On My Skin (Sulla mia pelle) is based on the heart-wrenching true story of Stefano Cucchi, a 30-year-old Roman man who was arrested in October of 2009 for possession of drugs. He subsequently suffered severe physical abuse while being denied medical care for his epilepsy during incarceration. Just one week later, he succumbed to the abuse. The coroner’s report showed massive dehydration and broken bones. Prison officials said he had fallen down a flight of stairs. In 2014, 11 people, including three prison officers, were cleared of all charges. What followed was mass protesting across Italy with people holding up signs of his severely bruised face and emaciated body.
Now, actor Alessandro Borghi gives an emotional portrayal of Cucchi during the last seven days of his life. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival last week and recently made its North American premiere on Netflix.
Alessandro Borghi is emerging as one of contemporary Italian cinema’s great talents, and he is no stranger to American audiences.
Born in Rome in 1986, he began his acting career 20 years later with the television show Distretto di polizia and went on to make numerous other appearances on popular TV series, including regular roles in the recent 2013 series L’Isola followed by the 2015 series Squadra Mobile.
The same year, he transitioned to film with Claudio Caligari’s posthumous hit Non essere cattivo (Don’t Be Bad), which was also Italy’s entry for Oscar consideration that year. Caligari’s tragic story of the bond of friendship between the two main characters, Vittorio and Cesare captivated American cinephiles when it premiered at Cinema Italian Style - an annual showcase of contemporary Italian cinema in Los Angeles. With Borghi as Vittorio and Luca Marinelli as Cesare, the two team up to explore a dark road too often traveled when young people lack the foundation and guidance needed to stay on the right track. Set in the 90s in the Roman seaside town of Ostia, the film focuses on a band of six close friends led by Vittorio and Cesare. Living in a world dominated by quick money, nightclubs, crime and drugs, they struggle with overcoming the odds in the face of addiction and temptation. But overall, it’s a story of friendship- friends never giving up on each other even in the darkest of days. Borghi's character demonstrates how easy it is to make mistakes along the way and to fall into bad situations just trying to make money to get by. And though he achieves some measure of success through the love that binds him to his friend, he learns the hard way that love isn’t always enough to save you.
Click here to watch Don’t Be Bad on Amazon.
Borghi’s sophomore effort, Suburra was released in Italy and Netflix simultaneously in October of 2015, and the trailer for the upcoming series was just unveiled at the Venice Film Festival. His fierce performance in the role of Number 8 has been praised by audiences and critics all over the world. The story is set in the Suburra quarter of Rome, which in ancient times was the quarter populated by taverns and brothels where senators met with criminals in secret to do business. Fast forward two thousand years later and not much has changed.
Click here to watch Suburra on Netflix
Borghi explores the other side of the acting spectrum in Il più grande sogno (The Biggest Dream)directed by Michele Vannucci. His free-spirit character Boccione is a faithful friend and comic foil in a dramatic film inspired by true events. The story is based on the life of actor Mirko Frezza and is set in the La Rustica quarter of Rome, which is located just about 10 minutes away from Cinecittà. An ex-con who wants to turn his life around, Mirko grew up surrounded by drugs and crime with a father who made his son an accomplice. Borghi takes a salt-of-the-earth approach to Boccione, conveying a sweet innocence as a dialect-speaking contadino with a crush on the building co-ordinater whose mission is to provide the poor residents of the neighborhood with government-subsidized cheese and bread. In this feel-good story about an ex-con with a big heart, Borghi reinvents himself with a passionate performance as the loving friend.
I caught up with him during the Rome release of Il più grande sogno. He had just finished shooting Sergio Castellitto's film Fortunata and was in the process of shooting the Netflix series Suburra. We talked about a number of topics. I found him to be down-to-earth and just as passionate about cinema as he is in his spectacular performances.
(Clicca qui per una traduzione della intervista)
Speaking to your character Boccione in Il più grande sogno, he is much lighter than the characters you have portrayed up to this point. Was Boccione a welcomed relief?
