Brigitte Lahaie – “Nordic Goddess”

Director Jean Rollin called her a “Nordic goddess.” Brigitte Lahaie, born Brigitte Van Meerhaegue around 1958, boasts a filmography of more than 100 titles. and could be considered the only female B-movie star in the French film industry. While she is mostly recognized abroad for her performances in the films of Rollin and Franco, Lahaie is still best known in her native France as a star of adult cinema, a reputation she has no problems with even though she abandoned hardcore cinema over 15 years ago. “I don’t mind talking about those films.” Lahaie says. “I owe a lot to them. They made me famous, and it would be ridiculous to deny that. I was the first French sex star, after all, so I certainly have to carry this reputation with me. I loved the job, and it was really important for me to have done it. I was very shy, very unsure of myself, and doing those films gave me a lot of self-confidence.

You began your career in the seventies as a porno actress. How did you become involved in the X-rated movie business?
Brigitte Lahaie: Well, I was born in the north of France. My parents worked in the night-club business so we travelled a lot and moved quite often. I felt like home was a little bit of everywhere. I came to Paris when I was 18 years old and I was certainly very interested in seeing new things and this whole new amazing world. I wanted to become somebody, wanted to be rich and famous. One day I discovered in a newspaper, an advertisement looking for young women who might be interested in making movies. I saw my big chance and answered. That is how I became an X-rated movie star. I think I did my very first movie in October of 1976.

What astonishes me is the speed of your porno career.
Brigitte Lahaie: I never liked this word porno. I use it, but I prefer porno-erotic … or better still being introduced on TV as a star of filmes du charme!

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You hadn’t even posed naked for Razzle or any other magazine then. The director says, “Now a man is going to fuck you…”- I would’ve thought the nice little Lyonaise with big tits would have fled! Why weren’t you shocked?
Brigitte Lahaie: Well, it was a little shock. Not enough to make me run. It was an opportunity to do something different – that’s important for me. Of course, if Polanski had found me, I might’ve had a different career.

Maybe not…! But there you are, first film and you’re told to fuck on camera and you agree.
Brigitte Lahaie: That’s my personality. That’s why I did this job very well. If that’s what they wanted me to do – ca va! OK! For me, it was natural not immoral. I was very, very naive! It was my opportunity, finally, to like myself. It was my subconscious which decided this was the right work for me. Because in a short time I discovered a lot of things about love.

For the porno punters, producers, you were fresh meat. What did you get from that first experience?
Brigitte Lahaie: Oh, it was wonderful to discover that I could excite a man. Me! Just me! That was the great challenge for me. Because I was sure I was ugly. Not true! But something I really believed. Also, I think I was exhibitionistic. Very free. So to make that film was not bad. It was even fun!

Most porno girls are proven exhibitionists. You didn’t find out until, as your book says, you were being screwed and saw yourself in a mirror… and in the eyes of the people watching on the set.
Brigitte Lahaie: I think the camera, the mirror and all the people were important to me. I suppose I knew I was always exhibitionistic… just didn’t realise it until then. For me, it was all very natural… yet I was a little disappointed by that first film in Normandy. I did another one or three – then came the shock. I stopped for two months. Maybe it was “wrong” after all. I talked about it to my sister. She said I should continue. But it was a decision made with my own hands. I wasn’t pressured into it. I can’t do something I don’t want to do. An easy decision. And lucky. I met Francis Leroi, who suggested turn blonde. My real colour is brown. Fair or blonde is better for me.

But unlike most porno princesses уоu nеvеr сhаngеd your name?
Brigitte Lahaie: Not really. My real name is Flemish. Very difficult (her sole secret, she declines to spell it – something like Vanlahagen). I adapted it into French. My paternal grandfather’s Dutch. But I’m French.

And you’d really not even seen a sex film at that time?
Brigitte Lahaie: The first porno-erotic I saw – without me – was about four years after I began. I’m not interested…they’re not exciting for me. Well, sometimes – but very rarely. Even watching my own films is not exciting to me. The first time I saw myself – yes, I shocked myself. Because I saw the movies, I saw another facet of me. I think that was the beginning of my idea to stop…

There’s two of you – the nice little girl from Lyon – and this raving nympho on screen?
Brigitte Lahaie: Yes, I’m Dr Jekyll and Madamoiselle Hyde!

