Please see installment one for the first part of this interview. Part two starts where yesterday's segment left off, and features Crime Novel costar Pierfrancesco Favino speaking more generally about acting, Italian culture, and his career.
Again, please remember: Favino's English is fantastic for communicating, but transfered to the page, it can be bit a bit difficult to sort out if you've not heard him speaking. To that end, I've done more editing than usual -- all changes to his words (noted, of course, by ellipses or brackets) were done only for the sake of clarity; his meaning and intent are never adjusted.
In the US, when films come out that revolve around real-life historical figures -- like Oliver Stone's films -- there's always people saying "You shouldn't be portraying these people sympathetically," or calling the work dishonest because it doesn't fit into their perceptions of history. Did anyone respond that way to Crime Novel?
Well, let's look at how they end up -- I mean, they all die. And, at the end, those who survive are the ones that now lead the country; the policeman got a [promotion], and he becomes the chief of police ... [by] following the rules and being dishonest with himself. ...But what about Once Upon a Time in America? I mean, we know that they are gangsters, and [we still sympathize with them].
In general, I think you can watch a movie in two different ways. One is the ethical point of view, one is the point of view of the story. And to me as actor, what is important is to reveal -- excuse my pretensions -- reveal that a human being might be everything. I mean .... you're talking to me, and you don't know anything about me. I could go in the elevator and, I don't know ...
Shoot the elevator guy, or something --
Yeah, yeah! And honestly ... if I talk about what it means to be an animal -- what it means to be a human being without ethical convictions, without social or religious [guidelines] -- I could shoot somebody, I could be an assassin. If I'm not under the [same] conditions as [someone else], I can't say that I'm a pacifist, I can't say that I wouldn't shoot anybody. What if my neighbor comes with a gun, and says "I'll kill you and all your family because you think something different than what I think?" And I'm talking about Serbia and Montenegro and the war -- because this is the situation!
... I think that we ... have to face that our minds might be a little bit too closed, but if we stop for a minute -- I mean, come on, this is fiction [we're talking about] -- we have a chance to tell a story, but also to wake up our consciences ... Let's think for a minute about what we should do, what we can do. We have this chance now to represent reality as it is, as it could be, [so] let's make a statement -- let's face reality and say, "What would I do, if I was under those conditions?" ... without judging morally. [Because that judging] is what stops you, first of all, from being communicated something, and second, I think, from developing yourself as a person.
I mean, I know that when you talk about something that may hurt someone, reactions are normal, and you are touching some nerves. ... But I don't do things because people always like what I do. If I meet somebody who says "I don't like your work," it's his right. It's his right to disagree with me, to dislike what I do. I'm not a high and illuminated man, I'm trying to tell stories. ... And if you say "I dislike your work," it's because I made you think something -- [prompted] you to make a statement about what you believe in; what you like and you don't like. This is what makes you remember in yourself that you're alive! It's a good opportunity [for me].
It would be great if more people looked at acting as that sort of opportunity, rather than as a right to stand up in front of everyone and be adored.
Well, at the same time I can say that I don't judge that. ... If you've got this kind of necessity, this is about ego; about something else. Plus, now I'm like this -- I don't know if I'll be like this tomorrow. You know, temptations are always around the corner. But what makes me work [now] is the necessity to ... What I look for in the projects that I'm doing or that I will do is something that I need to say, or [a way to] challenge myself ... I mean, I have an opportunity to lead lives that I would never lead ... or to ask myself about important issues.
But [at the same time], you earn your money playing! You're allowed to behave as a child. I'm really ... amused at what happens now. [in my life] You know, all of a sudden ... I mean, I've been waking up with this face for 36 years. And I know how I wake up -- I know my hair is like this [gestures] -- and I look at myself in the mirror, and I can't pretend to be who I am for somebody else who looks at me, trembling, asking for a picture. [laughing] I mean, why are your trembling?! It's something with you, it's not with me! This is something so funny .... [But] there is something more -- a little bit more serious -- that has to do with the freedom you give to people to play with your image. I mean, the more I do this job, the more than I feel I am changing, and I'm not ... keeping for myself what I do. I mean, I don't care about being moved by what I do, but what I care about is that you are moved, or that [I] communicate to you. I give you some points, and then you ... do your own drawings, and your own movie.
It's a bit like Eisenstein, and his goal of creating a reaction inside the audience with his images ....
