'Climax' Is a Nightmare About Dance. For Its Star, It Was Like Old Times.

Sofia Boutella takes center stage in Gaspar Noé's horror musical. Making the film brought back memories of her former life as a dancer for Madonna and Rihanna.

Before she played a leaping assassin in 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and an alien warrior in 2016’s Star Trek Beyond, French-Algerian actor Sofia Boutella was a dancer who went from competing in hip-hop crews to performing with Madonna and Rihanna. So when Boutella got the lead role in Gaspar Noé’s newest horror film Climax about a dance crew in the midst of a nightmare acid trip, it brought back a few precious memories of her life before Hollywood.

Minus the drugs.

“I’ve never been in that situation in my whole entire life,” Boutella tells Inverse. “Long rehearsals, yes, but I’ve never had a rehearsal that ended up like that.”

In Climax, now playing in theaters, a close-knit dance troupe in France rehearse late into the night inside an abandoned school building. To blow off steam, the gossipy, hormonal dancers drink sangria, which unbeknownst to them is laced with LSD. As the high settles in, so too does their paranoia, kicking off a destructive Sodom and Gomorrah where no one is in control of themselves.

Although an experienced dancer before she turned to acting, Boutella admits she didn’t feel “quite ready” to dance again.

“It was surprising Gaspar contacted me,” says Boutella, who’s been retired from dancing since taking up acting full time. “In all truth, I was happy to be on board because I consider him a true artist. I was just sort of taken by surprise.”

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Sofia Boutella and Romain Guillermic in 'Climax.'

In playing a normal dance choreographer onscreen, a far cry from most of her recent high-profile roles including femme fatale assassins (Hotel Artemis) and undead mummies (The Mummy), Boutella felt nostalgic throughout the making of Climax.

“Not only for dancing but dancing in France,” she says. “That’s where we shot the movie. So, it was a going back to the roots sort of feeling. It brought me back to old memories.”

At the same time, the film’s tight schedule — a tight 15-day shoot with five hours of rehearsal every day — meant Boutella couldn’t dwell on the past. There was also the matter of basically writing a character during filming, as Noé’s script was just five pages long.

“I had a script for The Mummy. I didn’t have any for Climax,” she says. “The character Selva was built as we went. I knew what we shot and who my character was only after the end of filming. I was so dedicated to the character and the story, and working with Gaspar that I had so little time to reminisce. I had to be so present and not think about the past.”

Although Climax is an ensemble movie, Boutella takes center stage as Selva, a veteran choreographer who carries the burden of pushing her troupe to succeed. So when things go terribly, terribly wrong, Boutella had to express those emotions whilst portraying the worst kind of high imaginable.

“That’s the thing I wanted to play, that psychological struggle with her identity within this world,” she says. “She’s aged a little bit. She isn’t quite as good as she used to be and didn’t fulfill the dreams she wanted to fulfill. As it goes bad and the high gets stronger and stronger, she’s letting out something deep inside of her. It’s here even without the drug. The drug is helping her release in that way.”

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In 'Climax,' a French dance troupe rehearse late into the evening and let loose with some sangria that's been laced with LSD.

One scene stands out in particular, a long-take on Selva in the middle of her high is like an interpretative performance of her turmoil.

“I wanted to feel as stuck as I possibly could,” says Boutella, who found the heart of the performance in Selva’s suffocating relationship with David (played by Romain Guillermic).

“My relationship with the character David was helping me get there,” she says. “Me and Gaspar discussed at length what we wanted to do, what colors we wanted to explore. We agreed to film something that is psychologically kind of extreme. I wanted something similar to Isabelle Adjani in Possession — emotionally filled. Researching drugs, we wanted to film something that was quite painful to watch.”

In the end, Boutella says Selva’s story in Climax is about failure and guilt.

“The guilt catches up with her because she was not able to finish and fulfill a dance rehearsal,” she says. “That competition is one of the things that made her happy in a very long time. She failed. That’s how I looked at it to achieve something that is interesting to watch.”

Climax is now playing in theaters.

Media via A24