Interview with Stefania Sandrelli
Leopard Club Award 2016
Let’s go back to the origin of your cinematic fortunes, with an entrance through the front door, so to speak: making your debut at the age of 15 and immediately finding yourself working alongside a director like Pietro Germi and actors like Marcello Mastroianni…
I still remember very well the train journey from Viareggio to Rome to audition for the director Pietro Germi, whose films I already knew. I was only 15, but when I found myself in front of him, I wasn’t nervous at all. He had called me after seeing some of my photographs, but he didn’t choose me right away, he had me wait more than a month, the time when he started working on two other films, Gioventù di notte and Il federale. Then when shooting started on Divorzio all’italiana, in 1961, I was so fascinated by the presence of Marcello Mastroianni that I was spying on him all the time. He had a lazy nature, he managed to fall asleep while having his makeup done and yet there was also always a slyness at the same time. But he was a real gentleman, so protective towards me, as back then I was just a young girl and I was starting to become aware of my physical appearance only through the looks of others.
You worked on other films with Pietro Germi, and it was the same with Bernardo Bertolucci, Ettore Scola and Mario Monicelli. Long-lasting relationships…
Perhaps it’s all due to the fact that I have always considered myself like a member of an orchestra, who in order to play well needs first and foremost a good conductor. And that’s what all those directors were, in part because they managed to charge their work with a passion that you could completely sense on the set as well. At times, when Germi was behind the camera, he would go along with the scenes, taking part, laughing, singing. And I remember Bernardo Bertolucci one time: we were shooting the night-time scenes for Io ballo da sola, it started to get light, and he lost his temper like a child. He was so caught up in his work that he was really upset about having to break it off.
Speaking of Bernardo Bertolucci, at the Festival we are rescreening his masterpiece Il conformista…
It’s a film I’m very attached to for many reasons. One of which is having shared the set with actors towards whom I’ve always nurtured esteem and affection. Jean-Louis Trentignant, but also Dominique Sanda. When you’re on set, friendship between colleagues doesn’t really matter, but the type of relationship that is created is essential for the outcome of the film. At times the camaraderie comes from a look, from a kind-hearted gesture at a moment when someone is struggling. I always say that even though I started my career at a time of star worship in the Italian film industry, I never wanted to be nor tried to be a diva. I was always interested in seeking a close relationship with the women that I was portraying and not by chance one of the things I’m most proud of is the affection I’ve always received from female audiences.
All this at a time when the great international actors were coming to Italy to act. You worked with Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu, Philippe Noiret…
I was lucky to work with those great actors, but also with great French directors like Jean-Pierre Melville and Alain Corneau. Of course, from this perspective the experience of Novecento, with Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu, Burt Lancaster and Donald Sutherland, remains something unique for the bond that was established, between the set, the dinners together and good wine. But not only. The film had a historic significance and it was also engaging because of the strong anti-fascist themes it touched on. I remember that in the night scene in which my character had to go around the town to tell everyone that the fascists had burned the Casa del Popolo and that some old people had died, I cried at every take. In film crying is always a double-edged sword for an actor, but there I was moved every time.
What other weapons should always been in an actor’s arsenal?
First of all, a full willingness in regards to cinema, which goes beyond the film or the role you are interpreting. There must be joy and passion but also that courage that allows you to make choices that are not always obvious. Like my role in the film La chiave by Tinto Brass. I knew that the nude scenes would dominate, but when I read the screenplay I was intrigued by the pervasive irony. For an actor, the film is first of all a script, which the film must always go beyond. Also not taking oneself too seriously is a knack that’s essential to protecting our inner child.