Monica Bellucci began her career in front of the camera at age 16, first as a model and later as an actress. After making her film debut in the 1991 Italian comedy La Riffa, playing a beautiful but destitute widow, she became cinema's go-to Fellini-esque femme fatale. Over the years, however, she has proven her mettle in everything from arthouse indies to franchise blockbusters — just not very many comedies, as she is quick to point out. "I've done more dramatic films and sad stories," she says. "I don't know why. Because I'm brunette?"
But the alluring Bellucci is also funny.
When asked what role she is most often recognized for, the actress answers with a story: "I want to tell you something. I was in the airport in New York not long ago. Someone came up to me and he told me, 'Oh, I love you. I love your work so much. But you know, the role I love the most is Zorro.' He thought I was Catherine Zeta-Jones!" She keels over in a fit of giggles. "He said, 'Can you autograph this?' And I said, 'Yes. Okay.' I didn't have the courage to say, 'Listen, it wasn't me!'"
Now, she finally has the chance to prove it on-screen in Mafia Mamma, a mob comedy about a suburban mom who inherits her family's mafia empire. "When I received the script, I laughed out loud," Bellucci remembers. "So, for me, it was really a new experience."
"She's mesmerizing," director Catherine Hardwicke says. "Even when she would just talk to me, she would be whispering and saying these beautiful things in that Italian accent. Whatever she asked me, I'd be like, 'Of course!' She hypnotized me."
In conversation with A.frame, Bellucci reflects on five of the most defining roles of her more than 30 years on-screen. "I've done many films," she says, "but there are some of them that really created a special situation."
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola | Written by: James V. Hart
Oh my God, it was so funny because actually Roman Coppola saw pictures of me. So, I met Francis Ford Coppola and I was just a model at the time. It was a cameo, but this is what I wanted to do! It was a really important moment for me. Short, but important.
When I say yes to a character, it is because I wanted to share a moment of acting that is interesting for me, but sometimes that can be a big role. Sometimes that can be a small role. When I worked with David Lynch [on Twin Peaks], that was really a tiny moment I had with him on set, but I said yes because it was an experience to be on set with him and to be in a crazy project like that. Sometimes it's just a matter of meeting interesting people, and being on set with creative directors, talented artists, enjoying the moment.
Written and Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore
Malèna is another incredible story, because I met [Giuseppe] Tornatore when I did a commercial for Dolce & Gabbana. I was so happy to work with him, because I was in love with Cinema Paradiso, like all of us. It's an amazing movie, and he did it when he was 28 years old! He was very young when he did Cinema Paradiso. And when I did the commercial with him, Tornatore told me, 'I have an idea in my mind for a movie I want to make. If one day I make this movie, I'm going to call you.' And I said, 'Okay, let's see. What is the movie?'
I was in Puerto Rico shooting my first American movie, Under Suspicion, with Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman. It was four years later, actually. Tornatore called me and he told me, 'Do you remember that movie?' I said, 'Yeah, of course. I remember that you told me about this movie.' 'Okay, I want to make it.' For five months, we were in Sicily, and voila! We did Malèna. It was an important movie, because it was an Italian movie traveling around the world. For Italy, Malèna was a big deal.
Written and Directed by: Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski
This is another crazy story. I was in Paris, and I went to see Matrix — the first one — and I came out from the theater and I said, 'Oh my God, I want to make a movie like that.' And then, I was in America presenting Malèna, and the Wachowskis called me. They wanted to meet me. And they offered me Persephone. I was so happy. Then I was in Sydney, shooting the movie. That's the story. That's the way it is — cinema is coincidences and unpredictable situations.
Directed by: Mel Gibson | Written by: Mel Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald
The Passion of the Christ was a crazy movie. I remember I was in Rome, and there is a costume designer — Maurizio Millenotti, who is a great costume designer — that I did Malèna with. We had lunch together, and he said, 'Oh, I'm going to do The Passion of Jesus Christ.' And I said, 'Who is going to play Mary Magdalene?' You see, I didn't say Mary! I said, 'Who's going to be Mary Magdalene?' And he said, 'The role is not cast yet.'
And then, Mel Gibson wanted to meet me. I met him and boom, I was in the movie. When I did this movie, I mean, nobody would believe that this film would become what it became! But everybody was like, 'Oh my God, this movie is going to be so controversial' — those kind of things. I guess I make controversial movies.
Irréversible was very controversial. When we went to Cannes, it was a complete scandal! My mother called me and said, 'What did you do? Why don't you make normal movies?' I said, 'What do you mean normal movies?' Now, Irréversible is a cult movie in some ways, even 20 years later.
Directed by: Sam Mendes | Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
I was 50 years old, so when my agent called me, saying, 'Listen, some people want to meet you for Spectre,' I said, 'Who am I going to play? M?!' Actually, it was a revolutionary thing that a 50-year-old woman would be in a film like that. And then, everybody said so many things because I was 50 years old in a James Bond movie! It was an experience. I really enjoyed working with Sam Mendes — he's great — so it was a very beautiful experience to be in that movie.