Which one was excited by camera and crew?
Brigitte Lahaie: I think, both. If the audience likes me, it’s because there’s something naive, vulnerable about me – the other me. I’m the eyes of one and the body of the one on the screen.

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Some body – the most magnificent in Euro-porno! Yet dumb Lyon kids called you names because of your big tits. Are big boobs a family tradition?
Brigitte Lahaie: My mother, yes. My sister, no. My two brothers never mentioned them, although they seemed to like big breasts. I found their copy of Lui magazine once. My brothers were strange for me – they still are! I see them sometimes, but we don’t speak. They’ve never mentioned my films, either. Or, not until the book. That’s changed everything – because people didn’t really know me. They knew my name. They saw my films. But they didn’t know me or, what they thought they knew about me was not correct.

Your shoe shop clients liked your tits…
Brigitte Lahaie: The majority were all right but there were some who loved it when I was at their feet, because they could see down my shirt to my breasts. They liked it also when I had to touch their ankles. They’d spend hours with me, trying on shoes galore. But they always bought one pair – sometimes two or three! That was my introduction to Paris… I just think I turned them on. I had fatter breasts then.

They still look splendid – why, what have you done to ’em?
Brigitte Lahaie: I seem to have lessened tham a little – yes? I don’t know why. Certainly not surgery. Maybe it’s because I ride horses so often. But now I’m much slimmer in my bosom. It’s like the difference between Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angle – and her later films. She’s not the same woman.

I know a girl who hated her big tits and had ’em made smaller.
Brigitte Lahaie: That’s stupid. If she’s happier that’s fine. I’m not like her. I wouldn’t do anything like that. I’m just…

Ample, as we English say. And 47 pornos, that’s what five sex-acts per movie – 235 public fucks – doesn’t seem to have affected you badly.
Brigitte Lahaie: Because my life is tranquil. I sleep a lot. I don’t drink much. I eat sufficiently. I’m happy. All’s well.. maybe I have some scars. They’re not getting smaller, they remain with me – bad memories, bad moments – but now I can deal with them. You can’t make these pictures for four years – and not have some scars. But all adventures are like that. My philosophy is: mistakes make experiences.

Your mother said “Oh my poor Brigitte, I hope you’ll never regret your career.”
Brigitte Lahaie: I haven’t… I’ll be frank with you, I’ve never regretted my hardcore movies but sometimes I regret the partouzes.
(Translation: a partouze is an orgy).

There’s quite an orgy circuit in France. Lots of famous names at ’em – ever recognise anyone? Yes, of course!
Brigitte Lahaie: Celebrities. From politics. Some actors, directors, too – that didn’t surprise me. It was very difficult to surprise me. It was very difficult to surprise me at that epoch. Oh yes, and a lot of writers – they were the majority

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Oh really! Nobody invites me! Why did they invite you – you were unknown when you began…
Brigitte Lahaie: I was shooting porno movies, so I couldn’t refuse a partouze. Well, I could… of course I could. But it’s done now. I first went to one the same day as I started my first porno-erotic movie – February 6, 1976. I continued because my boyfriend was very excited by that. I think people go to partouzes to live out their fantasies. However, I have done many other things since, so it’s a bit odd that people are still mainly interested in this aspect of my life.”

It was during the shooting of Vibrations sexuelles (1977), one of those early hardcore films, that Lahaie first met Rollin, who subsequently enabled her to step beyond the boundaries of adult cinema. “Jean and I immediately became friends,” the actress explains. “He is a very soft, open-minded man. We don’t see each other that often, maybe every three months or so, but we are on the same level. He even asked me to write the foreword for his novel L’Enfer Prive, which I consider his best story ever.”

Vibrations sexuelles (1977) Italian movie poster

You went out of love?
Brigitte Lahaie: Yes, during three years I did it for Philippe. I met him in a partouze! So that’s… delicate ground.

