She may possibly be one of the world’s most beautiful women and the screen’s most alluring presence. So it is no surprise that Hollywood has come knocking on Monica Bellucci’s door, with upcoming roles in the remaining Matrix films, Mel Gibson’s Passion and the soon-to-be-released Tears of the Sun.
Born in 1968 in the Italian village of Citta di Castello, Umbria, Bellucci originally pursued a career in the legal profession. While attending the University of Perugia, she modelled on the side to earn money for school, and this led to her modelling career. In 1988, she moved to one of Europe’s fashion centres, Milan, and joined Elite Model Management. Although enjoying great success as a model, she made her acting debut on TV in 1990, and her American film debut in 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).
Her role in the 1996 French thriller “L’Appartement” (1996) shot her to stardom as she won the French equivalent of an Oscar nomination. Other credits include Mal?na (2000), Under Suspicion (2000) and Le Pacte des loups, (2001). Her latest film, Irreversible, casts her again with husband Vincent Cassel in this uncompromising revenge drama in which she plays a brutalised rape victim. She next will be seen in Tears of the Sun opposite Bruce Willis. She talked about these and her career to Paul Fischer.
Question: According to Irreversible, Time destroys everything. Do you agree?
Answer: Yeah, I believe that time destroys everything. You can take one beautiful apple, red. After a while, it becomes shrivelled and full of worms, just like what happens to us [in the movie.]
Question: What concerns did you have with this film?
Answer: I didn’t read any script because we didn’t have a script. Actually, I wanted to work with Gaspar just because he’s so talented and because I’ve seen his first two movies, Carne and I Stand Alone. I thought this guy is crazy but he’s so talented. When he wanted to work with me, I was very happy, I was really thrilled. We started to work with 15 pages of synopsis, nothing else. So, what we did was – you have to be really confident when you work with that. It doesn’t happen very often. Never happened to me. So, no script, just I knew the story, and as you can see, the camera keeps rolling for 15, 20 minutes without cutting. So in some way, it was like working in theatre. What we did, we rehearsed and improvised one day, and we would shoot the next day. So, it was a completely new way for me to work but it was beautiful because in cinema, you never have this opportunity to build up the character. The last scene, when I am with my husband, I have time to wake up and to talk. Then I go into the bathroom and I have the shower and then the pregnancy test and I realize I’m pregnant. When can you do this in a movie? Never. You have just one minute, then cut, you have to go to another scene. Here you have time, like in the theatre.
Question: Can you talk about shooting the film’s violent sequences?
Answer: In acting process, it’s very difficult to explain. It’s something very intimate, very private and what I did that day, Vincent asked me, ‘Do you want me to stay on set with you?’ I said no. So he went to do some surfing in the south of France. I was by myself all day long, in my house. When I arrived on set, it was full, but I rehearsed the scene one day before so I knew very well all the positions because after the rape scene, there are all these violent moments. Those moments are really difficult because if you take something on your head, you’re going to die. So, I had to rehearse everything, but how I would shoot the scene, the feelings, I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know what I would have done five minutes before shooting, because it’s something, I think you have everything inside you. You just have to find it.
To me this film is like Clockwork Orange. It’s like Pi. It’s like Requiem for a Dream, Deliverance or Pasolini’s movies. All those movies that are so difficult to digest but there is something, there is meaning. You felt so disturbed when you watched those movies because those movies go deep inside you and then you have to see the monsters we have inside.
Question: It looked as if the rape scene took one take?
Answer: We did six takes. Each take took 15, 20 minutes because I have to come out from the house, meet the prostitute, speak with her, go to the tunnel inside, be witness of the fight and then the rape scene. It takes 20 minutes.
Question: Talk about working with husband, especially with the intimate scenes.
Answer: Vincent was so incredible, so sweet. When we went to Cannes for the film, you know the moment when I come out from the tunnel and we see me for the first time completely with blood all over, he was crying. I said, ‘Vincent, come on. It’s just a movie. We know it’s not real.’ But just because it’s filmed in such a realistic way, it looks almost like a snuff movie. And to work with him for me is amazing. We know each other very well. To have this kind of intimacy with someone that you don’t know is much more difficult. To work with your husband, of course we used some aspects of our relationship, but it was just a springboard for inspiration. The rest was acting.
Question: Can you compare making Hollywood movies to those in Europe? Is it a different work ethic?
