Karl Glusman knows he’s living the dream right now, even if everyone keeps asking about his penis.
The 27-year-old actor raised outside of Portland, Oregon makes his starring debut this weekend in Love 3D, the latest cinematic dare from Franco-Argentine Gaspar Noé (Irreversible, Enter the Void). In it he plays Murphy, an American living in Paris whose unhappy life saddled with a young family is interrupted by memories of Electra, the ex he still pines for.
Unlike your average breakout thesp, Glusman has been fielding more queries about his sex life than his creative process of late. But then most films don’t open on their stars naked and in flagrante as Love does with Glusman and co-star Aomi Muyock, who are introduced while engaged in a languid bout of mutual masturbation that ends, inevitably, in orgasm.
“It’s funny because you might walk into a room and you’ve never met someone before, and they go, ‘Is that your real dick?’ And you’re like, ‘Hi! What’s your name?’” smiled Glusman on a recent morning in Echo Park. “You just have to have a sense of humor about it. I’m not ashamed. I love this movie. It makes me laugh. It makes me sad. It makes me insanely happy to watch it, too.”
Rolling with the flow of fate is what led Glusman to Noé in the first place. He’d been acting in theater in New York when a bad breakup sent him off in search of a cathartic haircut.
“I was heartbroken for like a year and when it was done-done, dead, like, we’re-never-going-to-get-back-together-again and they made it very clear that was going to happen, I dropped that person off at the airport and came back into Manhattan,” he recalled. “I got off the L train at its first stop in Manhattan on 1st Avenue, went one block to a barbershop and told them to just shave my head.”
The next day, Glusman and his newly shorn head stumbled into an audition for an ADIDAS commercial. He booked the gig and took the $15,000 he made and sojourned to France, still nursing a wounded heart.
“I had been there with my ex and it was miserable, so I went back to kind of disassociate it with that person,” he said. “And through being there, being out of love, I met someone at a club and we got to talking. They were friends with Gaspar. Six months later they told me to send him a selfie, which was insane. I didn’t actually believe that they knew him. How could they be friends with one of my favorite filmmakers?”
Noé tells a slightly more colorful version of that chance meeting: “I knew a girl who had had a… short story with Karl,” Noé told Esquire. “I asked her, ‘So is he gifted? – because I was not going to ask him. She said, ‘He’s got everything you need.’”
Glusman plays Murphy as a Noé-esque avatar, a self-obsessed film student studying in Paris who waxes poetic about Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and dreams of jolting awake the puritanical conventional expressions of sex in cinema. His walls are adorned with posters from some of the most provocative films ever made: Salo, Birth of a Nation, M.
With Electra, the stunning painter he meets and falls quickly in love and lust with, he makes deeply romantic promises of a forever love and future babies. Together they explore their sensual limits, taking drugs and inviting Omi, the nubile blonde next door (Klara Kristin) into their bed for an athletic ménage a trois set to the sound of the hazy Eddie Hazel guitar licks from Funkadelic’s 1971 “Maggot Brain.” It all goes to hell when Murphy betrays Electra for a solo roll in the sack with Omi and accidentally gets her pregnant.
“It’s definitely inspired by some things that have happened to [Noé], but it’s not strictly autobiographical,” said Glusman. “I’m pretty certain that he’s never impregnated the wrong woman. Some of it’s pulled from his friends’ stories that he composited to try to hit all the aspects of love that he knew: Jealousy, hate, passion, romance, intimacy, pregnancy, birth, breakups, makeups…”
“I think this is definitely his most personal film. He told me it was the first time he’d ever cried while shooting.”
Noé and his frequent cinematographer, Belgian DP Benoît Debie, ran a particularly fast and loose Love set. If Noé didn’t like what Glusman was wearing on set, they’d sometimes trade pants on the spot. At times Glusman literally wore the director’s own clothes. “He didn’t even wash them,” Glusman laughed. And what exactly does eau de Noé smell like? “He smells like a smelly Argentinian monkey! He smells like a real man.”
For the record yes, it is Glusman’s real dick you see onscreen, and often. Noé was upfront about the demands the role would require from their very first conversation, which led to emails and a two day party-along in which Noé flew Glusman to Paris to hang, feel each other out, and club hop in search of potential actors to fill out the rest of the cast.
“We were going dancing, just talking and drinking. I think he was also playing matchmaker and introducing me to these girls he was considering casting. It was like speed dating in Paris with Gaspar Noé,” he laughed.
Glusman was already such a fan of Noé and his Enter the Void, he’d already made a short video inspired by the film. He sent it and other videos to Noé when they started corresponding. Still, he admits, he wasn’t sure what to make of the 51-year-old at first.
