Interview with Italian actress Valeria Solarino
Valeria Solarino is impressively prolific, starring in several movies almost every year since the inception of her acting career in the early 2000s.
She has won six awards and been nominated for a number of additional awards. I had the pleasure of interviewing her at the Kino cinema in Melbourne in conjunction with three of her films being screened at the Lavazza Italian Film Festival (11 September – 24 October).
Many thanks for agreeing to see me and welcome to Melbourne! It is a privilege to meet you. How has the city treated you so far? Is it the first time you come for a visit?
Yes, it is the first time in Melbourne and Australia. I arrived in Melbourne yesterday and a few days ago in Sydney. I will spend some days in Sydney again after Melbourne and then I will travel to Alice Springs and then on to Darwin. I would like to come back maybe in January when the weather is nice, to attend the Australian Open.
Are you excited to have your new film “A casa tutti bene” screened in Melbourne tonight and to be further talking about it during the Q&A session afterward? I look forward to listening to you.
Yeah, I am very happy first of all to have three movies in this festival; they are three comedies but all very different. A casa tutti bene (2018) is a film by Gabriele Muccino, a great director and a great person too. [While filming] we stayed for two months on the island of Ischia off the coast of Naples. I love working with him.
What makes him a good director?
He is very focussed on the technical part of the direction of the camera but he is also attentive to the actors, so we stay all together. We felt that we all had the same feeling and the same perspective.
The title of the movie is quite ironic given that the seemingly perfect idyll and the harmony in the group begins to fall apart. It also seems Ischia, having such a rugged landscape ̶ wild and beautiful at the same time ̶ can be considered, in a way, a character in its own right.
Yes, we shot the movie on a little island that is part of Ischia but not as big as the main island … These people [the characters in the film] are supposed to stay for one day only but then they stay for three days and all the things that they try not to show [come to the surface]. So this is why they start fighting.
Yes, there is all this restrained energy and frustrations. I was watching an online interview with you in Italian and you say with reference to your character in the movie; an unattached and initially seemingly carefree woman who comes across as increasingly solitary as the narrative develops, that she is “probabilmente ancora legata a quella vita che non ha più, che non può più avere”. Do you think your character wants her past married life back?
My character, I think at the beginning the audience thinks she is fine. She doesn’t have a man but she’s fine like this. Then we discover that maybe there is something behind and I love the scene with the [wedding] ring. In that scene we understand that maybe there is something behind that, maybe she needs something more. I don’t know if she needs Carlo, her ex-husband, but maybe she needs something else or another life or another man. And possibly the fragility of this woman came out in that scene.
Indeed, she’s very strong on the surface but she is crumbling just like everyone else whose flaws are showing at the end.
It is actually very interesting because as I was watching the film myself it reminded me of the plot structure of the play “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza (which premiered on stage in 2006 and has since been turned into several subsequent plays as well as the movie “Carnage”, from 2011). It develops like a Greek tragedy: harmony followed by chaos, catharsis or rather mayhem in the film, and a possible resolution in the end although in Muccino’s case his film is open-ended for several characters. What do you think is the main message that Muccino wants to deliver to the audience?
He wants to describe maybe his personal point of view of the family and of relationships because sometimes we try to be kind or not to show our true feelings with people, to hide, but when people are free to express themselves maybe they start fighting each other. The family is maybe not the first but the second topic of the movie. Maybe the first one for Italian people is the food ... but in many cases we have this kind of family where people are very close to each other.
Is anyone happy at the end of the movie?
Maybe the couple with the lady who falls pregnant because they love each other a lot yet they are not so lucky because of the money. And maybe the two young people; my daughter and her friend, but all the other people came home with something that [erupted or] broke out.
Yes, that’s very true. So when you portray a role, do you identify with your part to the extent that you feel you become one with your character?
I start with the visual part: the hair, the makeup, to visualise my character. Generally I do like this and I try to discuss my character with the director of course.
So you leave yourself behind a bit?
I try to do this because I think that with every character you need to understand what is the way to move, the way to speak, otherwise you tend to do the same character all the time. So I ask myself what it is about me that is not good for the character and I make a list [where she changes certain personal traits to better enact or interpret her character].
That seems like a clever and efficient method.
