From 'Rain Man' to a Taste of 'Honey,' Valeria Golino on Her Directorial Debut

Fabio Lovino
Valeria Golino

The debut feature from the Italian actress-turned-director bows in New York on Friday.

When famous actors take a stab at directing, the results tend to be a vanity project or a self-indulgent mess. So Honey, the directorial debut of Italian star Valeria Golino, is both a surprise and an unexpected delight. The drama, about a dedicated activist for assisted suicide, is mature and startlingly cinematic.

The film stars Jasmine Trinca (The Son's Room, The Best of Youth) as Irene, code-named Miele (Honey), whose efforts to help terminally ill patients die takes an increasingly harsh psychological toll. The breaking point comes when she meets Carlo Grimaldi (played by the Italian stage actor Carlo Cecchi), who is not ill, just sick of living, and wants Miele to help kill him.

From the film's opening shot — filmed through an opaque glass wall — Golino establishes her mood and point of view: a cold, almost analytical approach to her subject and characters that covers new ground not touched on by more emotionally focused dramas such as Amour or Million Dollar Baby.

“Whatever you think of my movie, it resembles me,” Golino told THR. “It's a concentration, a perfume, of me. It has my scent.”

That comes as a bit of a shock coming from an actress best known to most for playing Tom Cruise's love interest in Rain Man and a stereotypical Italian sexpot in Jim Abrahams' Hot Shot spoofs — alongside Charlie Sheen, no less.

But Golino's roots — and her heart — have always been in the European art house. Her breakout role was in Francesco Maselli's A Tale of Love, which won her the best actress honor at the Venice Film Festival in 1986, and she did a number of European features, including Margarette von Trotta's Three Sisters (1987) and Giuliano Montaldo's The Gold-Rimmed Glasses (1988) before going Hollywood.

“I came to Hollywood and I loved it. It was a great time, but in my head I was still elsewhere, in Europe,” Golino says. “I believed in a certain cinema, which I still do believe in — a certain European cinema — and as a young woman being in America I thought I was being taken away from that. Looking back, I was limited. I should have tried more drama, more roles where I could show my talent. But I did some 16 to 17 American movies. I worked with fantastic people, like Sean Penn, like Barry Levinson. Like Jim Abrahams, who I adore. I worked with fantastic actors, fantastic directors. People I would never otherwise have met. Was I limited? Yes. Did I use it as I could have? No. But I was always ambivalent about Hollywood and what I wanted. And ambivalence in our business is no good for success.”

Golino says she admires European actresses who have carved out Hollywood careers — women like Oscar winners Marion Cotillard and Penelope Cruz. 
“They are both excellent actresses. I find them enchanting. But they were also persistent. Penelope was so persistent. So determined,” says Golino. “But it doesn't happen that often. You have some [foreign] actors that work a lot but to have a real career in American movies is quite rare. Which, as much as I worked there, I never really had.”

Golino, however, continues to have a career in European cinema, recently starring in Paolo Virzi's Human Capital and in The Invisible Boy, the upcoming feature from director Gabriele Salvatores (I'm Not There).

And if the reception for Honey is any indication — the film has won a trophy chest full of festival honors and has been a critical hit —Golino may be finding as much work behind the camera as in front of it.

“I love acting. I've been doing it since I was 16 and it's in my nature, It's the thing I do best,” she says. “But as much as I love acting, I love cinema more. I always had a thing about creating images. As an actress you can participate, you can be a co-author, help the director. But I always wanted to be able to make the big decisions. I did that with Honey. It is an incredible experience. And I want to do it again.”

Honey has its North American premiere on Friday, March 7, at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in New York. Emerging Pictures is releasing the film in the U.S., with a platform bow in Los Angeles planned for later this month.