Passages star Franz Rogowski on creating ‘real intimacy’ with Ben Whishaw: ‘It felt like sex’

Franz Rogowski as Tomas and Ben Whishaw as Martin in new film Passages. Martin and Tomas are in bed. Tomas is reading, while Martin is looking at him wistfully.

German actor Franz Rogowski has revealed how he created “real intimacy” with co-star Ben Whishaw while filming the new queer film Passages.

Ira Sachs’ steamy romantic drama pulls no punches when it comes to depicting raw, messy sex lives.

The film follows Rogowski as Tomas, a mercurial film director with an insatiable appetite for sex and romance.

Openly gay A Very English Scandal star Whishaw is his on-off husband and printer Martin, while Adèle Exarchopoulos playa Agathe, a teacher Tomas hooks up with, causing a rift in his already volatile marriage.

Passages is an all-encompassing look at how complex human emotions can build and tear relationships apart. Jealousy, joy, deceit and naivety are all on display in the critically acclaimed movie.

Alongside emotional intimacy, physical touch is frequent throughout, with all members of the love triangle getting their moment of on-screen passion. Last month, Sachs was forced to speak out after the film received a controversial NC-17 rating, meaning its content is unsuitable for those under the age of 18.

You may like to watch

One moment that might be responsible for the rating – although critics and Sachs have deemed it unwarranted “cultural censorship” – is between Tomas and Martin, following a brief reconciliation.

At a friend’s house, while Agathe listens next door, the pair have tender intercourse. While it isn’t explicit per se, the moment does go on for quite a bit longer than your average sex scene.

Ben Whishaw as Martin (L) and Franz Rogowski as Tomas (R) in Passages.
Ben Whishaw as Martin (L) and Franz Rogowski as Tomas are overheard having sex in Passages. (MUBI)

In an interview with GQ, Rogowski disclosed how he and Whishaw came to create realistic passion – without the help of an intimacy co-ordinator.

“We created the intimacy ourselves,” he said, adding that although both of them were nervous, they wanted to make it appear as authentic as possible.

“We knew that we would just have to jump right into it and have sex,” he said. “It wasn’t real sex, but we created real intimacy: we were sweating, we were touching each other, rubbing our bodies together, you know, grabbing each other’s ar*e.”

Their on-screen connection, which is palpable throughout, might have been helped by the fact that the actors clicked immediately. 

“I think we felt a strong connection from the start. I love Ben, he’s wonderful as an artist, but also as a person, as an actor. I wanted to be with him,” Rogowski said. “I think he felt the same way.”

He revealed that the sex scenes took “very long takes” to get right, which aided their efforts to create something that appeared real.

“Sometimes you shoot for like 20 seconds, we shot these scenes for five minutes, 10 minutes. So, it really felt like sex. I think it helped that we just trusted each other.”

While Rogowski and Whishaw have by far the steamiest sex scene in the film, Exarchopoulos gets more than her fair share – although the actress asked Sachs to tone things down a little.

Adele Exarchopoulos in Passages. (MUBI)
Adèle Exarchopoulos plays Agathe, part of a love triangle in Passages. (MUBI)

In 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Colour, Exarchopoulos featured in a number of fairly graphic sex scenes, alongside on-screen lesbian lover Léa Seydoux.

Speaking to The Guardian, she revealed that she wanted Passages to be different, and without the overt nudity.

“I told Ira I have no trouble [with] a sex scene, but I don’t want people to see my body like they did before, so can we find another way?” she said.

“We agreed not to treat the scene like a boy discovering love with a girl: it was more about two people trying to search each other, a kind of mutual seduction… There is something really physical between Franz and me, but it was also clear between us what the limits were.”

Passages is due to open in the UK on 1 September. 

Please login or register to comment on this story.