Marcello Mastroianni (1924-1996)
I can say that Marcello Mastroianni was a friend. We used to see each other in Dr Severini’s apartment in Rome. He was our doctor and the doctor of Alberto Moravia and Gian Maria Volontè among others. We met for Sunday night dinner and were all very relaxed and friendly.
I remember once being in Cinecittà, at the Press Conference for Federico Fellini’s new film “Ginger and Fred”. Marcello and Giulietta Masina were the two protagonists. I was going to write a profile of Fellini for American Vogue. At a certain point one of Fellini’s assistants said to me, “Mr Fellini would like you to ask Mastroianni a question.”
I asked him, “On Friday you finished a film in Naples with Jack Lemmon. The director was Ettore Scola. How can you start being Fred in this new film by Fellini on Monday, without a pause?”
He answered,”That’s how it is for a bank clerk. He closes on Friday and opens again on Monday.” That was Marcello.
In Paris I once asked him if he wanted to be interviewed for La Stampa. He said, “Not now please, we have time.” One morning a few months later, it was around 8 o’clock, the phone rings. “It’s Marcello. Do you want to join me for coffee in a café in Boulevard St. Germain?” I went, and after a while he asked me, “Do you still want to do an interview?” “Yes.” He said, “Let’s do it.” I had no paper, no pen. I asked the waiter if he could find me some paper. He gave me his little notebook for writing his orders and he gave me his biro pen. Then we started the interview. I did not think that it would be the last one.
A meeting in Paris on June 15th, 1994, with the actor Marcello Mastroianni, where he is making a film, written and directed by Agnès Varda, about one hundred years of cinema – “One Hundred and One Nights”.
Marcello Mastroianni is reading the Italian newspapers in a café on Boulevard Saint-Germain. He is dressed in a creased raincoat and a dark blue shirt. Of course he is smoking one of his endless cigarettes, only nowadays they are filter slims: he was obliged to give up his much-loved unfiltered ‘Esportazioni’.
“I was working in a movie with Robert Altman and now I have started a film with Agnès Varda: it’s a tribute to cinema on its centenary. I am acting with Depardieu, Piccoli….”
Were you acting with Sophia Loren in Altman’s film?
Yes, and it’s so much fun working with Sophia. We are really good friends. We have made thirteen films together. In this film she eats all of the other actresses; she plays a very powerful character.
Will you spend the summer in Paris?
That depends on the movie business and what’s going on.
Have you been following Italian politics?
A bit, but not with any great seriousness.
Does Silvio Berlusconi’s victory surprise you?
The Left surprises me, he surprises me, they all surprise me, but I am really not that interested. In France they have been talking negatively about Italy and neo-fascistic ministers. Maybe the fact is that I am getting old. Perhaps it’s old age that makes me so skeptical.
Do you believe that there is a danger of fascism in Italy?
There are a few signs, but no need to give them too much importance. Of course, if that did turn out to be the case I would be very concerned.
You find it boring?
I am much more interested in my work. More than ever before. At my age one has less distractions. Work is what makes me feel on the ball.
How old are you?
I will be seventy this September.
How does that make you feel?
I don’t think I’ll live to be a hundred and twenty. Of course everyone would like to live that long, but it isn’t possible.
Were you in shock when Giulietta Masina and Federico Fellini died?
Of course, it’s a shock when the people you love so much, especially when they are so hugely talented, disappear out of sight.
Do you find death unsettling?
I love being alive. I enjoy seeing how things turn out in the end. I want to be around to see things, as a spectator. I am not very streetwise, perhaps that’s my limitation. I have my own view on things and I’ve never wanted to upset other people or be upset by them. My character is Mediterranean, I take life one day at a time; I know that’s sometimes not so good.
Are you a cheerful person?
I am extremely grateful for a life that has dealt so generously with me. I have had good luck, loves, success, money…
What will you do with your money?
Let me think about that.
Will you leave it to your heirs? So that they can live in luxury?
I am generous and I was never shrewd enough to be really well paid.
But how much do you make for a film?