I was watching several films in preparation for this interview, e.g. “Era d’estate” (Fiorella Infascelli, 2015) and “Quanto basta” (Francesco Falaschi, 2018) and I was thinking you’re such a natural actress; it seems like you are totally in the moment. How do you manage to make acting look so effortless?
You have to memorise the lines and forget the lines and then you have to step into the life and situation of the character.
Tonight in the Q&A session you will be asked a number of questions but is there anything in particular about this movie that you would like to highlight to the audience?
I don’t know, I am very curious about the reactions … I know there will be a lot of Italian people but people who no longer live in Italy have a very different culture so I am interested to know about the different emotions. Generally I watch the last 10 minutes with the audience, also because I love the final part.
Yes, Hitchcock used to do that, at least he watched the “Psycho” shower scene with his audience and they were horrified.
You have been acting for many years and started in theatre, making your first debut at Teatro Stabile in Turin. What first triggered you to become an actress? Does it run in the family or is it a calling from within?
I don’t know exactly why but I used to go to the theatre, and also to the cinema. I was studying philosophy then I did the exam to enter the theatre academy which I attended every day 8 hours a day so I stopped going to university. It was impossible to do both, but I discovered what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was 2000 [her first movie came out 2003].
Who are your favourite playwrights?
I like the big drama. I love Shakespeare and Chekhov, but you have to be a certain age to play roles like these. And now I do both theatre and cinema. I have the possibility to play great characters. Strindberg’s Miss Julie was my first theatre performance after school.
That is particularly interesting for me to hear, given that like Strindberg I, too, am Swedish. It must be a very different experience acting on stage and acting for the screen.
Yes, it is a completely different way to move and speak. I love the relationship with the audience and with the camera, it is very emotional.
In some of your films you portray multi-faceted and complex characters battling inner struggles. One of these is Angela in “Viola di mare” (Donatella Maiorca, 2009) set in 19th century Sicily and where your role gained you a Nastro d’Argento Award (the film is adapted from Giacomo Pilati’s novel “Minchia di Re”, 2004). This movie is perhaps particularly interesting today when gay rights are becoming increasingly highlighted and gender expressions are becoming more fluid globally. What do you think are some of the main reasons this film gained so much critical acclaim?
It was very important for me because I felt the message of the movie so close and I wanted to speak to people that have another point of view. It’s a love story between two individuals, and “stop”. That’s the point; it’s not the story. Love is between two persons and “stop”. I don’t care about man or woman or man and man and woman and woman, I don’t care. So the movie speaks about this.
And that’s why it is such a timeless movie. It’s taking place in the 1900s but it’s thematically current to this day.
Reflecting on your repertoire at large, from 2003 to today, which role would you say has been the most rewarding yet challenging to play thus far? Please elaborate.
Maybe Viola di mare was an important point for me but also Vallanzasca (Michele Placido, 2010) and Valzer (Salvatore Maira, 2007) was an important yet short movie. In that movie I realised I really love cinema. It was very difficult to only have one shot in 120 mins (130) without cutting. [I realised it is important to] enjoy the moment and my job and I tried to explain this to the crew and they followed me and then we had one shot and they told me after that. I tried to say “it’s not a problem, we can’t do this, but we have maybe three days more so try to enjoy”… and we did it. Muccino tends to shoot like this; not with one shot but with long shots. At the beginning it’s hard but after a while it is better because of the feeling conveyed.
Yes, the audience is capturing the whole scene.
In “Manuale d’amore 3” (Giovanni Veronesi, 2011) you star against heavyweights Robert De Niro and Monica Bellucci. What are they like to work with and did you get to know them well also off screen?
With Monica I am friends, so I know her well and De Niro was a big surprise; he’s a star, he’s a great actor yet a very normal person, a little bit shy. But he is very kind. After every cut, every scene, he immediately took the iPad and the headphones and at first I couldn’t understand why and then I discovered that every time he listened to the lines and then learnt [Italian] for the movie. He did an amazing job, is a great actor. He loves this job and every time it is a challenge.
This year you have starred in three movies already and are now engaged in the shooting of “Dolcissime” (Francesco Ghiaccio). In terms of “Quanto basta”, the film has received very high audience ratings and can be called a feel-good movie with a message. It has been called “un elogio alla semplicità.” What did you find most inspiring about starring in this movie?
That’s right. It’s a story about friendship between people who are very different, and their relationships. We were in touch with Asperger people as part of this movie, which was very interesting.
