Alessandra Mastronardi is beaming like a kid on Christmas morning, and can’t stop laughing. But then again, why not? The 26-year-old actress has a lot to be happy about, after all, having snagged a plum role in filmmaker Woody Allen’s latest movie, “To Rome With Love.” She’s presently in Los Angeles, accompanying the movie for its premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival. In it, she plays Milly, a small town girl who, during a trip to Rome, leaves her husband Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) for a hair appointment, gets lost in the city, and ends up getting romanced by a famous movie star (Antonio Albanese). For ShockYa, Brent Simon had a chance to speak to the pleasantly accented Mastronardi recently, about working with Allen, celebrity and tabloid culture in her homeland, and why her English has an Italian-Irish tinge to it. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: How has this ride and introduction to the United States been so far?
Alessandra Mastronardi: It’s my first time in L.A., so I’m really excited and confused. [The premiere at the L.A. Film Festival] was the first time I saw the movie in its original language. I was at the premiere in Rome and the movie was dubbed in Italian. But now, when I saw last night, I thought it was amazing. I like it, I’m a big fan of it. Woody Allen is one of my favorite directors in the world and I think it’s a great movie — simple and light.
ShockYa: Getting cast in a Woody Allen film would be a delight and a sort of stamp of approval for any young actor. What was your first contact with the material?
AM: It was in a normal way, because nobody knew about it. One day my agent called me and said she had a casting list for an Italian actress in Woody Allen’s new movie. But she said to be careful because he’ll be auditioning all of the actresses in Italy. So she said,” Do you want to do it?” And I said, ”Yeah, why not?” When I went to the audition everything was so secret. I got just one page, and they said memorize a few lines, go and just act it, don’t worry about anything. They just said to me that this girl (Milly) was a very simple girl, and a big fan of a famous actor — that was it. The scene of the audition was something like the scene in the (movie in the) restaurant with the actor, but different.
ShockYa: The film basically consists of four disparate narratives. Did you know anything at all about the other parts of the movie?
AM: No, and that was a really fun and funny thing, because everybody said to me, “Well, you’re in a movie with Alec Baldwin,” and I said, “Oh?” I didn’t know because I never met him. And when I went to the Italian premiere and saw the movie for the first time… I knew just my scenes and not even my whole story, even. It was weird, and the first time working like that for me.
ShockYa: Your character, Milly, gets totally lost and overwhelmed in Rome, but you would have some trouble doing that, since you’re from there.
AM: I was born in Naples and grew up in Rome. But it’s like me now here. I’m in a big, new city like Milly was in a big city in Rome — it’s this kind of Alice in Wonderland feeling.
ShockYa: Being a local, then, what you think of in terms of the actual locations in which you shot, in which Allen chose to set his tale?
AM: I think he tried to capture his own city. He loves Rome, and I think what you can see based on the locations of the city are his favorite parts. Rome is a big and beautiful city, and every single part has something different compared to the other one, and the locations in the movie are often historical locations — the old city, the heart of the city. The title of the movie is “To Rome With Love,” and it’s like a postcard — the locations are like little postcards for him, that he’s sending to the rest of the world.
ShockYa: Each discrete story is in its own way about characters wanting to be loved and desired, and [the movie is] also about celebrity. What’s your perception of celebrity, and particularly the Italian tabloid culture? [Ex-prime minister] Silvio Berlusconi is a bit of a rogue, certainly.
AM: (laughs) We are not really obsessed about celebrities like English tabloids, or maybe even America, I don’t think. We have our paparazzi, sure, because paparazzi was born in Italy. (laughs) It’s an Italian word and name, and everyone knows this word now. So we have our own stories about gossip, but as for celebrities, we have a different relationship [than] here. Maybe I’m wrong, but here celebrities are like gods, they’re very important persons. [In Italy] they’re not, they’re much more human. Here they’re an almost Olympic part of the world. This gap is maybe really important. We have a lot of [political] problems, so there is focus on that.
ShockYa: You described Milly as being just a simple girl — was there a lot of other discussion about character, or inspirations for her?
AM: Our episode, or my part of it, was a homage for Fellini’s movie “Lo Sceicco Bianco” (“The White Sheik”), a beautiful movie in white-and-black with Alberto Sordi. [Allen] gave us this line, that many parts of this episode are from that movie, and that [he thought my] character quite similar. So I watched it and took from it (and made) Milly with myself and pieces of that. [Allen is] the kind of director that really trusts you, and doesn’t need to tell you a lot of things. At the beginning that was weird for me because I’m the kind of actress that loves to be directed. It was confusing, but then I understood that it was his way to work, and that since you have his trust you’re completely free to do whatever you want to do. And if he’s not happy he’ll come to you. But when he says something little, all the scenes change.
ShockYa: What was your path to acting — were you a precocious little kid who was interested in performing… or maybe acting out?
AM: (laughs) I think so. I thought no a few years ago, but then I thought back to how as a kid I obligated my sister — who is five years younger than me, she’s 21 — [to help build] a little theater in the house, and made my babysitter watch all the stupid acting I did when I was 10 years old. I started when I was 11 or 12, but it was a big, big joke. Nobody believed in me. My mom and dad were very worried for me, because they knew that this world was complicated and difficult, especially for a young girl. So the deal was that you have to study first and then you can do whatever you want to do. So after high school I went to university for one year and took psychology and decided it wasn’t my thing, it wasn’t my life, and that I wanted to be an actress for real.
ShockYa: You speak Italian (in this movie), but are English language movies a goal? There are a couple actresses — Kristin Scott Thomas and one of your co-stars here, Penelope Cruz — who come to mind as especially gifted and notable in this regard. Is that something you’re interested in?
AM: I am, I really am. I did a movie, or TV series, in English with an Irish accent, “Titantic: Blood and Steel” (which releases in the United States in the fall). In the beginning, I felt it was really complicated. It’s not your own language, so you don’t feel really free or comfortable to express yourself. But at some point everything became so easy, so you don’t know what’s going on. I like it, but know it’s a bit difficult, obviously, because my accent is so weird. I’m studying English in Ireland, and many people who meet me here say, “You have so weird an accent!” But anyway, I have to work on it.
ShockYa: When did you start speaking English? At a fairly young age?
AM: I studied at school, and then working and traveling. And now I’ve been in Ireland for a long while. My boyfriend is Irish, so it’s a mix of combinations. Many years ago I understood much more than I could speak, because I was too shy to speak and my voice sounded so weird in my ears. And now I speak English and I really don’t know how (it happened).
Written by: Brent Simon