True love – or was sex a drug for you then?
Brigitte Lahaie: More of a compulsion. Sex was never a drug for me. Maybe for him. I think I loved him. I think he loved me. But he liked to suffer like that. He would just be watching. And for him it was a supreme jouissance (orgasmic pleasure).

He never participated?
Brigitte Lahaie: Oh, no, no! He just watched… sometimes we’d have a dinner at home with a couple – that’d be my idea. After dinner, the man was for me – because I wanted him. But that’s not a partouze – that’s…

Civilised!
Brigitte Lahaie: Exactly! I’d be with the man, Philippe with the girl. But he didn’t like that, it was not exciting for him. He needed to see me being taken my men. Not many but some… Some women like partouzes because they can make love with a lot of men.

What is a lot of men?
Brigitte Lahaie: Ten or twenty – maybe more.

How different are such orgies from porno film-action? Less structured… more fun?
Brigitte Lahaie: It’s another mise-en-scene. Really different. To tell you the truth, it was pleasant at the beginning. Impressive! At first, I went with my sister. Out of curiosity. Just to experience it. Then, because of my boyfriend, I soon got tired of it. Too much! OK, I accepted it. But they’re not good memories. Now I regret it.

Why – exactly?
Brigitte Lahaie: Because it was a gaspillage (a waste) giving myself to so many people. I didn’t know, much less care for. Only at the last Cannes Festival, I met somebody who said: “Hello Brigitte – don’t you remember me?” No…! He made it clear he’d had me at a partouze. That’s why I regret them. A lot of men made love with me. They were not my decision, not my choice.

How did your parents find out about your career? – from nosey neighbor’s poison-pen letters?
Brigitte Lahaie: Oh, no, I told them the truth. Not from the first movie, about six months later. It wasn’t easy but better they heard it from me. My mother, being a woman, understood – in her way.

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Your father said never darken is doorstep again?
Brigitte Lahaie: Almost. I think he accepted it, when he realised how much money I could earn at this kind of work. He’s a banker. He knows about money. With him, it all comes down to money!

What do you think about the entire X-movie scene today? Most of it lacks any story or ideas, just concentrating on the act and shot on video.
Brigitte Lahaie: I think it’s very difficult today. The people don’t want to see interesting X-movies with a plot. The entire market is full of cheap crap and really terrible productions. The society got a little bit used to pornography I think. There is no longer something special to it as there was in the early seventies where everything began here in France. Even our TV station, Canal Plus, shows once in awhile an X-movie and you can buy video tapes everywhere. It’s like going out to buy cigarettes. Pornography became a real non-artistic product which you can consume for one hour and then forget it forever. That is also why those films all look alike today.

After three years of doing pornographic films I decided to switch to “normal” movies and become a real actress so I stopped accepting X-roles and also took acting lessons. I enjoyed doing the X rated films but if I look at all the terrible productions made today, I think my choice was the right one. It took about 4 years until I finally had the chance to work in a non-pornographic film and now, well, I think I’m quite famous here in France (laughs). It is funny because even today most people still know me best for my X movies. I really don’t mind my past but it is a little bit strange and quite a phenomenon. I mean, I did those movies more than 10 years ago and only for three years so I think this fame is quite obscure. Maybe one reason is the many many re-titlings and re-releases of my old pictures so my X-filmography might seem larger than it actually is. Who knows?

You also started a singing career if I remember.
Brigitte Lahaie: Not really a singing career. I just did one record in 1987. It was a really stupid song. I also did another one for Canal Plus. I interpreted famous song by Juliet Greco and that is all there is to my “singing career”. I think I am not a very good singer so probably it was best to stop before going any further in that business.

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You worked several times for Jean Rollin and his LES RAISINS DE LA MORT was one of your first non-pornographic movies. What is working with Jean Rollin like?
Brigitte Lahaie: I think he is a very nice and gentle man who has a lot of interesting and artistic things to say in his movies. Unfortunately many of his projects never became reality like a movie called BESTIALITY in which I would have played the lead role. He always had huge problems financing his movies, I think now more than ever. I really love Rollin. His movies are very special, a different kind of cinema. If he ever asked me to work with him again I would say, “Yes, at once!”.

