"He gave me advice about the movie industry.
"When I celebrated my 20th birthday during filming, my trailer was filled with flowers and there was a note saying: 'From an unknown admirer.'
"We stayed friends until the end, although for a while we couldn't talk about the movie. Undoubtedly, my best experience about making the film was my encounter with Marlon.
"I almost refused to do the film. I had an offer to star in another film, with Alain Delon, but my agency, William Morris, said: 'It's a leading role with Marlon Brando - you can't refuse.'
"I was so young and relatively inexperienced and I didn't understand all of the film's sexual content. I had a bit of a bad feeling about it all."
Her instincts were right. Together with the scandal the film created, the media interest in Maria was huge.
"To be suddenly famous all over the world was frightening. I didn't have bodyguards like they do today. People thought I was just like my character and I would make up stories for the press, but that wasn't me."
The whole circus, she says, "made me go mad. I got into drugs - pot and then cocaine, LSD and heroin - it was like an escape from reality. It was the Seventies and at that time, it was all going on.
"I didn't enjoy being famous at all and drugs were my escape. I took pills to try and commit suicide but I survived because God decided it wasn't the time for me to go.
"I suppose it was like a suicide when I overdosed two or three times on drugs, but each time I woke up when the ambulance arrived.
"I was very lucky - I lost many friends to drugs - but I met someone in 1980 who helped me stop. I call this person my angel and we've been together ever since. I don't say if it's a man or a woman. That's my secret garden. I like to keep it a mystery."
Schneider's "angel" is likely to be a woman.
She has admitted relationships with women before and, in 1975, went to a mental hospital in Rome and committed herself as a voluntary patient in order to be with her then lover, photographer Joan Townsend.
"She was schizophrenic," Schneider explains. "I wanted to help. She eventually went back home to the States but now, I don't know what has happened to her." Schneider never married, nor did she have children.
"It just wasn't in my destiny and I have no regrets," she says, although she admits to a deep distrust of men.
"Even before my experiences on Last Tango, I found it hard to trust men. I only met my father when I was 15 (French actor Daniel Gelin, who had an affair with Schneider's mother Marie Christine when she was 17) and all the role models in my family were women."
She grew up near the Franco-German border and after an argument with her mother, ran away from home at 15.
Maria moved to Paris, making ends meet by working as an extra and a model and lived alone despite the fact that her father was in Paris - he was unwilling or unable to take in his daughter.
It was Brigitte Bardot, a former co-star of her father's, who came to her rescue. Bardot was horrified that his daughter was left to fend for herself.
"She gave me a room at her place," Maria says, "and it was through her I joined the William Morris Agency. Sometimes, I call her now to see how she is and she is very bitter at the movie industry."
After Last Tango, Schneider's career didn't fare as well as she might have hoped.
In 1975 she made The Passenger with Jack Nicholson, but otherwise, good roles have been sparse. She was due to film Caligula alongside Peter O'Toole and Helen Mirren but walked off when she realised its pornographic content.
She was offered the role of Mary in Franco Zeffirelli's TV spectacular, Jesus of Nazareth, but turned it down - a decision she regrets.
One expects Schneider to be embittered by her experiences, but she is extremely chatty and giggly, although her animosity towards Bertolucci remains undimmed.
"I've not really forgiven him for the way he treated me and although we met in Tokyo 17 years ago, I ignored him," she says cheerfully. "Plus, he and Marlon made a fortune from the movie and I made about £2,500. And Bertolucci was a Communist, too!"
Schneider now runs The Wheel Turns, an organisation which helps ageing actors and performers who suddenly find work drying up.
Schneider herself continues to work, mainly in France and Italy, although she says: "It is not so easy for actresses over 50, and the irony is that when a woman gets old enough to have something interesting to say, people don't want to hear her speak."
She says her pleasures these days are very simple.
"I like to see friends and go to the market and cook. But I never use butter to cook any more," she laughs. "Only olive oil."