The sometime Californian is the original multihyphenate: model, actor, muse and now author
Words by MARSHALL HEYMAN
Marisa Berenson has lived many lives.
In the 1960s, she was discovered by Diana Vreeland and began gracing the pages of Vogue as a model, becoming a muse to many a designer and photographer. In the 1970s, she worked with some of cinema’s greatest directors: Luchino Visconti, for 1971’s Death in Venice, her debut; Bob Fosse for 1972’s Cabaret, and Stanley Kubrick for 1975’s Barry Lyndon. Berenson went on to make dozens of films, many in France. In recent years, like any multihyphenate worth her prickly pear oil, she also started a skincare line.
Though Berenson, now 73, has collaborated on coffee-table books about her own memories in front of the camera as well as about the legacy of her maternal grandmother, the fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, now she is a full-fledged author. Her friends Prosper and Martine Assouline, proprietors of the publishing house, suggested she write a book about her new home base, Morocco. Her title Marrakech Flair (Assouline, $95) debuts this month.
Interior designer JACQUES GARCIA applied his keen sense of Moroccan style to the Selman. Photo by Reto Guntli.
“I wanted to go into depth with the people that created Marrakech and continue to create it,” Berenson says from France, where she just finished filming Connemara with Élodie Bouchez in Boulogne-sur-Mer and will start filming a television series this fall in Paris. “I wanted to tell the story of the wonderful artists and the creative young pulse that exists in Marrakech now. It’s just a great place to be.”
“I wanted to tell the story of the creative young pulse that exists in Marrakech now”
What did you do while quarantining?
I spent five months completely isolated. I was in my house in Marrakech, and I wrote Marrakech Flair. That took me two months and the rest of the time, I actually was in a cocoon. I watched a lot of films. I read a lot. I reread a biography on my great uncle, [the art historian] Bernard Berenson. I read some wonderful spiritual books, some philosophy books. I swam every day for an hour or two. I exercised. I walked in the garden, communed with nature. It was a sort of spiritual retreat and a reflective time.
Left: The main courtyard of the BEN YOUSSEF MADRASA; photo by Reto Guntli. Right:A picturesque sitting area at LE JARDIN SECRET; photo by Chris Lewington/Alamy.
What made you settle in Marrakech?
I had been to Marrakech in the 1960s to do some photographs for Vogue, but then I didn’t go back until eight or nine years ago. It was then that I really discovered it. I developed an all-natural beauty line, and I was selling it in the spas and the hotels there. So, I started to go down more and more. I rented a house, and I moved my mother down there with me. And then I decided I liked the lifestyle, so I bought a house about five years ago. It took three years to finish, and I moved into it two years ago.
LE JARDIN restaurant at the ROYAL MANSOUR.
What was appealing to you?
The quality of life is really wonderful. It’s a soft quality of life. You can find peace. You can have a nice house. It’s not too expensive, and the light is beautiful. It’s calming and very regenerating. My home is kind of like a wellness spa. I wanted that. I wanted to be able to swim all year round, to have a hammam, to have a vegetable garden, to have all the things that I live by. There are only a few places that you can have that, but it’s in the culture there. It’s a very multicultural city. It’s an important, magical, interesting place. It’s not just a place where people come on holiday.
Do you miss the states?
Of course. I love New York. I love L.A. My daughter [creative arts therapist Starlite Melody Randall] and granddaughter are in L.A. They’re stuck there. I haven’t seen them for months. I’m hoping they’re going to come over for Christmas.
An Arabian horse thoroughbred in the stables, designed by JACQUES GARCIA, at the stud farm of the SELMAN MARRAKECH hotel. Photo by Reto Guntli.
Did you spend a lot of your life in Los Angeles?
I spent quite a few years there. I was married [to rivet manufacturer James Randall] out there. I had my daughter out there, and I lived out there for a while. I moved to New York because I got remarried [to lawyer Aaron Richard Golub]. Then I moved back to L.A., and then I moved back to Paris. Life takes you on journeys that are so unexpected. You never know where one’s going to end up or with whom. It depends so much on destiny. I do love L.A., though. It has an open air, a healthy kind of lifestyle. I quite enjoy driving around, although it’s a lot of driving, and you have to have very good friends. It can be very lonely. But New York is a much tougher city. It’s very different in Paris. There’s lots of problems regularly here, but there’s a certain je ne sais quoi. I like living on the Left Bank, I have lots of friends that live there. It’s got a cozy atmosphere, and there are galleries everywhere.
“Life takes you on journeys that are so unexpected. You never know where one’s going to end up or with whom”
What was it like going back to making a movie after self-isolating?
It was daunting. I was in a bubble for five months, and then this movie came up in France. It was a little bit nerve-wracking. There’s so much going on around [COVID-19] that makes people anxious, but the movie was fine. Everyone was tested every week, and all the crew wore masks. We filmed in one space — a big house — and everything was kept clean. You have to get used to being out in the world again. It’s a very sad, strange thing. I’m a positive person, and I always want to see that there are good things underneath. So from all this, I think there’s a new consciousness of human beings toward each other and toward the planet. There are new priorities about what really matters. Even with all of this going on, people are reinventing themselves. I feel blessed that I’m working. It’s a miracle.
Left: A cyclist passes beneath a series of archways; photo by Alex Azaba/Unsplash. Right: Fine leatherwork adorns the Berber horsemen’s attire at Palais Soleiman; photo by Reto Guntli.
What’s something you learned from Stanley Kubrick?
Probably the thing I learned the most is patience and discipline. That’s always served me in my life. One needs patience in our business and in life in general. Stanley was a perfectionist, but I understand that too. If I was directing movies, I would want everything to be perfect, too. But once he cast me, he just trusted that I could be who he wanted me to be. He didn’t direct, he just let you be very free.
How about Bob Fosse?
He was a very good teacher. He’d do anything to go into your soul and get things out of you. He used to whisper in my ear before a take. I enjoy being directed. I like the fact that you’re putty in a director’s hands. Obviously someone as brilliant as him brings out the best in you. You want to perform. You want to be good.
I bless him every day of my life. He didn’t know that I could act, but he trusted me. He gave me this huge opportunity. It was so encouraging for a young actress who had no experience to have someone like that believe in you and encourage you to continue. I was so lucky. It was an amazing way to start a career.
Feature image: Actor and Marrakech Flair author MARISA BERENSON. Photo by Adam Scott Peters.
Oct. 1, 2020
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