Movie star interview: Italian actor Paolo Pierobon on his career between cinema, theatre and books

Paolo Pierobon: a movie star interview.

It doesn’t often happen that you pick up the phone and one of your favourite Italian actors is at the other end of the wire. When you hear Paolo Pierobon’s voice, then you don’t know whether to be more nervous or happy. I scored real brownie points with my 16-year-old son who is a fan of Pierobon’s work. He is now more impressed with his mum than when I interviewed Johnny Depp or Will Smith.

Paolo Pierobon poses for filmmaker Marco Bellocchio of Esterno Notte

CREDIT: Paolo Pierobon in a scene from Esterno Notte movie by Marco Bellocchio

After all, that is the voice of the most famous spy in Italy, Filippo De Silva, of the Anti-Mafia Squad (Squadra Anti-Mafia) TV series. The big surprise, however, for me, is that the cruelty and unscrupulousness of the character are directly proportional to the kindness and sweetness of those who play him.

Paolo Pierobon as Filippo De Silva in Squadra Antimafia

CREDIT Paolo Pierobon as Filippo De Silva in Squadra Antimafia

And that’s why Pierobon is an amazing actor. He is everything but intimidating (a far cry from De Silva).

 

MC: Paolo, where are you calling me from?

PP: I’m coming back from the Dolomites mountains.

 

MC: Recently in front of the Bolzano theatre I saw, by chance, a poster announcing your Richard III play in April 2023.

PP: Yes, it is a joint production of the Teatro Stabile di Torino and Bolzano with the Hungarian director Kriszta Székely of the Katona József in Budapest, an important theatre at cultural level.

I had already worked with her in 2019 doing an Uncle Vanya in the work of Anton Chekhov. Unsurprisingly, the cultural programme in Bolzano is very interesting. Last year, I did Eichmann there together with fellow actress Ottavia Piccolo. Excellent location, with three well-equipped and modern rooms from the point of view of scenography possibilities.

 

MC: At the London Film Festival, I recently saw two new films in which you played very different priests. Was it easier to play the corrupt priest of Primadonna or the good priest of Esterno notte by Marco Bellocchio?

PP: They are different approaches that depend on the temporal contexts in which you are inserted.

In Esterno notte we are talking about the terrorist climate of the 70s, the most important and most serious event of Italian politics from the post-war period onwards: the kidnapping and murder of politician Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades.

In THE GIRL FROM TOMORROW (Primadonna) we talk about another historical fact, not as serious but very important, which is the first case of a woman who rebels against the ‘fuitina‘ (literally: “sudden escape“). In Sicily it was the practice that used to be common, whereby a young couple would elope in order to get married against the wishes of their families. That often became a kidnapping with violence and rape.

Paolo Pierobon in movie Primadonna

CREDIT Paolo Pierobon in Primadonna – photo by Anna Camerlingo

This provocative and daring film is inspired by a true story; set in 1965 it follows a young woman whose quest to avenge her rapist – who she would be expected to marry – changed Italian Law.

In hindsight, it’s like standing in front of the double side of a coin. On the one hand, the clergy acted in good faith, and on the other hand the corrupt clergy flirted with power completely forgot their vocation. So, it’s just engaging in a completely different way. I prefer imagination to identification.

The power of imagination allows us to be much freer to see the viewpoints on which to take a character. The identification must be there, but it forces your mental attention to many ‘stakes’. And you miss out on a lot of stuff. There is a risk of being a bit stubborn compared to being open to imagination.

 

MC: Do you prefer playing the good guys or the bad guys?

PP: In general, I like to explore all the grey areas, not the black or white areas, because in real life there is no-one totally good and there is no-one totally bad. So, if the script also gives me that chance, I see where the bad guy is closest to me, where the good guy is farthest from me.

I put myself in a situation of subordination towards my character in order to give the character a greater potential.

 

Q: My 16-year-old son Diego and I – as well as the millions of fans of the Anti-Mafia Squad TV series, have remained loyal to Filippo De Silva. He is a villain with a capital V, but deep down he also has his own morals. Somehow, we never managed to consider him a villain. For us, you remain the best actor of the eight series starring Giulia Michelini and Marco Bocci. Why do you think we like this character so much?

