Monica Bellucci: “If your job is all about beauty, you won’t last five minutes” | Stage

MOnica Bellucci has been questioned about her beauty for almost four decades. The Italian-born actor – who started out as a model and holds the somewhat ambiguous accolade of becoming the oldest Bond girl – has had many male journalists overheated. In 2004, an interviewer called her “a distillation of all Italian perfection”, dwelling on how “she brushes cappuccino froth from her lips with the long unpainted fingernails of her perfect fingers”.

Sitting across from me in a quiet corner of a Paris hotel bar, Bellucci seems to drink her coffee like an ordinary person (and kindly worries when I don’t order it). When I ask her questions about these breathless stories, she pauses before saying, “That’s funny. It’s just a fantasy that goes on for no reason, because no one believes it. I do not believe that. Neither does the other person. Does she even read them? “No. It can be very boring,” she said dryly.

Unusually, Bellucci, whose career spans Italian and French auteur films in addition to blockbusters such as The Matrix sequels and Mel Gibson‘s The Passion of the Christ, isn’t here to talk about a movie. . Instead, she recently added a new string to her bow, making her stage debut in Maria Callas: Letters and Memoirs, directed by Tom Volf. After its premiere in Paris, it toured Italy, Greece and Turkey. Bellucci was due to play it at Her Majesty’s Theater in London in December, but Omicron knocked. It has now been postponed to April.

The show is based on Volf’s 2019 book of the same name, which featured 350 letters from Callas alongside his unfinished memoir. Such was her desire to interpret the writings of the great soprano, Bellucci overcame a lifetime of stage fright. Over the years, she has said no to many offers to act in plays. “I wouldn’t have dreamed of it,” she says. When I ask her how she felt heading into the 2020 premiere, she lets out a choppy laugh. “Bad. You have all these people in front of you, and you have to deal with all these energies – even now, I’m still scared.

Volf was introduced to Bellucci by a friend, he explains over the phone, and visited her at his home in Paris to convince her to take the role. Photographer and filmmaker, since 2013 he has been a fan of Callas. Along with three books on the singer, in 2017 he directed the documentary Maria de Callas, which tells the story of the opera star in his own words. “Do you know how love at first sight goes?” said Volf, hearing Bellucci read Callas’s letters for the first time. “It was like she immediately understood her emotion and state of mind. There was a window that let daylight shine into Monica’s face and I could see a few Callas in there.

Monica Bellucci: “We are in a world of images. Photography: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

Maria Callas: Letters and Memoirs covers both the influential opera singer’s passion for her work and her troubled personal life, including her long romance with shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis (who apparently brought her to life). left to marry Jackie Kennedy). The show also delves into her lonely final years: “You feel that in the end, all she has is the music,” Bellucci says. “Everything else is gone.”

Ultimately, the key to Bellucci overcoming her stage anxiety came from Callas’s wardrobe: a black 1960s Yves Saint Laurent dress, borrowed from a Milan collection. Should it be adjusted? “No, that was perfect,” Bellucci said, his voice dropping to a whisper. She plans to have a replica made to avoid damaging it, but has long resisted such an idea for a simple reason: “I was afraid to perform without this dress.”

Depending on the location, Bellucci delivers the show in French, Italian or English, a feat she ignores, pointing out that Callas also spoke all three languages ​​and “had an accent every time she spoke.” Bellucci often dubs his own scenes, so Italian and French viewers will always hear his voice in English language films. “When you want to express something, if you’re into it, it comes naturally.”

Callas isn’t the only adopted Italian Bellucci is currently playing. She donned a blonde wig for The Girl at the Fountain by Antonio Panizzi, screened in the fall at the Turin Film Festival. The title refers to Anita Ekberg’s famous scene in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Bellucci plays an actor tasked with embodying Ekberg, of Swedish origin. “She stayed in Rome but she should have left,” Bellucci says of Ekberg’s life after La Dolce Vita. “Everything looked so beautiful and dreamy, but in reality, life in Rome destroyed it.” Ekberg met, she adds, “the wrong man” – likely a reference to actor Anthony Steel, whom Ekberg married and later described as terribly jealous.

Bellucci with Daniel Craig in Specter
Bellucci with Daniel Craig in Spectre. Photography: Columbia/Eon/Danjaq/MGM/Kobal

“The funny thing is there’s a photo of Callas at the La Dolce Vita premiere,” Bellucci says. Ekberg and Callas had a lot in common, she thinks. “They are both women who tried to be free at a time when it was so difficult. They were independent by their work, but still prisoners by their hearts.

Bellucci, who was born in Umbria and briefly studied law, rarely speaks publicly about her own star-studded marriage, to French actor Vincent Cassel, which lasted from 1999 to 2013. The two met while filming a French film, L’Appartement, and have worked on several projects together, notably the ultra-violent Irréversible by Gaspar Noé.

When she talks about Callas’ ability to live “with strong emotions”, I ask her if she relates to this passion. “Not like that,” she laughs. “I have two children, I slowed down!” Although her role as Persephone in the Matrix sequels (including a steamy kiss with Keanu Reeves) helped establish her reputation in Hollywood in the early 2000s, Bellucci says she’s glad she stayed in Europe. “The concept of VIP is different in America. In Europe, even in London, actors live more normally. I take my children to school. I’m going to buy things at the supermarket.

The pandemic brought some family worries, when her parents fell ill with Covid in 2020. Bellucci was then far from Italy, sheltering with her daughters in Biarritz to stay close to Cassel, who spends part of the year there. . The pandemic has been hardest on her eldest daughter Deva, now 17, who had just started a modeling career. “It’s more complicated,” Bellucci says, “when you’re very young and you want to see your friends.”

Deva was first noticed when she was 14, while attending a shoot with her mother. “They saw her and said, ‘Oh my God, we’d like to do something with her. But she was too young, so we waited a bit. They didn’t wait long: that same year, Deva became the face of a Dolce & Gabbana fragrance and continued to grace the catwalks and magazine covers. Her love life is already getting a lot of attention in the French press.

“She has one foot in school and normal life,” Bellucci explains, and the other in “the adult world.” She knows what work means. On Instagram, 600,000 followers watch Deva’s every move, and Bellucci believes social media has helped her daughter’s generation bypass the gatekeepers. “She says it’s easier for them than for us, because when you have talent you can show it right away.” Being the daughter of two extremely famous actors can also help you showcase your talent.

Still, Bellucci remains protective and was happy to see that the industry had gotten less mean since she was a full-time model. “Young people are no longer in competition like in the past, they are more responsible,” she says. “The categories were also more closed: modeling and acting, it couldn’t go together. It’s not like that anymore. »

Bellucci applauds models like Emily Ratajkowski who now speak more freely about what it was like to be objectified as a young woman. Bellucci thinks she was lucky. “I started when I was very young, but at the same time I was going to school. Then, when I went to the cinema, I was already 25 years old and I was independent. I entered the world of cinema already protected.”

She remembers appearing in a film produced by Harvey Weinstein, Malèna of the 2000s, in which she played the object of everyone’s desire in a small Sicilian town. She only dealt with Giuseppe Tornatore, the Italian director of the film. “It was Tornatore who cast me. I think Miramax wanted another actress – more famous than me. As so often, Bellucci got the last laugh, delivering one of her many acclaimed performances. “We’re in a world of images, she says, but work has nothing to do with beauty. If it’s only beauty, you can’t work for more than five minutes.

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