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Matilda De Angelis is having a bit of a moment.
The Italian actress, who roared onto the European film scene as a race car driver in Matteo Rovere’s Italian Race (2016) and has been a regular feature since, named one of the European Shooting Stars in Berlin in 2018 and winning the David di Donatello honour for best actress in Venice for her performance in Rose Island in 2020. US audiences may recognise her from her supporting role in David E. Kelley’s HBO series The Undoing alongside Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, or as Caterina da Cremona, a fictional noblewoman and muse to the legendary renaissance artist, played by Aidan Turner, in RAI’s Leonardo, which aired on The CW stateside.
International audiences are about to see a lot more of De Angelis. Her new feature, Robbing Mussolini, hits Netflix October 26 and she is currently in production on the Russo Brothers’ Amazon Prime multi-series Citadel. Her last feature, Paula Ortiz’s WW2 drama Across the River and Into the Trees, in which she stars alongside Liev Schreiber, is being sold at AFM by UTA Independent.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to De Angelis ahead of the world premiere of Robbing Mussolini at the Rome Film Festival. Directed by Renato De Maria and produced by Bibi Film, the period drama sees her playing Yvonne, a nightclub singer in Italy in 1945 who gets caught up in a scheme to try and steal the treasure of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini amid the chaos as of war as allied forces are advancing.
What appealed to you about this character?
I think that across the years I’ve picked roles that were fairly different from each other, with a certain depth. Yvonne could, in some ways, be seen as a supporting role rather than a real protagonist. But I liked her. I also liked her because she reminded me of Madame Gina from Hayao Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso [the animated classic set in 1930s Italy.
What do the two films, and the two characters, have in common?
In my opinion [the connections] are everywhere. For me it was an automatic connection. When I’m asked about references or inspirations [for this role], I mention Porco Rosso. Of course, there are differences. The tone of the narration, for one. But I liked Yvonne because she sings and in her own way she brings together such a fragmented world. On one side, you have men fighting for glory, on the other, there she is being deeply feminine and level.headed. Extremely level-headed.
You’ve also starred alongside Liev Schreiber in Across the River and into the Trees, based on the Ernest Hemingway novel. What was that experience like?
It was a very powerful experience. I was going through the most awful time in my life during the shooting; and I used that sadness and sense of annihilation that I was feeling. Renata, my character, needed that. She’s very melancholic. Working alongside Liev Schreiber was also a unique emotional experience for me.
I’m a big fan of his, and he was a huge help to me on set. I can never thank director Paola Ortiz enough: we became friends, and we remain in touch. But Liev taught me so many things. Josh Hutcherson was another wonderful discovery. When I’m able to work like this, with actors that turn out to be super normal, super calm and accommodating people, I feel lucky. But we shot it in midwinter, in Venice, at night. So I froze my ass off. Physically, it was perhaps even tougher than Citadel, which I’ve been training a lot for.
Was The Undoing, the HBO series starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, a launch pad for your international career?
Yes, of course. Although I believe I was first noticed by international producers in 2018, with the Shooting Stars Award in Berlin. It doesn’t make sense to speak of international actors nowadays. With Netflix you can easily reach 190 countries while simply acting in your own language, in a local production. Borders are slightly more ephemeral. This is easier. Getting work in America, alongside Hollywood actors, remains complicated. The Undoing was a starting point, yes, but this would probably have still happened.
In Italy certain genres, like action, are rarely produced. I’m thinking of Matilda Lutz, who right now is on the international set of Red Sonja.
Matilda, however, is following a much more international path than my own, and is taking on more action roles. Personally, I’m attracted by roles that require a certain physical effort, like in Citadel. There aren’t many in Italy and I like to think that I’m up for it. Because these jobs are enriching as well.
The training I’m undergoing these weeks has been teaching me a lot. It is giving me a new level of mental and, especially, physical awareness. It’s true that an actor is his body as well as his mind. Therefore, yes, I would very much like to do more roles like this.
Has anything changed in the Italian movie and TV industries in terms of more interesting roles for women?
Something has changed for sure. But my awareness has changed as well. And I realize that I’m a lot more critical and I have different needs. I miss doing arthouse cinema. I’m not being victimized. I’m working and I’m happy. But I miss reading stories with a point of view that is new, personal and most of all real.
In Italy, there is a short-circuit between local productions and the audience: theaters continue to struggle.
I don’t know how to reverse this trend. Maybe, it is because we produce so much. There is too much stuff. And people, after a while, lose their enthusiasm and interest. The average attention span of the audience gets shorter and shorter.
What kind of stories are you looking for as a viewer?
I’m an omnivore. When I go to the movies I’m looking for a different point of view. I don’t like stories that are copied, or told by people who have never faced those experiences. And movies can’t tell of beautiful things alone; movies sometimes have to show us life’s worst. Precisely so that we can appreciate it. Beauty is born of hardships. Of ugliness. This is what I look for: movies that can enrich me, make me wonder.
Are you curious to watch Luca Guadagnino’s [cannibal love story] Bones and All?
Very much, I admit. For me, Guadagnino has never put a step wrong. I’ve also liked his TV series for Sky and HBO, We are Who We Are, a lot. Guadagnino always tells things from his point of view, according to his needs. And his characters are, first and foremost, human. They feel fear, love, make mistakes. And that’s something that I’ve found in other series, almost all aimed at teens, like Skam [on Netflix Italy] and Prisma [Amazon Prime]. These stories feel true and credible: they remind me of life as it truly is.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Nov. 3 daily issue at the American Film Market.
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