It's been announced that Valerio Mastandrea will present his directorial debut Ride (Laughing) in New York next month at Lincoln Center's annual series Open Roads: New Italian Cinema. The film follows a woman and her ten-year-old son as they come to terms with the death of a husband and father.
Born in 1972, Mastandrea did not have intentions of becoming an actor. He accompanied a friend to an audition and ended up landing a part in the film. Just watch his performances and you’ll understand why. To say that Mastandrea has a strong on-screen presence is an understatement. His performances are intense and dramatic yet subtle as he gives 100% in every role he chooses. What sets him apart from other actors is the diversity of those roles. Among thems are:
Daniele Vicari's 2001 blockbuster, Velocita Massima (Maximum Velocity), is a film about the culture of street racing, Mastandrea takes on the role of Stefano, a mechanic who rebuilds engines to be used in races. His role shows the sides of being a young guy involved in this dangerous nighttime activity as well as a more sensitive side when he is betrayed by his friend. The film was screened in competition at the Venice Film Festival and really put Mastandrea on the map as a leading man.
In the 2005 Nessun messaggio in segreteria (Sorry You Can't Get Through) directed by Paolo Genovese and Luca Miniero, Mastandrea assumes the alter ego of a shy guy who longs to be outgoing and fun in order to win the woman of his dreams. He plays the same character as Pierfrancesco Favino, who is also known for his dramatic roles and intense performances, so it was interesting to watch these two stars interpret the same role.
In Davide Marengo's 2007 crime comedy Night Bus, Mastandrea plays a gambling addicted bus driver who is unknowingly tricked by a femme fatale, played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno, into transporting her across country. His naivety is endearing and even though his character has faults, you can't help but take his side and really empathize with his struggles and flaws.
In Gianni Zanasi's 2008 comedy Don't Think About It, Mastandrea is a somewhat successful thirty-something rock and roll guitarist who is a bit beat up and returns to his home in the seaside town of Rimini for some much needed R & R. Upon his return, he is thrown into the typical and not so typical dramas of any Italian family and so his R & R turns out to be anything but relaxing. It's a dramatic but hilarious film that showcases Mastandrea's flexibility and comedy side.
Mastandrea teamed up with Zanasi again in 2015 for La felicità è un sistema complesso (Happiness is a complex system) is the story of Enrico Giusti (Valerio Mastandrea) whose job is to approach irresponsible managers who risk ruining their companies. The following year, he portrayed Lele in Paolo Genovese's international hit Perfetti Sconosciutti (Perfect Strangers). A character always in movement, Lele is misunderstood and his subtle way of conveying his frustrations in simple, dumbfounded expressions is nothing short of genius. Mastandrea was rightfully nominated for the David di Donatello for his role.
Then in 2017, Genovese brought another all-star cast together for The Place. Mastandrea takes on the role of a mysterious man who sits at the same table every day of the same restaurant, accepting to grant his visitors’ wishes and assigning them dark tasks to accomplish in return.
In 2007, Mastandrea was in New York City to perform with the production, Accattone in Jazz as part of New York City’s tribute to Pier Paolo Pasolini. The project is a mix of theatre production and jazz concert. I spoke briefly with him and it was a thrill because he told me that I was his first American interview and his first interview in English. It was short but definitely sweet.
How did you get involved in this project, Accattone in Jazz?
The project started five years ago at a jazz festival. The organizer asked me to read something about Pasolini to make sort of an adaption of one of his screenplays. I knew Accattone very well, so I found the script and created an act based on the dialogues. I play all the characters in the movie while the jazz musicians play along. Its really a jazz project full of improvisation. We have 10 chapters in the movie: the beginning, the middle and the end. We play all together and my words become music and their rhythm become words.
How did you get into acting?
I began with an independent movie. I went to an audition with an actress and that’s how I met the director and he said, do you want to be in my movie? So, that’s how I started.
Tell me about your work as an actor.
I’ve been making movies since 1993. Now, I’m working on a project (A Perfect Day) with Ferzan Ozpetek. It’s an intense story about a family in Italy. I make a lot of independent movies and work with many young directors. Film actors in Italy have a hard time competing with the frequency of television. So if I’m still a working actor and I’m happy, that means the roles I choose are okay. The most important thing is being happy doing my job.
What do you think about Italian cinema today?
If you ask any Italian producer, he’ll say it’s okay. The business is getting better but the battle is still hard because we don’t have the government backing our needs, and without that backing, it’s really hard to make movies about our culture.
Are filmmakers trying to improve this situation?
There’s a movement called Cento Autori. I believe they’re online at www.centoautori.it. It’s 100 authors who are fighting to make things better.
Ride will be shown on Saturday, June 8 at 1:00pm. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Valerio Mastandrea and actress Chiara Martegiani. He will also discuss his role in Valeria Golino's Euforia during a Q&A following the screening of the film on June 8 at 6:00. Click here for more information.
Listen to director Paolo Genovese talk about his collaboration with Valerio Mastandrea and Marco Giallini. We spoke at the 2018 edition of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema.
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