News  ·  07 | 08 | 2023

Eduardo Leo on Adapting Shakespeare's Othello

We asked him about how the adaptation came about, his artistic choices, and the portrayal of male obsessions with possession.

©Andrea Pirrello

How did the idea of a new adaptation of Othello come about?

I have been working on this project for many years, I even wanted to make my directorial debut, then for various reasons I postponed it. Born from various reflections, it is a dramatically contemporary story, as we see in the news events that happen every day. It is a femicide, an anomalous work by Shakespeare, in which basically the protagonist is Iago, but is entitled The tragedy of Othello. I thought of making a complete translation of Shakespeare's work into Roman dialect, without scripting it, cutting only a few parts. Since the general sense was the ambiguity of all the characters, I decided to give it the title I am not what I am, which is one of the most iconic phrases that Iago says.


Shakespeare is considered a lofty work, but these choices in the adaptation bring it back to its original folk roots.

There has been a great misunderstanding in all Shakespearean work over the last 50 years, so he has been considered, also by virtue of some translations, a writer who is part of an intellectual côté, of a difficult theater. It is in some ways, but in the writer's intentions it is an extremely popular work, in the highest sense of the term. History is accessible to everyone, language had to be made so. The translation into dialect brings it back to that popular context that I have always been looking for, while not losing in any way the poetry of language.


The aspect of jealousy, of the male obsession with possession in these years in which you have thought about adaptation has exploded even more in the news.

Unfortunately, yes. The general meaning of this transposition is precisely this. It is a work written 400 years ago and, in the patriarchal dynamics of possession of man towards woman, practically nothing has changed. This is why it is dramatically contemporary. The classics serve precisely to reread the present, and never before has the story of Othello told us about the sick dynamics between the male and female universe.


Every era has its tragedies, Shakespeare inserts in the narrative the wars of his time, here you insert, at a certain point, in a television, the news of the September 11 attacks.

At the beginning I had put that scene only to make clear the period in which the story is set. Then, as sometimes happens in cinema, the stories also take on another meaning. That terrifying collapse of humanity, the violence of that image, represents, at the moment I inserted it, also the collapse of the soul of all the characters.


In recent years it seems to me that, as a filmmaker, you are heading towards more crepuscular territories, moving away from comedy and embracing more dramatic reflections.

Surely you grow, I turned 50. On the comedy side I have done a lot and I do not rule out continuing to do so. It is a lens with which you can also look at very dramatic facts, it is by its intrinsic nature. But I wanted to explore things that had always interested me in 30 years of career. The reality is that you get swallowed up by the things that are more successful, sometimes you are affectionately described as a mainly comedy actor. But, in reality, both in the theatrical side and for my personal interest, I have always cultivated instead an idea of cinema at 360 degrees. In recent years I have made, if I can afford it, different choices, such as acting in the film by Ivano De Matteo, Mia, L'ordine del tempo by Liliana Cavani, and now Othello. The time has come for me to shock those who follow me, those who appreciate my work. Get out of what is mistakenly considered a comfort zone, where you do things you think you can do. This instead is a project that took many years, so I gained 20 kilos, having to undergo a very tiring and very long aging. I made the choices of the last two years because I wanted to portray more and more deeply, as I had done with comedy, some aspects of our social life. With greater realism than certain comedies.


The setting is on a coastline that should give freedom to the gaze to the horizon, but instead seems to suffocate the characters, who close more and more within themselves.

Othello is deeply claustrophobic. The characters move in a very small center, with the sea in front, from which they cannot escape. I tried to respect the original writing, and I found this village of Nettuno which has remained unchanged over the centuries, which brought me back to a classic setting while maintaining the contemporary. There was born the idea of staging the story without figurations. Apart from a disco scene, the restaurants, streets, beaches are empty. There are only the characters who speak. I wanted to put them at the center of this story, almost respecting the theatrical staging of the opera.


How was the search for the cast, did you choose many new faces?

Doing Iago has always been a passion of mine, not having been able to do it in the theater. Apart from that, I wanted to engage myself with a different and new generation of actors. It was a complex search, like finding a black actor of Arab origin, as in the origin of Othello. To restore realism, I chose not to fill the film with familiar faces, even those dear to me. Apart from Antonia Truppo, a very experienced actress, very good and very useful in the film, I worked with young people. The part that excites me most is the direction of the actors. I wanted the right actor for each role, not the most well-known one.


Mauro Donzelli


Encounter on Non sono quello che sono - The Tragedy of Othello di W. Shakespeare, with Edoardo Leo and Pietra Detassis, President and Artistic Director of the Accademia del Cinema Italiano - David di Donatello Awards.

The conversation will take place on Monday 7 August at 3.30 pm at the Davide Campari Lounge.