In terms of what you wanted to do, and your professional obligations, is there anything you have never been willing to forego?
My independence and freedom of choice. At the start of my career it was the great directors especially who chose me. In my career I’ve been lucky to have the privilege of always doing what I wanted to do, when I wanted and with whom I wanted.
You have often played quite complex roles. How do you convey that ambiguity on the screen?
It comes from the communion between the actor and the director. It’s a personal conversation between the two of you. If he is able to ask me for something, then I can give it to him. I have always felt at ease with the camera. I look at it as if I’m looking into a pair of eyes, it has never bothered me. I love looking at the lens, it’s as if I was looking at the viewer and talking directly to him.
Rocco and his Brothers was a turning point in your career.
The real turning point was René Clément’s Plein Soleil. It was after seeing Plein Soleil that Visconti asked me to do Rocco. 1959 to 1963 were the Roman years, Plein Soleil, Rocco and his Brothers, The Leopard. I’d wish such an experience for all actors.
You’ve gained your place in film history because of your performances in numerous masterpieces, but also because of your beauty.
It was the era of “young leading men”. They liked actors who were starting out to be handsome. Before me, there was Jean Marais, who was first of all extraordinarily handsome. Afterwards, it was not enough to be handsome, you had to be good, otherwise you didn’t last very long.
You have often played roles in stories involving doppelgangers and substitution, solitary and melancholy figures. Should we regard this as a result of your choices, or did you feel that it was you, the very essence of you, that led filmmakers in that direction?
Both. They immediately saw me like that, because I was like that. As time has passed, I have remained like that. Always roles as a solitary type, a man in search of himself, his life, his double, his partner. Clément was the first to feel this, and then soon afterwards, Visconti. And Jean-Pierre Melville gave that a concrete expression in all his films.