Yes, the main character Luigi Fedele did a great job.
Apart from Giovanni Veronesi, to whom you are engaged, which filmmaker have you found most interesting and intriguing to work with so far and why?
Michele Placido for sure, Roberto Andò and Donatella Maiorca, as well as the young director of the upcoming movie Dolcissime.
You have starred in several movies directed by Veronesi. Is working for your partner different from working for another director? How do you separate private and professional worlds or do they merge?
It’s very difficult and we prefer not to work together that often. I want him to feel free to write something without thinking about me. But if there is a character meant for me then OK. In Italians (2009), for example, he needed an Arabic woman and couldn’t find her and then he asked me to do this role. We first met on set 15 years ago in Che ne sarà di noi (Giovanni Veronesi, 2004).
You were born in Venezuela but your father is Sicilian and your mother Turinese and you spent an instrumental period of your youth in Turin.
Reflecting on filmmaking traditions in different continents or countries, what would you say is the main difference between American and Italian directors?
With Italian directors the story is different and the way to shoot is different, that’s why I love going to film festivals around the world. First of all, it’s a way to get to know another language and culture. I think American actors have another possibility to focus on their job while we don’t have the world of the coach … I prefer to have a coach, we are alone when we prepare a character and acting. They have a crew around them, but we are alone.
What's your favourite genre?
Maybe drama. I love characters with a lot of faces and colours but I play in a lot of comedies more than drama.
Thank you very much, Valeria. We look forward to seeing you star in three movies in this Lavazza Italian Film Festival: “As needed”, “There’s No Place Like Home”, and “I Can Quit Whenever I Want 3: Ad honorem”, of which “A casa tutti bene” is surely the most dramatic. Best of luck in the Q&A session tonight and we can’t wait to see you also in the upcoming movies “Dolcissime” and “Moschettieri del re: La penultima missione” (2018).
Valeria Solarino: Filmography
Dolcissime (upcoming. Francesco Ghiaccio)
Moschettieri del re: La penultima missione (post-production. Giovanni Veronesi)
Quanto basta (Francesco Falaschi, 2018)
There Is No Place Like Home (Gabriele Muccino, 2018)
I Can Quit Whenever I want: Ad Honorem (Sydney Sibilia, 2017)
L’eroe (short, Andrea De Sica, 2017)
Era d’estate (Fiorella Infascelli, 2016)
Promiseland (short, Francesco Colangelo, 2016)
Cain’s Shadow (short, Antonio De Palo, 2016)
Giochi di ruolo (Role playing games. Short, Francesco Colangelo, 2016).
Mi chiamo Maya (Tommaso Agnese, 2015)
La settima onda (Massimo Bonetti, 2015)
La scelta (Michele Placido, 2015)
Land of Saints (Fernando Muraca, 2015)
A Woman as a Friend (Giovanni Veronesi, 2014)
I Can Quit Whenever I Want (Sydney Sibilia, 2014)
The Audition (short, Michael Haussman, 2013)
Meglio se stai zitta (short, Elena Bouryka, 2013)
Signorina Giulia (Felice Cappa, 2012)
Una commedia italiana che non fa ridere (Luca D’Ascanio, 2012)
Anita Garibaldi (Claudio Bonivento, 2012)
Rust (Daniele Gaglianone, 2011)
Ages of Love (Giovanni Veronesi, 2011)
Angel of Evil (Michele Placido, 2010)
Niente orchidee (short, Leonardo Godano, Simone Godano, 2010)
Genitori e figli: Agitare bene prima dell’uso (Giovanni Veronesi, 2010)
The Sea Purple (Donatella Maiorca, 2009)
Holy Money (Maxime Alexandre, 2009)
Italians (Giovanni Veronesi, 2009)
Signorina Effe (Wilma Labate, 2007)
Valzer (Salvatore Maira, 2007)
Manuale d’amore 2 – Capitoli successivi (Giovanni Veronesi, 2007)
Secret Journey (Roberto Andò, 2006)
La febbre (Alessandro D’Alatri, 2005).
Round Trip (Marco Ponti, 2004)
Che ne sarà di noi (Giovanni Veronesi, 2004)
Chemical Hunger (Antonio Bocola and Paolo Vari, 2003)
Happiness Costs Nothing (Mimmo Calopresti, 2003)