Imagine if you got into trouble with the law. Wouldn’t you want a lawyer who was savvy, tough, shrewd and drop dead gorgeous? While it seems rather remote that the pursuit of justice would offer such a combustible combination, it almost happened in Italy. But instead of finishing her law degree at the University of Perugia, Monica Bellucci’s fate was sealed when a modeling career sidelined her legal ambitions.
Her infamous TV commercial for Dolce and Gabbanna became a calling card to the world that Sophia Loren and Gina Lollabrigida were no longer the sole icons of Italian femininity. In 1990, Dino Risi cast her for the Italian television series VITA COI FIGLI and soon Bellucci succeeded where most fashion models fail by establishing herself as a respected actress.
Working steadily for the next decade, she turned in impressive performances in both French and Italian cinema but it was her breakout performance in Giuseppe Tornatore’s MALENA in 2000 that drew international eyes to a talent Europe had long since embraced. Perhaps it was Tornatore who put it best when he said about his star, “She is a jewel with all these different facets, every one a little different and unique. At first you just see the beauty; then all the other colors and angles are revealed.”
Hollywood came calling and Bellucci worked in such hit films as THE MATRIX RELOADED, THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST before taking a well deserved maternity break for her daughter Deva.
As a child, what do you remember about fairy tales?
BELLUCCI: We all grew up with fairy tales. My favorite one was Sleeping Beauty, maybe because of the Prince. All little girls are waiting for a Prince. This is what I liked about the movie. In the film there are so many references to all the Grimm Fairy Tales. It’s like all these Fairy Tales came together to make a new tale, which is a combination of fantasy and fear. Because of that, we can recognize the Terry Gilliam trademark. If you think about BARON MUNCHAUSEN and BRAZIL, you can see the same amazing world.
It does seem ironic that these stories are filled with fear and death and yet children are exposed to it at such an early age.
BELLUCCI: But they love that. Children love to get scared. They need fantasy and dreams, just like us. When you tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood, they love the wolf and getting scared. We all love that because it is about our curiosity. Beyond each fairy tale is a meaning and that is why it is interesting. This is not a film filled with just special effects. It is cultivated and very intelligent and for me, it is a metaphor. Look at my character. She is an evil Queen who casts a spell on herself for immortality. But she forgets to ask for eternal youth and beauty as well. There is a metaphor in that for anyone who believes in their image; anyone who believes that their image is who they are. If the image of that myth is destroyed, then that person gets destroyed along with it. That is why this film is so perfect. We are all victims of vanity, especially actors.
Here you are a beautiful woman who has to distort that image to play a 500 year-old woman.
BELLUCCI: This was interesting. It was a challenging part because of the dual role of the young Queen and the old Queen and I had to play both forces. I had so much to do and it was fun. The make-up process was hours but in the end, when you see the final work, I was so surprised to see what I looked like. It was very strong.
When you first looked in the mirror and saw yourself as the old Queen, what do you think? Did you see yourself in there?
BELLUCCI: I am never going to be that way. I will never be 500 years old but at the same time, it was fun. I walked around but no one recognized me. It was relaxing.
How much does a director like Terry Gilliam challenge you as an actor?
BELLUCCI: Terry has such an imagination. He is like a baby full of fantasy and he knows what he wants. At the same time, he realizes what he wants from actors when he is directing them. He is challenged by the unexpected and so you have to be ready as an actress. He wants so much from you. He comes on set and will tell you how much he likes your work, now do the opposite. He is looking for ideas and so you have to be ready for improvisation. I love that and to work that way.
What are your own thoughts about eternal beauty?
BELLUCCI: It is impossible. I do think it is more a problem for American actresses. It is more Hollywood obsession than European obsession. In Europe, we have so many actresses like Charlotte Rampling and Catherine Denueve and Sophia Loren who still play sexy characters that are their own age. Here, it is so strange. After a while, even young and beautiful actresses don’t work anymore.
Let’s look at the morals of Fairy Tales. Is it healthy to teach young girls that one day their Prince will come along?
BELLUCCI: Yes. We need to dream. If we don’t dream, we cannot live. It is not just for children. It is for us as well. We need to believe in something. We need that.
Terry is not a filmmaker who likes to turn to computer effects. He likes to work in camera. Because your character has to age to two different time frames, two different sets had to be constructed. How difficult was that for you at times to play against both of those set productions?
BELLUCCI: I had to do both. I had to play the old Queen, the young Queen, both voices, the Queen in the mirror who ages and it was all great. I loved to work with him. It was not predictable and the film reflects that. It is very cultivated and it is Terry Gilliam’s signature.
Had you ever met Matt or Heath before?