Answer: It’s different. It’s completely different, but for me, even when I’m in Tears of the Sun, I’ll do my best for the performance. I try to be real, I try to be deep and strong. Sometimes it’s more difficult to exist as a female lead, especially in action movies because all those men are around you. They take so much place. But I did my best and I was lucky because the character comes out strong. ” Every time is different. I don’t think I want to do films like Irreversible every day because it takes so much out of me. You have to give so much. For me, it’s great. All my choices are a bit strange. Also in Malena, I have strong scenes like that. In Tears of the Sun I’m dirty and full of mud all over and I have tears all the time, it’s so deep.
Question: For Tears of the Sun, was it fun to get so grimy and dirty?
Answer: Fun, I think that in this movie, there’s not so much fun in this movie. It was difficult to be in the jungle for five months and also, I think, for women, and not just me, for me and all the other women in the film it was difficult to be there with just men around and also, I think that sometimes, it’s difficult to have the perseverance to exist as a character when you’re a female in the middle of all those men and I think that I was very lucky because actually, Antoine [Fuqua] and Bruce [Willis], they give the possibility for this character to exist and that doesn’t happen the time in action movies.
Question: How did you hear about this role and what made you want to do it?
Answer: Actually, I met Bruce one year ago in Paris and I think that he saw ‘Malena’, my film, and he thought about me and then, I met Antoine and they both told me about the movie and what it was about and I received a script and I liked it and then, we were all together and we talked about the script and the story, and also, I liked a lot the approach, how they gave me the space to be free and to say thing about my character. Actually, because we had so many Doctor’s Without Borders”actually, my character takes inspiration from those doctors and these doctors often go into active war zones to assist, not only medically, but also, to help with basic needs like irrigation and helping the community, and also, for me, it was an important story because it takes place in Nigeria where there’s constant ethnic violence in all those different tribes, the massacre and retaliation for centuries of hate and war, and it was important for me to do a character that was as strong and passionate about the African people she was responsible for and I saw so many documentaries about it. I met many Doctor’s Without Borders and they’re really heroes, incredible and also, I liked the moment when, in the film, it’s me and Bruce because those two characters are really so different. I’m there because I follow my heart and I follow my passion and he’s there because someone told him to be there. He follows orders. So, we have two characters at odds with each other and through adversity and circumstances, we change. So, it’s like an evolution for everyone. Me, I changed, and he changed. So, it’s so human, and that’s why this film is much more than an action movie. There’s so many things going on, so many feelings.
Question: What’s something about Bruce Willis that we don’t know?
Answer: I don’t know what you don’t know, but what I can say about him is that I respect him very much because for me, he’s not just a movie star, but he’s an actor who takes risks in his choices and with me, he was really, really generous and I remember one scene he was off camera and it was a very emotional scene and he cried for me and he had tears in each take. So, I mean, that doesn’t happen all the time especially with movie stars. So, with me, he was really, really generous and Antoine too. Antoine, I mean, for me, I’m European and so for me to come into this country and have the possibility to work with really young and talented directors like the Wachowski Brothers, like Antoine is great because Antoine has a really great vision and he works very instinctively, but at the same time, he knows exactly what he wants.
Question: Is this character far from you personally because I sense you to be very glamorous and this character is not?
Answer: She’s not. Even ‘Irreversible’ is not glamorous at all [Laughs]. You know, I mean, I try to do different things because I want to grow as an actress and I like to take risks and that’s why I move from a film, that’s so different, like ‘Irreversible’ or ‘Tears of the Sun’ or ‘Malena’ or ‘Matrix’ or the film that I just finished with Mel Gibson two days ago, ‘The Passion’ where I play Mary Magdalene. So, all of those characters are very different, and you know, it’s great as an actress to work in many countries, different cultures, and it’s also a beautiful experience as a human being because, I mean, it’s such an incredible experience to meet all those people, completely different, from all different cultures.
Question: What are some of the things that you like about the U.S. and some of the things that you don’t?
Answer: What I like about it is the energy, there are so many things going on here. Everything goes so fast compared to Europe, but then, when I got to Europe, all these things relax me a lot. I’m European, and so, when I go back and see all this beauty around me, of course, I love it, but you know, it’s good to be here too. So, I like both. Of course, I’m European, and so for me, it’s important for me to stay there and do European films and never am I going to refuse European films, but it’s also good to come here once in a while, but I’m not ready to do an American movie just because it’s American. I turned down so many things because even though they can be huge, successful movies, just because it’s not my kind of thing, and you know, I follow what I feel.
Question: What do you dislike about America?
