Monica Bellucci for “Shoot ‘Em Up”

Monica Bellucci epitomizes glamour and sexiness. Attired in a long, slinky dress, slit up the side, her black hair neatly draped loose around her shoulders, the Italian actress has changed a lot since we first met in New York several years ago when she was here promoting the Italian film Malena.

As we chat in a New York hotel room about her sexy new role in the action comedy Shoot ‘Em Up, the actress says that having a child remains the biggest change for the 42-year old actress. “When you have a child, the baby is the priority in your life and I’d do anything for her. I don’t know how you can stay away from your child and to me it’s impossible. It means that she travels always with me and I’m sure that when she’s gets older, and goes to school, I’m sure that I’ll work in a different way,” Bellucci says, warmly.

She is married to renowned French actor Vincent Cassel, married for nine years and together for 13 years. Though they often live separate lives [she has an apartment in London while he lives in Paris], the pair remains happy. Bellucci’s laughs when asked what it is that makes a successful marriage. “I don’t know. You can’t control feelings and we’ve been living like that for a long time. When I met my husband, he was an actor, and I was really an actor, so we’ve been living like that, travelling all the time, then seeing each other there and there. But we didn’t have a normal life, didn’t do the same things all the time and this is how we lived. We didn’t know any other way to live, because we work all the time, and travel all the time, but we tried to see each other most weekends.”

Modest about her beauty, Bellucci is philosophical about dealing with an industry that is obsessed with the external. The actress’s consistent challenges are to persuade producers to go beyond the physical. “I say all the time, as I’ve said before, that it’s not important the way you are, but the way you feel. There are so many beautiful young girls, that do so many things to themselves and they’re so young, they don’t need it. So, I think that I feel fine with myself, not because people say I’m pretty, but just because I have the life that I choose.” Bellucci says she loves her work, and feels grounded because of her family. “I have a great family, and I think it is so important to have a balance, maybe because I come from Italy. In my culture, the family is so important. Bellucci’s lack of ego, she says, comes from her family that “taught me to always have the feet on the ground, and to always be simple. I’ve done a few interesting things, but at the same time, I didn’t change.”

Bellucci, who was born in the small Italian village of Città di Castello, in Perugia, where as a child she had a dream of being an actress though the odds were against her. “My family is completely out of this business, so it’s a completely different reality, but it was just incredible what happened to me, that I had a chance to get into the business.” Her desire to act, she recalls, stems from her love of cinema as a child. “I used to watch so many movies when I was very young with my mother, so I used to dream about all those beautiful, Italian actresses, so for me, it was a dream to become an actor.”

Bellucci originally pursued a career in the legal profession, but while attending the University of Perugia, she modelled on the side to earn money for school, which 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 Malèna (2000), Under Suspicion (2000) and Le Pacte des loups (2001) and the controversial Irreversible. Selective when choosing what American films to do, Bellucci looks for different things when offered an American movie, “because when you are European, it’s very difficult to find a character that can fit you, so when I make a choice, it doesn’t matter for me if I’m in the film for five minutes or I’m the lead. It’s just that I need to do SOMETHING, which is why I accepted to be in films like Matrix, Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm or Spike Lee’s She Hate Me, because even though I wasn’t there more than 20 minutes, I had something to do.”

Bellucci has more than something to do in the action thriller Shoot ‘Em Up, in which she plays a sexy hooker with maternal instincts, on the run with Clive Owen from, a ruthless hit man. Her attraction to this high-energy thriller was taking on the female lead. “Also the character was really strong. I mean, even though it’s action-packed, I had so much to do. The character is a hooker in the beginning, beautiful and cold and then she becomes this woman full of warmth with a big heart.” The actress spends much of the film protecting a baby, and admits that she was able to draw on her own real-life maternalism. “I was already a mother in Remember Me, My Love, but wasn’t a mother at this time, when I did the movie. So of course, when you’re a mother, you know so many things about children, whom you have to take care of.”

Bellucci says that she wants to continue to work with talented people, such as Shoot ‘Em Up director Michael Davis, “even though it was his first important movie, and I didn’t know his previous work. But I was so confident, because of the script. It’s beautiful to take risks, too, and it’s important not to be scared.”

Bellucci pauses, recalling advice that one of recent French co-stars imparted to her on the set of a recent film. “When you become successful, we can see for real who you are, because if you’re an asshole, you become a bigger asshole.” Bellucci hopes she has managed to keep it real.