Roberto Benigni to Play Geppetto in Matteo Garrone's 'Pinocchio'

Matteo Garrone, Roberto Benigni
Courtesy of Rai Cinema

The Oscar-winning Italian actor made his own version of 'Pinocchio' in 2002.

Oscar-winning actor Roberto Benigni is returning to the big screen to play the role of Geppetto in Matteo Garrone's new film, Pinocchio. This marks his first acting role since 2012's To Rome With Love.

Garrone's new version of the Italian classic will start shooting in the beginning of 2019 in locations across Italy, including Lazio, Tuscany and Puglia.

"Filming Pinocchio and directing Roberto Benigni are two dreams come true in one film. [Pinocchio author Carlo] Collodi's puppet and I have been chasing each other since I was a child, drawing my first storyboards," said Garrone of the announcement. "As years passed, I have always felt something familiar in the story, as if Pinocchio had penetrated my imagination to such an extent that many have found traces of his adventures in my previous films."

Roberto Benigni added: "A great character, a great story, a great director: playing Geppetto directed by Matteo Garrone is one of the forms of happiness."

"We are greatly honored to be part of the making of a film of such a high level. Matteo Garrone is one of the most important and original directors in the world," said CEO of Rai Cinema Paolo Del Brocco. "The choice of Roberto Benigni appears to us as one of Garrone's strokes of genius, and the fact that Benigni has accepted to interpret Geppetto is a gift that will give us marvelous surprises."

Garrone will direct his own screenplay for the film, based on an adaptation of Collodi's classic book, which has been translated into 240 languages globally and remains among the top 50 best-sellers globally. Garrone has also set out on a nationwide search for a young actor to star in the titular role.

The film will feature animals and fantasy creatures, with blending prosthetics makeup brought to life by two time Oscar-winner for Makeup & Hair Mark Coulier (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Iron Lady), in collaboration with VFX supervisor Rachael Penfold (The Revenant, Cloud Atlas).

Pinocchio is being set up as an international co-production between Archimede Films, Rai Cinema and Le Pacte Recorded Picture Company. HanWay Films will represent worldwide rights, with Rai Cinema confirmed to release the film in Italy and Le Pacte in France.

The casting news comes days after an announcement that Netflix will produce Guillermo del Toro's own Pinocchio passion project. His version, a stop-motion musical set during the rise and fall of fascist Italy, will start production this fall.

Benigni, who won a best acting Oscar and the Academy Award for best foreign-language film for Life Is Beautiful, directed and starred in his own version of Pinocchio in 2002. The big-budget Miramax film was a commercial flop in the U.S., with critics lambasting the English dub and the casting of Benigni as the young Pinocchio. The film currently has a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The original version played much better in Italy, where it won two David di Donatello awards.

In recent years, Benigni has had huge success with theatrical television shows on Rai 1, breaking network ratings with performances on the 10 Commandments and the Italian Constitution. He's announced that he will do a one-man show for Rai around the theme of love.

Garrone is currently one of the most in-demand directors in Italy after the success of his latest film, Dogman, winner of best actor in Cannes and eight of Italy's Silver Ribbon awards. The Naples-set fable about a good man gone bad is Italy's submission for the 2019 best foreign-language Oscar.