It was in 1977 that Lahaie made her first venture into “serious” cinema when Rollin cast her in his poetic zombie film Les raisins de la mort (1978) Grapes Of Death, in which poisoned grapes turn peaceful country citizens into bloodthirsty monsters. Although Lahaie shot 22 features that year, she remembers the experience well. “I only had a tiny part, but it was my first chance to work in a ‘normal film, and I was very grateful.” the actress explains. “It was like walking through a dream. I believed it could be the start of a real acting career.

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“The shooting of Les Raisins was very hard for everybody involved.” she continues, “We were in a remote mountain region of France. It was incredibly cold and I was freezing: only had a thin costume and also some nude scenes. I remember some of the crew looking at me in a very strange way, including the producer. One day, he wanted me to sleep with him. I was really surprised: I just wasn’t really aware of being a big porno star at that time.” Although her screen time in Les Raisins is limited, Lahaie’s appearance is one of the most memorable of her career. “I had this scene which was very similar to the one with Barbara Steele and the two dogs in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, a film Jean and I adore,” she explains.

After four more years of exhausting work on more than 40 adult films in a row. Lahaie left the genre forever in 1980. Although she landed small roles in such movies as I… comme Icare (1979) by famed French thriller director Henri Verneuil and Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva (1981), interesting parts on a larger scale were not in sight. “It certainly wasn’t easy to get recognized.” she says. “and I realize that might have been justified. When I stopped making X-films in 1980. I did numerous softcore films and thought I could do my job. It took some time until I finally realized that I was no actress at all. That’s when I decided to take lessons. again to get more confidence. It’s impossible to act when doing a hardcore film.”

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One of the few directors who cast Lahaie in leading roles was Rollin. She once again teamed with the director for Fascination (1979). “I adore Jean’s movies,” she says. “They are very unique, unlike anything else in the fantastic genre. I don’t think it is even justified to call them horror films, because they really aren’t. They hardly ever try to be frightening or shocking. They have a timeless, romantic quality. Fascination is the best film I ever did; it had a really beautiful story. The producer wanted an explicit softcore film with many sex scenes: Jean wasn’t interested. So whenever the producer came to the set, there was a lot of confusion.”

While Fascination has become one of Rollin’s best-known efforts, La Nuit des Traquees/The Night of the Hunted (1980), a morbid horror/sci-fi film from the same year. remains a rarely seen collaboration between the director and Lahaie. “It had a ridiculously small budget. the actress laughs. “There is nothing expensive or spectacular in it, but it has a very dark, claustrophobic atmosphere. We were inside this gigantic complex, shooting at night all the time, and this depressing atmosphere was not just on screen. it infected all of us. That’s why the film turned out so strange. We were in this cold, sterile world for three weeks, and felt like the protagonists in a way.”

There are several rumors about Gefangene Frauen (1980) Caged Women which was produced by Erwin C. Dietrich. Some people think Franco did that film.
Brigitte Lahaie: No, it was Dietrich for sure. Franco had nothing to do with that picture.

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After the sultry sex flick Je Brule de Partout, her first collaboration with maverick sex/horror director Franco in 1978. Lahaie teamed with him again on the Eurocine action vehicle Dark Mission: Evil Flowers (Colombian Connection) (1988), sharing leading roles with Chris Mitchum and Christopher Lee. “René Chateau, one of the biggest distributors in France. was my boyfriend at the time,” Lahaie recalls. “He visited me on the set, and that’s when the idea for Faceless was born. He thought it would be possible to make a little horror film with no money, but he forgot his reputation. When people heard he was involved, prices went up drastically. That’s why the film ended up being really expensive.” she laughs.

You also worked with Jess Franco.
Brigitte Lahaie: Yes, it is quite difficult to say anything about him. I think he is a man with a lot of real talent but he just did too many movies. Franco is obsessed with directing and that is his big mistake. He is so fond of the directing process but never really cares about the final result. But he is a marvelous director. I can remember one scene in DARK MISSION. I had a quite difficult scene where I had to cry. Before we shot that scene Franco came to me. He was very nice and made a lot of compliments. He said he wants me for his next movie and so on. He was really gentle. I was so excited about the idea of working with him in the future so I played my role as perfect as I could. I really wanted to show him he made the right choice. I think sometimes he is a genius on the set. He is a man with great visions and brilliant ideas but who also had a lot of bad luck in his career.