I could make more, but I’m not complaining. It’s my good luck that the Lumière brothers invented the cinema.
Making movies is actually great fun?
That’s the irony of it.
Do you worry about being out of work?
I make good use of my time when I am not working. But if I was not working at all, then I really would have a very big hole in my life. My profession is a hugely privileged one. At the end of the day, a movie is about fifty people meeting up to share a meal and a joke. It’s a lot better that going to work in an office.
Do actors really kiss each other on the set? Do they fall in love?
Of course it can happen that a love affair starts between colleagues who think highly of each other, but it’s a rarity. I have made one hundred and fifty movies: I’d be in prison if I fell in love every time. We pretend to be in love, but that’s not unpleasant. It’s better to kiss a beautiful woman than dig the soil. Oh yes!
What do you remember most about Fellini?
For us actors, it was his brilliant imagination. Making a movie with Fellini was a non-stop party and as a director he was really easy: great fun, you said it yourself. Every time you make a movie, however, it’s always a treat, it is just so much fun. Sometimes I read interviews with American actors who talk about their “suffering”. What are they talking about? On account of what does one suffer? People love you, they ask you for your autograph, they pay you to travel on wonderful journeys. Where’s the torment in that? Let’s leave torment to the poets, to the musicians. An actor is a fool, a pet, but has his own distinct characteristics, is not forgettable; you can’t be a half-wit and be any good.
Which actors did you take as your models?
In my youth I loved to watch Gary Cooper and Clark Gable. I don’t really have such strong attractions any longer. After the war Marlon Brando made a big impression on me: good looking, magnetic, a gigantic personality, great class. And also Montgomery Clift. I never really much liked James Dean. In Italy I have great admiration for Gassman, he always gives so much and is endearing; but then he is a very unusual actor, well-educated and funny. He is also lionhearted. How many times have I said: make Gassman President of the Republic! I was also a fan of Tognazzi, and Volontè. I saw the pre-war actors as my heroes.
But then you became a hero?
So the Americans used to say.
Are you always travelling…?
I enjoy being out and about. The film industry allows you to travel first class, to be one of the beautiful people, to be greeted with a warm welcome all over the world. Given the choice between Rome and Viterbo, I would rather go to Viterbo.
But you really like your freedom?
As much as my commitments allow. One postpones everything and says, “Soon I’m going to shoot a film, then we will see.”
Are you a good father? Are you very much involved with your daughters?
I am a big pain in the ass! A disciplinarian, blinkered.
Your daughter Chiara has become an actress. Are you happy about that?
Yes, but with misgivings if she doesn’t succeed in carving out a career. If you had to choose between being an actor who can’t make a career and being a normal worker, I would prefer to be a worker. If you’re not in demand, you’re condemned to stay at home and wait for the phone to ring and sometimes it just does not happen; that’s demeaning. Better to have a serious job.
Are you skeptical about Italians?
They are skilled, enterprising, courageous; it’s a pity that the political class does not know how to respect the many people who have worked for their money and who pay their taxes. I don’t have much love for politicians, nor can I stand fashion. Why do the newspapers give so much importance to fashion, when everyone has already made up their minds to wear blue jeans?
And what about the movie industry?
I would say this: it’s such a shame that we have never had our own Armani, Benetton, Ferrè, Versace. Italian producers can’t see beyond their own noses; they make it up as they go along. Our rulers are even worse. After the war, they were complaining to De Sica and Rossellini: we do not approve of your films being shown abroad. “Dirty clothes are washed at home,” that’s what they said. Nobody really understood the fact that the movie industry could be the most important ambassador for Italy.
And what about television?
I only like factual documentaries or programmes about historical events. What a lot of nonsense: and what a bore! The presenters really annoy me, all dressed up in their jewellery and their fashionable clothes. But who pays for all these clothes they wear? It would be better to wear a less over-the-top, pretty dress.
So, in conclusion, do you mind being nearly seventy years old?
I am happy to be reaching seventy, but in truth I could not care less. So there you are: that’s how it is.
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