Answer: I don’t know America very well because each time that I come, it’s for five days or I’m shooting or I do some appointments and then, I go back. I’ve never been here for five or six months and really have the chance to get into it. So, it’s just in a superficial way. I know that when I come here, I get skinnier and my heart goes so fast, and I don’t walk, but I run. Everything, so many phone calls and so many things to do”when I’m in Europe, if you have an appointment at one o’clock, it can be one thirty. Here, if it’s one o’clock, it’s one o’clock. So, everything is different.
Question: How is the mood on a set like Irreversible different from than, say, a ‘Matrix’?
Answer: You know, I’ll tell you, when you’re in front of the camera, for a small budget movie or a big budget movie, there’s no difference. When you’re in front of the camera, you just play and I think that also the language. I think for an actor, it’s more important, an actor works with their soul and their thought and the language comes.
Question: You started out as a lawyer?
Answer: You know, a lawyer, liar. The same, right? It means that I think the lawyers are such incredible actors. Can you imagine the performance they have to do every day. So actually, it was maybe the same thing. A performance in court or a performance on set.
Question: What can you say about your involvement in the Matrix films?
Answer: In Matrix, I can’t say very much. All I can say is she’s not like Lena Kendricks. She’s very sensual, she’s very mysterious and she’s very dangerous. She’s in control, so she’s not a victim.
Question: How was it to do an action film?
Answer: I have my way to do action. I don’t jump on the wall, I don’t fight, but I have another way to fight.
Question: Did you have any reservations joining an established cast?
Answer: It’s great because those people, I mean, Carrie-Ann Moss, Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves were so nice to me. I had a really great time and actually all my scenes are with them, so they really were so nice.
Question: Do you know the mythology of Persephone?
Answer: Yeah, she was the daughter of Zeus and she was kidnapped by the kind of the underworld, in Hades and she was allowed to come back into the living world. This is very, it says a lot about my character, Persephone, but I can’t tell you about it [Laughs]. She’s very mysterious and sensual, more glamour, but dangerous, very dangerous.
Question: Is ‘The Passion’ more of a historical or spiritual story?
Answer: It’s going to be both, both, and I think what Mel Gibson wanted to do is really a strong visual movie and I’ve seen a few things and what I’ve seen looks really, really beautiful and it’s like a painting.
Question: How would you describe Mel Gibson as a director?
Answer: Mel is a great director because he’s not just a director, he’s an actor, so he knows how to direct actors. I loved working with him. He’s great as a director. He’s so picky, so intelligent. He’s generous. I really loved him.
Question: You speak Latin without subtitles?
Answer: Yeah, but I think that the concept is going to be like a silent movie. When you see a silent movie, you understand everything that’s going on from the images because the images are so strong and I think that this film is going to be the same, the concept is there. So, everyone knows the history of Jesus. So, when you’re going to see what happened, you’ve heard about him so many times that you’ll understand what’s going on. So, sometimes, words are too, how do say, small to express all the concepts and I think that’s what the vision of the film is. The film is going to talk more than the words.
Question: Did you speak any English in it?
Answer: No, everyone, all the actors, even Jim Caviezel who plays Jesus speaks just in Latin.
Question: How hard was it to learn?
Answer: It’s a mix of Hebrew and Arab, and it’s not just language.
Question: Is there a lighter side to you that you would maybe want to do a comedy?
Answer: Oh, I have nothing against comedy. In France, I’ve done one comedy called ‘Asterix’ that came out last year. It was a big, huge comedy and just, you know, I’m looking for different things. I mean, it can be in a comedy, it can be in a drama, it can be in a thriller, it can be anything, film noir. Actually, I’m looking for the right thing. For me, the most important thing when I make a choice is a director and then, a script. If you have a script that’s not great, if you have a great director, you can make a great movie, but if you have a great script with a director who’s not good, never, never are you going to have a good movie, even if the script is great. So, for me, the most important thing is the director and their vision.
Question: Do you believe in premonitions?
Answer: I believe that we have a natural instinct which is very strong. Just we don’t know ourselves enough. And I think that if we get into it and we try to understand all we have inside, we can find all the power we have. I’m sure that we have the power also to see things, but it’s going to happen in many, many years.
Question: What do you see for yourself?
Answer: Me? I knew that this would happen. No, oh my God. It’s a great moment for me, but I know that it won’t be like that forever. I know that I’m going to get old, I’m going to die, I’m going to see people that I love die before me because they’re older. I know that I have to get through all those horrible things in life. Time destroys everything.
Question: What are you passionate about beside your work?
Answer: Life [Laughs]. You know, I mean, like everyone, I love to go out and be with friends and be with family and go to some movies and read and just have time for things.