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Francesco Grillo: Italy's Newest Rising Star

"This film has made people dream, and I believe it will remain the film of the people of Calabria."

The practice of using non-professional actors is nothing new in Italian cinema or even world cinema for that matter. Perhaps the first known Italian filmmaker to cast her fellow towns people was Neapolitan actress and producer Francesca Bertini with her 1915 silent film Assunta Spina. Of course, Vittorio De Sica made it famous with his neorealist epics, Umberto D. and The Bicycle Thieves. Contemporary directors have embraced the century-old tradition in numerous films over the years, including Matteo Garrone’s 2008 Gomorrah, Francesco Munzi’s 2015 Anime nere, and Jonas Carpignano’s 2017 A Ciambra, just to name a few.


Those films went on to be huge international successes. The latest to follow suit is Mimmo Calopresti’s Aspromonte - La terra degli ultimi, which will premiere as a Special Event at the Taormina Film Festival in July. Adapted from Pietro Ciriaco’s book, Via dall'Aspromonte, the story sheds light on southern Italy’s severely depressed economy and remoteness during the 1950s, which in many cases cost people their lives. Calopresti’s diverse ensemble cast includes internationally renowned actors Marco Leonardi and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi; Italy’s beloved character actors Sergio Rubini and Marcello Fonte; upcoming actor Francesco Colella, who American audiences will recognize from FX’s Trust and newcomer Francesco Grillo.


Set in the Aspromonte region of Calabria, some scenes were shot in Africo, which you may remember from Munzi’s Anime Nere. However, the bulk of the film was shot in nearby Ferruzzano, which is a stunning mountainous region with centuries-old structures and dense forests. The location is featured on the Calabria Film Commission’s website as one of the region’s most sought after natural movie sets. 


I spoke with child actor Francesco Grillo about the film and his role in it. Born in the Calabrian village of Locri, this is his first role in a movie. The experience has been so positive, he has decided to change his non-professional status by enrolling in drama school. Fiercely proud of his Calabrian roots, he talks about the beauty of his region and how this life-changing role came about. 


(La versione italiana è sotto)


Tell me about your town and region.. the traditions and the way of life.

I live in a beautiful village in the province of Reggio Calabria. It is called Benestare, (which literally translates to stay well). It is indeed really good as the name suggests. It is an ancient village, that especially in summer, resembles such. In fact all the emigrants return.

On the sign of the village, there is the phrase "Paese di Gesso" (Country of Gypsum) because the oldest houses in the country are built in plaster.

For the patronal festival, which is in October, these houses are repopulated with lights, traditional foods and displays of ancient crafts.


In America, we often hear about the poverty and the dangers of Calabria. Tell me about the beauty.

Often we talk only about the ugly part of Calabria, which I believe is everywhere, but thanks to this beautiful film, you'll understand how beautiful the region is.

The villages, the breathtaking views, (few places in the world, I believe, offer views of mountains overlooking the sea) nature, respect for others, poetry and traditions.


How were you chosen for this role in Mimmo Calopresti's film?

I was chosen for this film in a way that still seems very strange even to me.

Two years ago, a family friend took me to a casting call held in my area by casting director Lele Nucera, for the film "The Miracle" by (Niccolò) Ammaniti. I went through the next phase but I wasn't chosen for the role, and I thought that the adventure had ended there, and that every other part would be linked to that specific casting call, but it wasn't.

In September 2018 (then a year later), a poster for a casting call had announced a role for an important film, but that day we forgot to go.

Two days later, my mother received a call with news that the director wanted to meet me, and from then on, after a succession of meetings with the director, we arrived at the final selection. Then a few days later, my mother was told that I had been chosen for the role of "Andrea". We already knew what role it was because we had read the book "Via dall'Aspromonte" by Pietro Criaco, on which the film based, and I’ll leave it to you to imagine what I may have felt.

I still don't know how to describe what I feel, but I know that this experience has given me so many emotions.


Tell me about your character, Andrea.

Andrea is a strong but reflective child. In fact, he reflects many facets of my own personality. The whole story is seen through his eyes. He admires his father, Peppe (Francesco Colella in the film) immensely. He sees him as the leader of his commune, and is proud of him. He does not accept that his father surrendered, and this makes him grow quickly to take control of the situation. I can't say anything else, but I love this character very much and I hope you will love him too.


Have you always wanted to be an actor or was it an unexpected opportunity that came up?

I don't know if I wanted to become an actor. Perhaps being a little bit shy, I didn't imagine that I could pass the test, but I know that after having had this wonderful experience, it would be my dream to be able to continue.