Well, surely I needed it. I needed to portray a character that was a bit lighter because the characters of Suburra and Non essere cattivo were two similar people very connected to their relationships and especially to their darker, more problematic sides. Boccione is a character that really exists, and it was the first time I portrayed a character drawn from a person that really exists in reality. So I met him, and I tried to take the elements that in my opinion were the most interesting ones and then added others that were the most cinematic. So from those experiences came this character that I love very much because it is a character that is very related to values like friendship and the values of his neighborhood. It is a character that is very much in the game, but above all is an extremely ironic character who never misses the chance to take things lightly, to think that everything is resolved. So I like it, I like to think that I have been able to create a character different from others because each is Roman, but with a very different soul.
Do you draw inspiration from your own life when creating and building a character?
Yes, I always try. When I decide to make a film and research the character, I look for things that are as close as possible to real feelings. This is because in Italy, sometimes we make the mistake of describing characters from a perspective, which only means that if you are bad, you are just bad, if you are kind, you are only kind. For example, my character in (the film) Suburra- Number 8 is a character who is bad, certainly, but then also has a strange way of showing his love to Viola, but for Viola's love, he gets killed. And in Non essere cattivo, as the friendship is the fundamental theme as it was also in Il più grande sogno, I believe that in everyday life, all of us are mainly moved by these two feelings- love and friendship. They are the ones that cause us to make choices, the ones from which we grow and they form us as human beings. So we have had the opportunity in these movies to talk about the characters who are in touch with their true feelings of being human. It's something I really enjoy and I hope to continue doing. In the other movies I've done, I've been very careful about this, because the value of friendship is the most universal love and the closest one to reality.
Having grown up in Rome, did you feel inspired as a child and teenage by the history of cinema that took place there by filmmakers like Pasolini, Fellini and Scola.. just to name a few?
I must tell you.. not particularly because I've always experienced more than just the "popular Rome." I've always spent time in the neighborhoods and outskirts- not just in the center or historical part of Rome. I remember the first time in my life I went to a New York, in 2009, I did not go to see the monuments of New York, I went to see the neighborhoods of New York. So before I saw the Museum of Natural Science, I went to places like Brooklyn and Queens because I've been a lot more inclined to see what people do in their daily routines, which I'm interested in. I'm interested in other countries, and I'm particularly interested in mine. So I've always experienced Rome through the way people live in the city. Sure, I've had some cinematic inspirations that obviously had to do with Fellini, but to which I honestly never paid particular attention. I knew there was something important that had been done before when I studied filmmaking and I understood what I liked and what I did not, but then I left it in a cassette and I forged my own my path.
What do you think about Italian cinema throughout the world? Since I started writing about it back in 2004, the interest worldwide has definitely grown.
What I can tell you is that I never thought I'd be in Los Angeles talking about an Oscar movie. When this thing happened with Non essere Cattivo, I remember waking up at a Beverly Hills Hotel. I was so excited and it made me think a lot about the fact that sometimes in Italy, Italians- also for their own mentality, tend to make us believe that certain things are impossible. Then you make an independent movie with little money and at some point, live this dream that takes you to Los Angeles and you have the opportunity to talk to the Academy. That was a huge thing for me, and it made me realize that all those barriers that someone wants to make us believe exist will slowly disappear. For example, I am currently doing a series (Suburra) produced by Netflix and I know that it'll allow me to be seen by 90 million people and that's probably the main reason I'm doing it, because to have the awareness, to know that you are doing something that will be seen on the other side of the world, is huge for us. Italy is a small country. It has an important influence, especially from a cinematic point-of-view. Sometimes I wonder when I see American films with important casts... In these movies, there are Americans, British, Germans, Spanish, French... but there is never an Italian, and that is why it is a problem for us. We must start to think in a more international way, and when this happens, things will happen. My generation of actors is taking steps to make this happen. We are all studying English, trying to get to an English level where we can compete with international actors. I mean, Javier Bardem, who is an extraordinary actor, was born in Spain and now he does all the American films. So if he succeeds, we can probably do it ourselves and then this barrier would not exist.
Watch Alessandro Borghi's latest film to become available in the United States.. 'The First King' by Matteo Rovere
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