BELLUCCI: I had never met either before. It is so funny because sometimes in the business you have to have an empathy with someone who you don’t know and I didn’t know Matt. I had scenes where I had to kiss him and really be in touch with him with this sensuality, when you play like that with someone you don’t know you really need to have a good partner. He was so easy and generous that it was really easy to work with both of them. I think they both did an incredible performance. Sometimes when you do a film with special effects, there is no chance for the actors to play. They are just objects of the movie and they don’t have the possibility to act. This movie was the opposite. There are so many special effects and fantasies going on, but we had the possibility to play a strong character.
Actors have many different approached to establish a character. As we have seen the role of a Queen played before, how did you approach the creation of this character to make her unique and different?
BELLUCCI: What I liked was that she was old, young, evil and sweet. She was not the typical evil Queen that we always see in films.
Did you base her on anyone you knew?
BELLUCCI: No. It’s funny because terry told me that he didn’t realize that evil could be played that way. It becomes even more evil because at times she is sweet and seductive and charming and very pretty and then she can be horrible. I think she becomes even scarier because of that. At the beginning I thought she should be more obviously mean but it all just came out that way.
How much did being in the city of Prague assist you in making the movie?
BELLUCCI: We had the most incredible costume designer in Gabriella Pescucci. Just wearing those costumes made me the character. All I had to do was lay the part. Then all those beautiful castles and trees added to it. And to think we were in Prague on top of it all. The city is so beautiful and dark and mysterious so it is the perfect atmosphere for a film like this.
While this film is a fantasy, what is your own relationship to the supernatural? Do you believe in any of it?
BELLUCCI: I think we all need magic. As we never know what will happen next, you could get a phone call and have to go to Japan or someplace else. So I believe in magic of the moment.
Growing up in Italy, can you put it in perspective having this international movie career? Sounds like that was magic.
BELLUCCI: The situation I live in is very strange. I am a European actress who mainly works in Europe but comes here occasionally. It is very strange. I know that I am European and it is difficult for Europeans to find good characters here because we look and sound different. I am not ready to say yes to everything so I have to find the right thing before I come. But each time I have made a Hollywood movie, I have worked with really talented directors. I worked with Mel Gibson, Spike Lee and the Wachowski Brothers and so I have learned from each of them.
What was the initial spark that got you interested in acting?
BELLUCCI: I always loved acting. I am from a small town so acting was something so far from my reality. I started as a model because I wanted to travel and be independent. I was about 18. It was funny. When Francis Ford Coppola did DRACULA, he saw a picture of me and asked to see me. I only had this small part in the film but it made me want to become an actress so I went back to Italy to take lessons and worked. In Italy, I realized I couldn’t do what I wanted to do so I went to Paris and did my first film L’APPARTEMENT and haven’t stopped working since. One film came after another so I am really lucky. I had the chance to move from modeling to acting. I know that it doesn’t happen often for a model to have the chance to work in many movies. They might get one movie and that’s it. A career in acting is difficult and so I am very lucky to have the chance to do all these movies.
If each film allows you as an actor to learn something, what did you take away from THE BROTHERS GRIMM?
BELLUCCI: I learned so much because it was real acting. I had so much to do. Terry is such a genius with his fantasy and imagination. He was a perfect teacher. If he calls me again, I will be there tomorrow morning.
This was such a male dominated set. How was it being one of the few women around? Did they treat you a little more gently?
BELLUCCI: For me, I was by myself from the guys so I felt in power of the situation. I felt much more powerful than the boys. She was the girl who was seductive.
The boys weren’t intimidated by you?
BELLUCCI: Oh no (laugh), absolutely not. I had so much fun and they had so much fun. It was just interesting and beautiful.
As a mother now, after having played this character, will you read to her the Grimm’s Fairy Tales?
BELLUCCI: Of course. She is so little, only 10 months old. I still tell her stories, even though she doesn’t understand she listens to how my voice changes. She is so curious. I am sure really soon I will tell her all the stories I know.
All of your scenes were in just one location. Were you at all envious that your co-stars got to gallop through forests and such?
BELLUCCI: Oh no. I am such an intimate person and I felt so protected in my castle. It was my place. It was all for the Queen. My part in the film is very special and I loved it. I like my character and my part in the movie very much.
Do you think there is a little Princess or Queen inside you?
BELLUCCI: I think I have both. I have an evil part and an ego part and I use both.
When does your evil part come out?
BELLUCCI: When I have to defend myself (laugh).
What is next for you?
BELLUCCI: I am going back to Italy to do an Italian film with the French actor Daniel Auteuil called N and it’s about Napoleon. And then I do a French movie with Catherine Deneuve and then I come to America and do a film in January, but I cannot tell you what it is yet. You will read about it soon.
How many languages do you speak?
BELLUCCI: I speak French, Italian and a bit of English.
Question & Answer Text Copyright Buena Vista International