Faceless (1987) was the last project you did with Franco.
Brigitte Lahaie: Yes, oh God. It was such a difficult movie for everybody involved. In the very beginning the whole film was planned to be a very small low budget thriller, but as time went by, Rene Chateau, the producer, began to cast Telly Savalas, Helmut Berger, and others so the entire movie became quite big and expensive. Franco had a lot of problems during shooting. He had many quarrels with the producers and also had a very very bad relationship with FX-man Jacques Castinau. They almost fought every time they had to do a scene together. There were just too many people and too much money involved and so it became quite chaotic. Franco is used to working independently on the set I think. He was not really used to getting orders from every corner of the set and I think he was not very fond of this. It was wonderful to work with Caroline Munro. She is so nice. She shares the same love for animals that I do. I was really surprised since I thought she was going to be arrogant. We went together to see my horses and really had a nice time together.

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Despite her frequent work with Rollin and Franco, Lahaie dismisses the idea of drawing parallels between them. “I don’t think it is justified to compare Jess and Jean,” she says. “Although they share a preference for erotic and aesthetic visuals, Jess definitely has a more perverted imagination. I like Jess a lot. but his problem is his restlessness. He is not really interested in making a good film, he just needs the atmosphere of a movie set-being there. preparing things, working with the actors. In fact, Jess is a much better director of actors than Jean. I think Jean is afraid of actors in a way. He gives hardly any instructions during shooting, hardly even talks to the cast. It’s tough for me. because I like discussions: it’s a creative process which helps the film. When you ask Jean something, he usually says, ‘Do as you please and then we’ll see. You have a lot of liberty.

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Do you know whatever became of all the other quite famous French porno-starlets such as Karine Gambier for example who also worked quite often with Franco?
Brigitte Lahaie: Unfortunately I really don’t know. We always had a quite good relationship. I saw her the last time five years ago.
 
What sort of person is Gérard Kikoine?
Brigitte Lahaie: He is a very simple and easy man to get along with. I think he is completely different from all the other X-directors I have worked with. Most of those men had sexual problems and were depressed in one way or another which gave them some “reason” to do those types of films. Maybe it’s the same with most porno actors. Kikoine is a man who had absolutely no problems. He was just a normal, friendly guy. For example Frédéric Lansac or Francis Leroi are really perverted guys. Don’t get me wrong, I say perverted in a good sense. I think the movies they did were quite good.

I think José Bénazéraf is a very strange man based on what I’ve heard about him.
Brigitte Lahaie: Oh, I don’t like him at all. I think he is really crazy, really really mad. He is also very right-wing and fascist. I absolutely hate that. I also don’t like the films I did with him. He made some good films in the sixties but the older he got the worse his movies became. I think he has nothing more to add right now. He burned out.

You also had a small role in Henry & June (1990). I was quite surprised to see you in this picture. How did that happen?
Brigitte Lahaie: Oh, that was a real adventure for me. I met Philip Kaufman one year ago. At first he didn’t want me for the part because of my porno career. Fortunately, he changed his mind. My role was very very small but nevertheless, we had a good working relationship. We worked very long to get the scene right. I think the movie is quite good but unfortunately there are several scenes which I was not so fond of when I saw the film later on. I don’t think it represents what Henry Miller intended to say with his work.

It’s only now that the actress has returned for Rollin’s latest chiller. The Two Vampire Orphans. “I am really looking forward to seeing the finished film, although I only have a small part,” she raves. “I play a woman who is killed by the vampire girls inside a circus. The most important thing about Les deux orphelines vampires/Two Orphan Vampires (1997) is that Jean tried really hard to get good actors. That was often a problem with his previous films. The two leading ladies, Alexandra Pic and Isabelle Teboul, are very good. Also, the film has an exceptionally beautiful script and a very talented director of photography. I really think it could turn out to be Jean’s best work to date.”

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CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Fangoria#149
European Trash Cinema Vol 2 No 08
Scream Queens Illustrated 02 1994

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