The Actor’s Actor: Giancarlo Giannini on Chaplin, Loren and Being Muse to the Great Lina Wertmüller

April sees the opening of Cohen Media’s restored Quad Cinema in New York City, first opened in 1972 as a haven for indie and foreign films.

While the Quad will show new movies, it is also home to a repertory screen that kicks off with a tribute to Italian auteur Lina Wertmüller, the first female director to be nominated for an Academy Award (for her 1975 masterpiece Seven Beauties). She and her creative muse and favorite actor Giancarlo Giannini (also nominated for Best Actor in that film) created a stunning series of work in the 1970s: The Seduction of Mimi (1972), Love and Anarchy (1973), Swept Away … by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August (1974), The End of the World in Our Usual Bed in a Night Full of Rain and Blood Feud (both 1978).

While Giannini has worked with such world-class directors as Luchino Visconti, R. W. Fassbinder, Francis Coppola, Guillermo del Toro and Ridley Scott, appeared in more than 150 films (including the James Bond epics Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) and done extensive voiceover roles, it is his work with Wertmüller that stands the test of time.

Shortly before the start of the retrospective series, entitled Lina Wertmüller: Female Trouble and running April 14 – May 1, I sat down with my frequent moviemaking collaborator Sylvia Caminer to interview Giannini, 74, at the New York offices of Italy’s national RAI network.

Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato in Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away (1974)

John Gallagher (JG): You’ve expressed your love for Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. When did you get interested in them?

Giancarlo Giannini (GG): I went to the Accademia Nazionale d’Arte Drammatica in Rome when I was very young. I was supposed to be at school, but instead was out watching these films. We said, “Who are the great actors? Chaplin and Keaton, so let’s watch them,” and studied them over and over. Watching Chaplin and Keaton we saw two very distinctive and different ways of representing the world.

Chaplin is a very realistic, material man, even nasty; a very bad man sometimes. He’s even able to beat other people up. His stories are very passionate and realistic. Chaplin would steal food from others in order to survive. Keaton is the moon, an extraterrestrial, alone on earth without understanding what is going on around him. He has a very different way of approaching problems, because he is much more dramatic and sees the world in a very unrealistic way.

This was a great school for becoming an actor. And it has, of course, helped me a lot with different parts. Of course we all copied them; we got all our inspiration from them. [The trick] sometimes is really in getting the two acting styles to unite: both experiences in one, to laugh and cry at the same time.

Sylvia Caminer (SC): You rely on instinct rather than a particular methodology?

GG: It is good for the actor to feel his own way of acting. The actor is only the intelligent bridge by which the audience see what they want to see. You must have an instinctive actor. In a way, they should be a technician. The actor needs to dominate instinct. Sometimes, the less you do the more you do. It can be a contradiction with some characters, such as Pasqualino [Settebellezze, his character in Seven Beauties]—depending on what the director asks, what the film requires. It is very easy to get confused because there are so many different styles. But you don’t need to think or talk about the role; the role will come to you because you are an actor. That is why you have to calm your instincts sometimes. Performance will come from the inside. Don’t look for the soul of the role. Everyone will see how you walk and behave and then the role will come.

JG: How did you prepare for Seven Beauties?

GG: Pasqualino in Seven Beauties was like a series of oranges of different sizes—going scene to scene, I didn’t think about the link between them. Since the film plays over a long period of time, if you put all the scenes together you get a very strong design of the film. Each scene is like a little movie, with dramatic climaxes in each scene. We had all these little movies, united together to make a bigger picture.

SC: Lina Wertmüller used many of the same actors in her films, including yourself.

GG: First of all, it was easier for us, and secondly, Lina is a very different director from everyone else and sometimes it’s not as easy to work with her. So if you get used to working with her, it’s much easier the second or third time.

Seven Beauties (1975)

JG: Did you work together to develop the script on Seven Beauties?

GG: Yes, we worked together on it. I have to say that Lina did not want to do Seven Beauties [which involves murder and a Nazi concentration camp]. After I worked in comedies, she wanted to do another comedy. She worried that we couldn’t make people laugh over dead people.

SC: What about your experience working with Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren on Blood Feud?

GG: I think I was very lucky to start my career playing with a lot of great actors, like Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani in Secret of Santa Vittoria [1969]. I realized that the greatest actors in the world are the most enjoyable, the most fun. They are extremely serious when they are in the role, but never lose their joy or their desire to enjoy life. That’s how it was with Marcello and Sophia.

JG: Do you have any advice for young actors?

GG: Chaplin is cinema. And if you want to study cinema, you have to study Chaplin. MM

For more information on Lina Wertmüller: Female Trouble, visit the Quad Cinema website.

John Gallagher’s feature The Networker will be released by The Orchard in September. Sylvia Caminer recently produced and co-directed the scripted pilot Laying Low. Previously the pair directed and produced the films Blue Moon, The Deli and Men Lie, and are collaborating on the upcoming Heavy Shadows.

 

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