Exactly. It's your perception. But it has also to do with me as a symbol ... So if you want to think that I am a killer, and if you treat me like a killer when you meet me in the street, or if you treat me like a biker [Favino's character in a recent, wildly-popular TV movie] ... -- I used to meet a lot of people who talked to me as if I were that man, and I let people do that ... I'm not there underlining that I'm not.
Is it difficult to relinquish control like that?
You know, I think that people give you back what you gave them. I try to be ... as I am. I like people, I like to talk to people, I like to [laughing] share with people. ... But what I feel is that people like the work, as I said, so people stop me not to say [puts on scary American accent] "Oh my God you are my hero!" Most of the time, I meet people who say "Thank you because you make me feel something," or "I really appreciate your work." And that's cool, instead of saying [accent again] "Oh my God you're beautiful!" or "Oh my God you're ugly!" or "I thought you were taller!"
It must be very, very strange to have complete strangers come up to you and tell you how much your work has affected them -- that's a lot of power.
Well, if you want to use it, it is. I mean, if you're not really aware of what it is, playing with emotions and that power over people ... But, I mean, like you were talking about with Eisenstein -- if I'm not edited that way ... I know if I was crying, or if that was menthol in my eyes -- but then [what came out of] the editing moved somebody else ...
And that's also about the mystery of actors which is, I guess, the most important thing in our job. I mean, if you know who I am, if you know what I do in my life, why should you believe that this time I'm a gangster, and the second time I'm whatever else? ... This is what really thrills me when I read about actors and acting [through] the centuries -- the training of actors; how it happened that somebody stood up and said "Alright, I'll tell you who you are." [laughs] ... But I feel a link with [religion], also.
Really? Can you explain that?
Well, I'm not saying that I'm a priest! ... [But] society has a need for someone who represents, and you ... try, and people look at you, and say "You move me;" people say "You told me a story, and I believed what you were pretending to be." I'm not comparing the importance ... but a good priest is not the one that says "God exists," but the one that says "I believe that God exists. I can't tell you it's true, but I can make you feel that I believe in that." You know? I mean, you have this void, this tension, and [he makes] you ... see it for a while. ... [laughing] I'm not saying that I'm illuminated, or that God is [with me]! [But] I understand, historically, the link [between the two]. It has something to do with the abandonment of ego; the fact that you know you're there, pretending, with all of your soul participating in what you're telling, what you're doing ... believing. [As an actor] ... you either do believe or you don't, and if you don't believe in what you do, you won't make anybody believe. It's about a mutual agreement: I will be the one who tells the story, you will be the one who believes in the story. And actually, it has [connection] with ... every kind of religion.
Wow. That's really interesting -- I'm going to have to think more about it, but I do understand what you're saying.
[Laughs] Well, it's changed a lot --
Yeah, the relationship between actors and audience was much more pure before -- it's so mediated now.
Yeah ... [And] We're not [really] talking about God, we're talking about making [someone] believe something you believe in. And the more honest you are with your beliefs, what might happen [is that] someone who watches what you do could believe in [those things]; could open his mind to other opportunities.
That's a really sort of inspired way of looking at what you do ...
Yeah -- but I'm saying I feel the link -- symbolically. [Laughs] I don't want you to say "[He said] 'I AM THE POPE!' Hey, I met the Pope! He's crazy!"
No, I promise that won't happen!
[Favino's publicist comes over, and says there's time for one more question.]
Ok, really easy: Are you in Night at the Museum?
Yes, I am.
How did that happen?!
They called me!
Have you already done it?
Yeah, I did it.
How was it? I was looking at your credits and when I saw that I was like ....
WHAT?! Is he there?
Yeah, they looked for me -- but if you asked me how it happened, I don't know. ... I think Fox has an Italian branch, and usually ... they ask their branches to have a list of the actors that they think could work [abroad]. So I got a call, and they said "Would you do [Night at the Museum]?" Are you kidding? Well, the first time the AD called me, I thought it was a friend of mine ... so I said "Oh yes. I'm coming to LA. Good. Yes, I'll come to Vancouver. Would you stop it now?" And they said "Sorry?" Oh!
But it was fun. Working with Ben Stiller was great ... Actually, I'm covered from top to toe ...
You are not!
Yes! I'm a bronze statue [of Christopher Columbus], so I have a latex mask, my eyes are covered -- so it could be you! But it is my voice. [Plus], it gave me the freedom to watch without being noticed! [laughs hysterically]
You could stand for hours in the corner ....
Yes! [Pretending] I'm the real [statue]. But it was a good experience -- and I met Mickey Rooney, and Dick Van Dyke, and Bill Cobb's just absolutely terrific, and Ben Stiller's been great with me. It's been good.
