of Children of Paradise (1945) and one of the most important directors of the late 1930s, would have died in poverty but for La Roue Tourne supporting him for the last 10 years of his life.

On 1 July 2010, Schneider was awarded the medal of Chevalier, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, for her contributions to the arts by Minister of Culture and Communication, Frédéric Mitterrand. He had acted with her in Jacques Rivette's film, Merry-Go-Round (1981).



Year Film English Translation/
Also Known As
Role Language
1969 Les Femmes Cameo appearance French
L'Arbre de Noël The Christmas Tree Cameo appearance French
1970 Madly French
1971 Les jambes en l'air a.k.a. César Grandblaise Sarah Grandblaise French
1972 Hellé Nicole French
La Vieille Fille The Old Maid Mome French, German
What a Flash! Cameo appearance French
Ultimo tango a Parigi Last Tango in Paris Jeanne French, English
1973 Cari genitori Dear Parents Antonia Italian, English
Reigen (de) Dance of Love Das süße Mädel German
1975 La Baby-Sitter Scar Tissue Michèle English
Professione: reporter The Passenger The Girl English, German, Spanish
1977 Violanta Laura French
1978 Voyage au jardin des morts Hypolyte French
Io sono mia I Belong to Me Suna Spanish
1979 La Dérobade Memoirs of a French Whore Maloup French
Een vrouw als Eva A Woman Like Eve Liliane Dutch
1980 Weiße Reise White Travel German
Haine Hate French
Mama Dracula Mother Dracula Nancy Hawaii French, English
1981 Une saison de paix à Paris a.k.a. Sezona mira u Parizu Elen French, Serbian
La chanson du mal aimé French
Merry-Go-Round Leo English
1982 Cercasi Gesù Looking for Jesus
a.k.a. L'imposteur
Francesca Italian
Balles perdues Stray Bullets Véra French
1984 Princess & the Photographer a.k.a. Yoroppa tokkyu English, Japanese
1987 Résidence surveillée Céline Fontaine French
1989 Bunker Palace Hôtel Muriel
1991 The Conviction
Écrans de sable Sarah French
1992 Au pays des Juliets In the Country of Juliets Raissa
Les Nuits fauves Savage Nights Noria French
1996 Jane Eyre Bertha English
1998 Something to Believe In English
2000 Les Acteurs The Actors Herself French
2002 La Repentie The Repentant French
2004 Au large de Bad Ragaz
2006 Perds pas la boule! Thelda French
Quale amore Italian
2007 La Vie d'artiste The Life of the Artist Cameo appearance French
La clef The Key Solange French
2008 Cliente Client Marie-Hélène French

TV series

Year Series English Translation/
Also Known As
Role Notes
1984 Buio nella valle TV miniseries
1985 A Song for Europe a.k.a. A Crime of Honor TV film
1987 Résidence surveillée
L'or noir de Lornac TV series
1988 Silvia è sola TV film
1993 Contrôle d'identité TV film
1995 Navarro Samira TV series
Episode: "L'ombre d'un père"
1998 Angelo nero TV film
Il cuore e la spada Queen Maga of Ireland TV film
2004 Maigret TV series
2008 A.D. La guerre de l'ombre TV miniseries

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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