Monica Bellucci walks into the room and everyone gasps with awe and exhilaration. It’s like the scene from her most-talked about film Malena (2000) in which a handful of teenagers sit by the ocean side and watch Malena Scordia pass by. The kids have never experienced anything like that before, seduced as they are by her looks and scent. It’s equally mesmerising when I come face-to-face with the Italian beauty. The fanboy in me threatens to overpower the journalist. I settle my nerves and shoot my questions…
Your latest film Rhino Season has just released. Tell us how you got involved with it.
Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi called me one day and asked me to play this role. I was surprised that he wanted me to play the role of an Iranian woman. I was happy because I love to stay in touch with different cultures through my roles. And I love playing characters which are far remote from the kind of person I am. In Rhino Season, I play the character of Mina who lives all by herself.
How close are you to Mina?
I’m not Iranian but I know what it takes for the character to live in such a family. I could understand it because I’m from a country (Umbria, Italy) where women have constantly fought for their rights. A country where until 60 years ago, men used to beat their wives and even kill them. And they wouldn’t be imprisoned because the crime would be called ‘crime of passion’. A country where even today, virginity holds prime importance for a husband.
Coming from a conservative background, you’ve played bold and provocative roles. How difficult was that?
There’s a strong woman within me. That strength comes from my mother and my grandmother, who were strong women. They fought for their rights and did not conform to a backward society. I’m an independent, free-thinking woman. I’ll go wherever I want to go. I’ll do whatever I want to. But somewhere within, there’s so much suffering because I’ve seen them suffer. So as an actress I look inside myself to give life to my roles. A part of the work is technical. It involves reading scripts and rehearsing the lines. That’s easy. Then there’s a part of your work which is part of your subconscious. That’s the most interesting part. Where you get to tap into your experiences and give shades to the character.
What’s your take on feminism?
The ’60s is considered to be the period of freedom for women. But 30 years later society has in fact regressed. Technology has evolved but humanity has degenerated. People need to understand that we’re on this earth for a limited period of time. And there’s so much more to do than killing people by waging wars or even subjecting fellow citizens to any kind of physical or emotional torture. This generation is suffering. Poor people become victims of politics. We need to end poverty, ensure proper education for children and only then things will change.
Were you aware of poverty even as a child?
As a kid, I remember watching horrible things happening in Africa on TV. People were dying, they had nothing to eat. What’s most upsetting is that nothing has changed even today. I still witness the same poverty around. Even today in various areas in South Italy, if women are not married by 25 they’re treated as outcasts. It’s terrible.
You also have an image of being a fashionista. Do you feel the pressure of maintaining that image?
I don’t make an effort to maintain it. I’m just myself. Take it or leave it. But I’m many things. As a woman, I enjoy being glamourous and beautiful when I have to. But as an actress I want to feel free to look ugly or old, whatever the role demands.
Jessica Biel once said that she refused many roles because she thought she was too beautiful to play them. She was criticised for it…
(Smiles) I’d like to tell her to wait. It will all go away, someday.
Has it ever happened that you lost a role because directors thought you were too beautiful for it?
Yes, it happens. But I’ve never considered beauty to be a weight on my shoulders. Beauty is nature’s gift to a woman and one must appreciate that. And my job as an actress is to make people believe that there’s much more to my beauty. Versatility is the most beautiful present for an actress.
Which yesteryear actresses have you idolised?
Claudia Cardinale, Anna Magnani, Sophia Loren and many more were great actresses. They were known worldwide through Italian cinema. I’m nothing in front of them. I’ve just done one Italian film, Malena, which has worked internationally. All the other Italian films I’ve done are not known to the world. If I want an international career, I need to do more French, Iranian and American movies. The opportunities have increased for actresses today and it’s also the only way to survive.
Italian cinema was also under a serious economic crisis at one point…
Even now Italian cinema does not have enough funds for artistic movies. There’s so much talent but unfortunately, it can’t find expression due to lack of funds. It’s a sad reality.
You’ve done some disturbing things in your movies (exposing, playing a victim of abuse). Do you fear that your daughters Deva and Leonie might one day question your choices as an actress?
My kids should see my work as work and nothing more. My first priority has always been my daughters. If my daughters start looking at me as an actress or a sex symbol then it means I’ve not been there for them as a mother. I don’t let Deva (9) and Leonie (3) get involved in anything I do. I keep them away from all my work.
Do the highly emotional roles leave you drained?
After I’ve played a role, somewhere, it becomes a part of me. I can’t free myself of that. You give life to a character and it stays with you forever. It’s good in a way because it helps me not to get repetitive with the roles I take on.
Do you watch your films and critique your performances?
No, it’s difficult to be objective. But I’m getting better with every film I do. I’m less scared, more free.
So what are you working on next?
I’m working with Serbian director Emir Kusturica. I’m going to play a Serbian woman and will be in Serbia for three months. It’s a beautiful love story.
You’re also doing a comedy…
Yes, it’s a French comedy. It’s a story about a woman who gets married into a Jewish family. She has no clue about their culture and the way they function. I can’t reveal much about the film but it’s going to be funny and moving at the same time.
Do you watch Hindi films?
I’ve watched quite a lot of Hindi films. Indian films are all over the world. My favourite film is Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen. I loved the way it was filmed and I wish I had been part of it. I’d love to work with an Indian director but it depends on the role I’m offered.
Weren’t you offered the role of Sonia Gandhi in the supposed Rajiv Gandhi biopic?
They did ask me but at that time the script wasn’t ready. So I wasn’t keen on working on the project.
Who among the Indian actors are your favourites?
I know the faces but not all the names. I love Shah Rukh Khan. He’s sensual and yummy. I love Aishwarya Rai Bachchan too. She’s the actress with the beautiful green eyes. I had the privilege of meeting her in Cannes. She’s sweet.
You’re an agnostic right? It’s unusual for a Catholic to take that stand…
I believe in energies more than religion. What’s invisible interests me more.