“I thought he was kind of creepy and weird and I didn’t really know if I should trust him at all,” he said. Then Noé had Glusman screen test with a child to feel out his scenes with the young son he adores, the moments that reveal glimpses of why a miserable Murphy would ever stick around instead of searching for Electra.
“I think he was trying to see if I repulsed children or got along with them,” Glusman joked. “But to see him with his godson and how gentle he was, that was kind of the moment I decided, ‘Okay, this is a good guy.’”
Once filming began, Noé immediately put that trust to the test. Glusman’s first kiss with Muyock was captured onscreen as the cameras rolled. All of the cast’s love scenes – most but not all of them unsimulated – were front loaded for the beginning of the shoot. “We tried to knock out all the love scenes in the first two weeks so no one would jump ship later on, I think.” He cracked a wry smile. “It was an interesting time in my life, those two weeks.”
With oblivious strangers chattering nearby and one Kurt Cobain lookalike deeply engaged in his smart phone, I asked Glusman, whose curly hair has since grown out, to take me back to Love’s much talked-about 3D ejaculation scene – filmed, in all its spurting glory, on the first day of shooting. “You kind of have to get it in one take,” he grinned. “You have to jump off the high board. You have to just go for it.”
One prerequisite for the film, he says, was that none of the actors be dating significant others who might complicate their performances. These days Glusman is currently in a relationship. “I am, and they have seen the movie,” he smiled. “One and a half times.”
Embracing the uniqueness of his Love experience came part and parcel with the role. “I think we can all agree that sex is a totally necessary component of love, especially young love. That’s sort of the whole point,” he observed. “You can’t really separate the two. And the truth is, making love is the most important thing I do every day, and I don’t give a damn who knows that.”
Love may remain the most infamous role of Glusman’s burgeoning career thanks to its sexual audaciousness, but it’s just one of several movies he’s already made with some of cinema’s boldest current filmmakers. He just wrapped his role on Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals opposite Jake Gyllenhaal, a film he landed after meeting the designer-director in Cannes. And thanks in part to Noé he also appears in Nicolas Winding Refn’s L.A.-set Neon Demon, playing a young photographer in love with Elle Fanning’s fame-hungry model.
“Gaspar called Nic, right in front of me!” Glusman exclaimed. “He asked, ‘Do you want to meet the most daring, the most professional actor on the planet? I have the actor for you!’”
Several missed connections and one audition tape later, Glusman finally caught Refn’s eye. “We talked on Skype for an hour, talked about movies. Talked about Taxi Driver. All those guys love Taxi Driver.”
Glusman’s almost officially made it to his one-year mark as a bona fide Los Angeleno. He took the leap thanks to another director of his, Roland Emmerich. The Stonewall helmer cast Glusman in his period gay rights drama after he’d initially auditioned for the lead role that eventually went to Jeremy Irving.
“I was so wrong for it, it was terrible,” he groaned. “Luckily Roland brought me in for the other part. I don’t think the casting director even recommended hiring me. I think he saw something that he liked, and thank god! It made my mother happy.”
On Emmerich’s advice Glusman moved to L.A., crashing at the director’s place while he hunted for apartments. Now he lives near the Eastside café where we’re sitting, although his manager’s pleading with him not to tell people where he lives anymore. Glusman’s privacy may soon become a more precious commodity. “It’s a nice balance of pimping me out and protecting me,” he nodded.
Even though he just came offof his last set, Glusman is still on his hustle, preparing for an upcoming audition between interviews promoting Love. “I don’t think anyone just becomes something overnight,” he said. “I think it’s many, many hours in the dark, there’s all that time that people don’t see you doing smaller things or struggling along. Then suddenly you get a break and people are like, ‘He came out of nowhere!’
“The life of an actor is you do a job and it’s done, then you get another job, someone tells you about one or you have to find it… it can feel a little bit like that scene in 2001 when HAL detaches the astronaut from the spaceship and he’s floating off into space on this terrible trajectory into the abyss. At least, it can feel like that. But I think the key is in what a much wiser actor than myself once told me: You have to find a balance in life. You need to have hobbies and love and family and travel.”
Who needs hobbies when you’ve got the memories of a once-in-a-lifetime few months spent making envelope-pushing art with Gaspar Noé?
“The craziest was the swinger’s club because those were all professionals they brought in,” Glusman chuckled, remembering the scene in which Murphy and Electra descend into the erotic bowels of an orgiastic sex party. “I was just amazed at all the things they could do, and how long they could do them. By the end of the day these big dudes, big French porn stars were slapping me on the back like, ‘Great job,’ and I thought, ‘Yeah! Now I’m part of the club!”