However this film has made so many people dream in my land, and I believe it will remain the film of the people of Calabria.


What are your interests other than acting?

I love fishing and riding. I played football, but I left to go to drama school.


You are still young, but what is your dream during this moment of your life?

My dream would be to continue this path, and I'm beginning by studying theatre to improve myself.


The film will premiere at the Taormina Film Festival on July 2 at 8:45pm in the Teatro Antico. Click here for more information


L'intervista in Italiano


Parlami della tua cittadina e della regione .. le tradizioni, la cucina e il modo di vivere..

Vivo in un bellissimo paesino, in provincia di Reggio Calabria, si chiama Benestare, e si sta veramente bene,come dice il nome stesso, è un borgo antico, che soprattutto in estate, assomiglia ad un villaggio,infatti tutti gli emigrati ritornano in paese.

Sull’insegna del paese, c’è scritto “PAESE DI GESSO”, perché le case più antiche del paese sono costruite in gesso.

Per la festa patronale, che è ad ottobre,queste case si ripopolano con luci, cibi della tradizione, ed esposizione di antichi mestieri.


In America, spesso sentiamo della povertà e dei pericoli della Calabria. Raccontami della bellezza.

Spesso si parla solo della parte brutta della Calabria, che credo ci sia ovunque,ma grazie anche a questo bellissimo film,capirete quanto è bella.

I borghi, i panorami mozzafiato, (pochi posti nel Mondo credo, regalano viste di montagne a picco sul mare) la natura, il rispetto verso il prossimo,la poesia e le tradizioni.


Come sei stato scelto per questo ruolo nel film di Mimmo Calopresti?

Sono stato scelto per questo film, in un modo che ancora sembra stranissimo anche a me.

Due anni fa, un amico di famiglia mi portò ad un casting tenuto nella mia zona, dal casting director Lele Nucera, per il film “Il Miracolo “ di (Niccolò) Ammaniti, e all’epoca passai la fase successiva ma non fui scelto per il ruolo, e pensavo che l’avventura fosse finita lì, e che ogni Provino fosse legato a quel casting specifico,ma non fu così .

A settembre 2018 (quindi un anno dopo), girava la locandina di un casting per il ruolo di un film importante, ma quel giorno ci dimenticammo di andare.

2 giorni dopo,arriva una chiamata a mia madre da un numero che non conosceva,che diceva di avermi proposto per questo film, e che il regista vorrebbe incontrarmi, e da lì in poi,dopo una susseguirsi di incontri con il regista, arrivammo alla selezione finale, e dopo qualche giorno, un’altra chiamata, comunicò a mia madre che ero stato scelto per il ruolo di “ANDREA”, e noi conoscevamo già di che ruolo si trattava perché avevamo letto il libro “VIA DALL’ASPROMONTE” di Pietro Criaco,a cui è ispirato il film,e le lascio immaginare cosa posso aver provato.

Ancora non so descrivere cosa provo,ma so che questa esperienza mi ha regalato tantissime emozioni.


Raccontami il tuo personaggio..

Andrea è un bambino forte,ma riflessivo,infatti mi rispecchia in molte cose.

Tutta la storia viene vista attraverso i suoi occhi.

Ammira in modo smisurato il padre, Peppe (Francesco Colella nel film). 

Lo vede come il leader del paese,ed è orgoglioso di lui.

Infatti non accetta di vedere il padre arrendersi,e questa cosa lo fa crescere velocemente per prendere in pugno la situazione.

Non posso dire altro, ma amo molto questo personaggio e spero lo amerete anche voi.


Hai desiderato essere un attore o era un'opportunità per lavorare su questo film fatto nella tua regione?

Non so se desideravo diventare un attore, forse essendo un pochino timido,neanch’io immaginavo di poter superare la prova del ciak, ma so che dopo aver fatto questa bellissima esperienza, sarebbe il mio sogno poter proseguire.

Comunque questo film ha fatto sognare tantissima gente nella mia terra, e credo rimarrà il film della Gente di Calabria.


Quali sono i tuoi interessi oltre alla recitazione?

Io amo pescare ed andare a cavallo. Giocavo a calcio, ma ho lasciato per frequentare la scuola di recitazione.


Sei ancora giovane, ma qual è il tuo sogno in questo momento della tua vita?

Il mio sogno sarebbe continuare questo percorso,e sto studiando nella scuola di recitazione “LocriTeatro” proprio per migliorarmi.

With recent international coproductions like HBO's "My Brilliant Friend" and FX Network's "Trust," contemporary Italian directors are channeling their neorealist roots to discover regional and otherwise unknown talent.