Italian superstar Pierfrancesco Favino talks about destroying 'mafia stereotypes'

Italian superstar Pierfrancesco Favino talks about destroying ‘mafia stereotypes’

In Italy, Pierfrancesco Favino needs no introduction. At this year’s David di Donatello awards ceremony – Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars – a Favino film was nominated in every major category. A shortlist of directors with whom he has worked – Gabriele Salvatores, Giuseppe Tornatore, Marco Bellocchio, Gianni Amelio, Gabriele Muccino, Ferzan Ozpetek, Mario Martone – sounds like a who’s who of Italian cinema.

Internationally, Favino has carved out a second career as a supporting actor in Hollywood productions. In Spike Lee’s Miracle in Sant’Annaby Ron Howard Rush AND Angels and Demonsor Mark Forster World War Z. But his last visit to the United States — at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York — was for an Italian film: Andrea Di Stefano’s The last night of lovescreened in competition.

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In the gritty crime drama, Favino plays protagonist Franco Amore, a good cop called in the night before his retirement to investigate the murder of his best friend and longtime partner killed during a diamond heist. It is the Italian-language debut of actor-turned-director Di Stefano (Eat, pray, love, Pi’s life), who first made a name for himself behind the camera with US independent thrillers Escobar: Paradise Lost with Benicio del Toro and The informant with Joel Kinnaman and Rosamund Pike. Shot on 35mm but set in modern-day Milan, the film updates classic Italian thrillers from the 1970s and 1980s for a contemporary audience.

“It’s always so exciting to come to New York, a city where I now have many good memories,” says Favino THR Rome, in an interview at the West Village Hotel in New York shortly after the The last night of love Before. “I was talking about it with friends. I told them how strange it is to know a city so far away from yours».

What does the audience like at the premiere?

At the end we had a Q&A with some very interesting questions, showing a really high level of attention. There seemed to be a lot of fun in the sense that they also captured what could have been the more Italian aspects of the film. I have to say that it was received equally everywhere, here, in France, in Berlin. This is really gratifying.

You have already been a guest of Tribeca. Have you noticed any differences between then and now?

The first time I came was a long time ago with Criminal novel in 2006. Since then, Americans have gotten to see me in other work and have become more familiar with me. The reception at Tribeca was very warm, especially from the festival director and the people who selected the films. I feel they are familiar with the work I have done over the years.

Is it because of the many American productions you’ve been in?

Yes, but I was also lucky enough to have starred in two Oscar-nominated films from Italy: Marco Bellocchio from The traitor and Mario Martone’s Nostalgia and films screened at international festivals such as Toronto, Cannes and Berlin. In general, there is a vitality in our cinema that is welcomed with enthusiasm abroad that perhaps we Italians don’t know or don’t fully grasp.

How important was it that the film in competition was a thriller, a very popular genre in the States?

A crime thriller is always a very vital genre. In recent years we are perhaps more used to seeing this genre thanks to Asian or American cinema. Italian cinema is often stereotyped like all mafia films. I noticed this with Nostalgia. It’s basically a love story, but it was intended (internationally) as a mob film. There’s this tendency overseas to label these films as organized crime stories, which we honestly don’t even think about while making them. I think it would be interesting to actually explore what these films really deliver.

There was a time when I was often offered roles (in American films) with a very stereotypical Italianness that I didn’t feel like representing. I wish I could debunk this cliché that Italy is all about pizza, mandolins and the mafia.

The discussion of diversity and inclusion in roles is interesting. Personally, I think an actor should be able to play a giraffe if he wants to. But it seems strange to me that Italian roles, often leading roles, are regularly given to American actors. I don’t understand why inclusion stops the moment an Italian actor crosses the Alps. The careers of non-American actors are very often transformed when they win an Oscar with a film from their native country, or when they are lucky enough to be chosen for playing roles of one’s nationality in films that end up being very successful. I think of Christoph Waltz or Javier Bardem. For Italian actors I see that it is becoming more and more difficult and I don’t understand why.

You’ve also done a lot of work in Hollywood. What memories do you have of these experiences?

Very very good, mainly due to the quality of the people I’ve worked with. I was fortunate to work early on with Ben Stiller, Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, Spike Lee and Andrew Adamson. You have to remember that when we talk about cinema (in the US) it’s a huge industry. In Italy, it’s a much smaller business. In America they have the luxury of being able to experiment more, do more takes, shoot different scenes, make mistakes along the way. It’s a luxury that Italian cinema usually doesn’t have. A big-budget film in Italy is a low-budget independent film in America. I did the Ron Howard one Rush, which was an independent film, but with a budget of $45 million. In Italy, our most important films cost at most 12-15 million dollars, a huge budget by Italian standards.

What do you like about the American film industry?

One thing I really like is the respect for work, from and towards everyone. The fact that this is an important industry means that everyone’s work is greatly protected and valued. Regardless of the role, be it the prop maker or the actor. I also really like the very high level of preparation and professionalism.

Extraordinary screenwriters may not agree with you that they are appreciated in Hollywood…

I think the script is sacred. At a time when the specifics of each profession risk being trampled upon, or limited, it is necessary to strike. We must be careful not to be caught unprepared, especially in times when there is much talk of artificial intelligence. And we must start now to set a limit to possible problems that could arise tomorrow. We are dealing with an industry that creates a lot of money with large investments. It is right that workers protect themselves.

While in New York, will you take the opportunity to see some of your fellow Americans? Who have you stayed in contact with?

With all of them. I do everything from Christmas greetings to arranged or casual meetings. Right now I’m working on the new Gabriele Salvatores film with Omar Benson Miller who was one of the soldiers in Spike Lee’s film Miracle in Sant’Anna. I keep in regular contact with Ron Howard. In Cannes, I saw (Angels and Demons co-star) Tom Hanks again. I try to maintain very good and friendly relationships with colleagues, not necessarily related to work, but because of our shared experiences together and the affection that remained.

You are currently filming Gabriele Salvatores’ Naples to New York. What can you tell us about this new role?

More than my role I can tell you about the film: I really like the tone. It is based on a screenplay written by Federico Fellini and Tullio Pinelli (Salvatores shares co-screenwriting credit), and both have managed to deal with certain themes with an almost fantastic lightness. One thing I find extraordinary is that neither of them had ever been to New York. When I read the script I was fascinated by it. I’m very happy to work with the two leads, who are very good, and I’m sure it will be an exciting and entertaining film. You know those kinds of movies that reconnect you with the meaning of cinema, not just as a form of entertainment, but emotionally? I think this film goes in that direction.

The film tells the story of two children who, to escape the misery of post-war Naples, face a demanding boat crossing to America, as was the case for many Italian emigrants of the time. Do you remember your first trip to New York?

The first time was classic dream fulfillment because it feels like you’ve known it forever because you learned it in the movies. You arrive here and see that it is exactly as you imagined it. New York can still surprise you every single day with the energy it has. It’s a city that I love, it’s a city I come to often and I’ve also seen it change a lot.

What is your best memory of New York?

When I arrived here together with my partner and our eldest daughter who was only two years old. We were supposed to stay a week and ended up staying a month.

This interview, translated from Italian, has been edited for length and clarity.