It just seems like SUCH a different world from what you've been doing.
It is. It is!
Do you want to do more of that?
I don't know, it depends. I'm not really looking for ... I mean, I've never thought of American movies as my Mecca. I know that I come from a culture which I love, and I'm really proud to come from European culture, and I feel that I belong to that. I mean, everything that we've been saying, possibly, is based on my thoughts that are linked to my -- maybe excessive -- [thinking about that culture] ... I know that I belong to that culture, and it's what thrills me. I mean, I have to be excited mentally [to take a job], and my culture makes me feel [those] sparks.
Anyway, [Night at the Museum] was like playing with the most luxurious game I could ever have had! I mean, you enter this museum -- two levels of museum ... The first day I was there, I was not working, I watch watching Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke, Bill Cobb and Ben Stiller on the combo, and I said "What movie is this?" And then they came out from around the corner! But at the same ... moment, I felt really relaxed.
Yeah. Because I was covered! [laughs] Nobody could see I was reddening ...
[The publicist comes back, and announces that time is up.]
Arg. I also want to talk about Italian cinema in general ... In the things I've read, people suggest that Crime Novel is going to change things -- it's going to make cinema in Italy more brave, and take it away from the cautious "two rooms and a kitchen" approach that currently dominates. Is that going to happen, or is it something that people say every couple of years when an exciting movie comes out?
No, no. Actually not. I mean, I got a lot of telephone calls from producers and from fellow actors who ... [said they were] really encouraged and inspired by this work. If you look at the box office now in Italy, Italian cinema is doing [well], and I think it's ... not only [Crime Novel], but we also have Don't Tell, which was at the Oscars [a best foreign film nominee], and other movies. Not only comedies, which have always been top of the box office, but also other movies -- dramas ...
From a foreign perspective, with Viva Zapatero! and The Caiman, it looks like politics is being confronted pretty aggressively, too -- like maybe Crime Novel isn't the only film moving Italian cinema away from the safe tradition.
Honestly, I don't know. ... It has to do with politics. I mean ... For so long ... there's too much politics in our lives. Too much. There are more politicians than actors and entertainers in Italian television. I mean, every day we have politicians on this show that goes from 10-1am. Every day. ... For years, it's been like this. And the level of the political debate, it's been really, really bad. ... [And] the television tells a lot about the culture of a country. Now we have to dig, and try to find something different.
But we were really lucky [with Crime Novel]. Catellya and Warner made a great effort for Italian cinema. Usually we don't have that long to shoot a movie -- we don't have [people willing to take] that kind of [financial] risk.
How long did you shoot?
16 weeks. For Italy, that's really rare -- we had the time to make mistakes, which you usually don't have. I mean, I did two movies for television in nine weeks. And [with that kind of schedule] you don't have time to do anything creative. So I think [the movie] is inspiring.
It's inspiring, but people who are affected by it might not have the money or backing that you did ...
It's true. You have to [realize] that Italian cinema is a very little industry, basically based on two main production [companies] that, nowadays ... risks returning to the old situation -- it could become a kind of monopoly. But it's based in politics! [laughs] So it's always the same -- I'm sorry to say this -- shit. It's dangerous. So, whenever we have time to do something creative, that could somehow try to find another space, and inspire people, inspire a new generation to do good things -- try to grow [an] independent space -- it's going to be good.
That opportunity must have have been so important to those of you who worked on Crime Novel.
We were the lucky ones -- all of the Italian actors wanted to be in it. There were market reasons [for the casting] too, people know us a little bit -- it's ridiculous to say "stars," but ...
Well, if they're investing so much money and time, it's understandable because they want a return on their investment, right?
Yes, but it doesn't mean you have to do something bad [to make a profit]! This was an occasion where we had the chance to do something better. Not something perfect, but something better. And this is going to give courage to [others]. Not only to the production companies, but to theatergoers -- to expect more. I think this is why the box office in Italy for Italian cinema is doing really well this year. ... Especially Nanni Moretti's The Caiman -- I mean, it's a believable thing, and it's up to €7 million, which is quite rare in general for a movie that's not a comedy. And now it's going to Cannes, so we'll see what happens ...
Crime Novel is still without US distribution, but it will be shown on June 1 (at 1:15pm and 6pm) at New York's Lincoln Center as part of their annual Open Roads series of new Italian films. Tickets are available at the Film Society of Lincoln Center website.