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    Nahuel Pérez Biscayart Talks About Making the French ACT UP Drama BPM

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), the lead character in BPM, opening October 27, is a radical and positive guy in the French contingent of ACT UP. He is arguably the group’s most charismatic member: passionate, vocal, and fearless. He demands more from everyone because his life, along with so many others infected with AIDS, is at stake.

    In co-writer/director Robin Campillo’s remarkable drama, Sean captures the attention of Nathan (Arnaud Valois), a negative gay man who joins ACT UP as the film opens. As they participate in actions, from passing out condoms at a high school, to getting arrested demanding needle exchange programs, Sean and Nathan start to fall in love. They negotiate sex with condoms, after which Sean explains how he contracted AIDS at 16 during his first gay sexual experience. This is one of many moving scenes in Campillo’s film, and the Argentine-born Biscayart gives an exceptional performance.

    The actor spoke with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about making BPM.

    Gary M. Kramer: What interested you in playing an HIV-positive character in BPM?

    Nahuel Pérez Biscayart: I felt right away that Robin was trying to capture intimate moments and details of this gang. We were not trying to make an epic film about martyrs. The approach was centered in the characters and their relationships, regardless of the weight the story might carry.  

    Gary M. Kramer: You were three years old at the time this film takes place. What research did you do on ACT UP, and how aware were you of the organization?

    Nahuel Pérez Biscayart: I was in Argentina then, and there was no ACT UP there. I had a vague memory of the pink triangles. The first time I heard about (ACT UP) was when I read the script and spoke to Robin about the film. I was impressed and engrossed by the spectacular actions they carried out. They were supposed to be victims, but they took the power over the sickness and the conflicts. They were key in taking charge of their destiny.

    Gary M. Kramer: Sean “lives politics in the first person.” What can you say about committing to a cause that you are willing to risk your life for?

    Nahuel Pérez Biscayart: Wow—that’s a big thing. In personal terms, I’m always trying to change things I don’t like. When I feel anguished, I try to see why and resolve the conflict. I don’t have the power to change everything around me, so I try to have empathy towards others. Growing up in Argentina, which is such a politicized society, when people didn’t please us we would go out in the street with strikes, riots, and demonstrations. I used to go to demonstrations against the dictatorship with my family every year, and I did some things in high school. We can change things if we want. The reason why the world is the way it is, is because we oppose things we don’t like.  

    Gary M. Kramer: What was it like to (re)create the “actions” in the film?

    Nahuel Pérez Biscayart: It was fun to play. I never approach acting as a dramatic voyage. They were radical actions and extreme; it never got solemn. I enjoyed those scenes and used them as a way to go through different emotions.

    Gary M. Kramer: There were both emotional and physical demands in your role. Can you talk about how you got into the character’s body and mindset?

    Nahuel Pérez Biscayart: Sean was impassioned to live through sex and actions, and that’s the power of these people. They were fighting so they could live better and longer. I don’t see any other way of approaching the character if not through the body. We’re talking about sickness. They were making a health issue visible to the world. It was crucial, and it was natural. Everything was very physical. I can’t imagine the film without physicality. The characters talk a lot, but it’s a film where words and discourses are in the direction of actions.

    Gary M. Kramer: You have some erotic scenes. Can you talk about creating that intimacy and vulnerability on-screen?

    Nahuel Pérez Biscayart: I think what’s exciting about how we shot the sex scenes is that they were not idealized sex scenes, which have nothing to do with reality. Having sex is what we see in the film. The awkwardness (was) the opportunity to open up to someone you don’t know. It makes you vulnerable, of course. Arnaud [Valois] and I spent time to see if we felt comfortable together. I felt he was like a brother and that was important. The sex scene was a bit choreographed, so we could move, open, breathe, and play. The characters open up in that scene too. It is about the emotion. Sex scenes are complex and interesting because of the emotion.

    © 2017 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer