The political jargon of the Parisian Aids activists in ‘120 Beats Per Minute’ may sound a bit dry – there are ‘actions’ and ‘debates’ – yet Robin Campillo’s film could be the most life-affirming thing you’ll see this year. ‘The fear and shame of the 1980s turned into an energy,’ he explains of the ’90s campaigners whose lives it depicts. ‘We were so tired of being the poor gay guys who were victims of the epidemic.’
What’s been the most memorable reaction to the film?
‘We had a free screening with the cast and all the militants of Act Up and it was really moving. People came up afterwards because they’d lost someone to Aids: a husband or father or lover. I hadn’t seen some of them for 25 years. The fact that they liked the film was very important to me.’
You were a member of Act Up in the ’90s. What’s autobiographical in the film?
‘Everything is based on my experiences, but only two characters are close to the real people: Marco, the haemophiliac, and his mother, and they came to see the film. Marco was delighted to see it, but his wife was devastated when she saw what had happened to him as a young guy.’
The Act Up campaigners debate in '120 Beats Per Minute'
It’s partly set in a lecture theatre that Act Up uses for debates. How did you keep the energy in that room during filming?
‘The first step was finding actors with energy. We shot the first scene straight away and kept shooting. The first take was horrible, but it was a work in progress, which is so much more interesting than knowing what you’re going to do. In the edit, we mixed some of those first takes and some final takes. That’s what gives it life.’
Why did you want to cast only gay actors?
‘I was trying to hear the music of the voices and the debates, and that was connected to the fact that people were gay. But if I’d found a straight guy who was perfect for a character,
I would have taken him.’
What lengths did you go to during casting?
‘I tried to talk to people on Grindr [laughs]. When I mentioned that I was casting a film, I think people thought it was a trap – they were so afraid of me. I did find someone on Facebook. So Facebook worked, but Grindr? Not so much. It didn’t work for sex and it didn’t work for my film either!’
‘120 Beats Per Minute’ is in cinemas Fri Apr 6.