Do you miss playing him?

PP: What you say is right. To my surprise, at the beginning, compared to the heroism displayed by characters such as Rosy Abate or Calcaterra, Filippo De Silva was a very violent and immoral ‘Chaman’. But there was like his unwritten independence, while serving two thousand masters. This ironically led him to be totally free. A loose cannon.

So, it’s an empathetic alternative to an audience that especially during the lockdown felt like it was left watching the sky behind bars.

Filippo De Silva experienced ‘a second youth’, a renewed success during the pandemic, because the episodes were aired again on Italian TV.  He is appreciated for being extremely independent, free-spirited, sarcastic and even funny, in some cases.

He represented this and also offered a bit of detachment from what can be the reality of good and bad, black and white. Playing this character, it was a lot of fun, even if it was exhausting. After being on set for six series, and so many different niche jobs, this is the role that has given me the most mainstream popularity, undoubtedly.

But I don’t miss him, because I would run the risk of being identified only with that role. Despite being a character with many faces, even good things must come to an end. What could the writers make him do after such a long time. The public liked so much, so the filmmakers kept him alive. But we could not make him walk on water. He risked of becoming a metaphysical being. He was supposed to die in the first series.  But the producers kept him, because the character worked so well and so they made him come back.

 

MC: How is Paolo Pierobon in life outside his countless characters? Are you as enigmatic as De Silva? How much of Pierobon is in De Silva? And vice-versa…

 

PP: Great question! Well, I don’t get up in the morning trying to blow up some banks, for a starter. That’s for sure. But I have a certain restlessness, which is what made me choose this very difficult and hard job, with many moments when there is nothing.

Often there is no work, like during the lockdown phase, which for us theatre artists was very hard. It seemed that our category was the only one that had to stay closed and with strict controls, while restaurants were filled with people.

I consider this work as a continuous investigation of the human being. This is a work similar to the writer’s. Always discovering that there is something unexpected, unprecedented, surprising and the work on oneself is endless. Something that makes you always stay on track.

And it allows you to have that healthy restlessness that does not make you feel very relaxed when you are successful or break down when nothing comes along. In the observation of others and of oneself, above all, inevitably you end up putting personal things in the characters.

 

But at the same time, you put yourself in other people’s shoes. That is the exercise of compassion, without necessarily making mystical speeches here. Many times, in the things you face every day you make the effort. When you are about to get angry, you put yourself in other people’s shoes. When you do that, you broaden your horizons and find yourself a little calmer to face life in a better way.

 

MC: If, in the future, you could choose to play a character in the story, in a novel, who would it be?

PP: I would really like something unthinkable, a great challenge.

 

Even a very submissive character who does not react with something surprising at the end. I’d like the viewer to eventually say, “Ah, but then it’s not always like that, then these types of people can really become something else.” And maybe discover in yourself that you have that potential. For example, all of Dostoevsky’s characters are extraordinary in this way, like Raskolnikov of Crime and Punishment.

 

MC: Throughout your career, what has your favourite role been between movies, TV series and theatre?

PP: I liked most of my roles, because I put everything into the various characters. But I am fond of those who may not have had a more mainstream distribution. For example, with the Teatro dell’Elfo in Milan I played a role in Blasted by the English playwright Sarah Kane, which had only a few performances.

I am very fond of Ian but also of Levin in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in the show of the recently deceased Lithuanian director Nekrosius. Levin means Leo like the author (Leo Tolstoy). He is Tolstoy’s most autobiographical character.

Then I played Robespierre with Mario Martone for the Teatro di Torino in Georg Büchner’s Death of Danton. I also loved all the shows I played with Luca Ronconi.

 

 

MC: On RaiPlay I saw the pilot episode Up & Down which is very intriguing. When will the rest be aired?

PP: That was an interesting project. A self-produced series by RAI. But it stopped there, before the lockdown. I hope it will be resumed one day. A mystery/fantasy genre different from the usual. We shot it just before the beginning of lockdown.

 

MC: I hope so. Personally, I believe that Italian cinema is amazing. I prefer it to American cinema. Unfortunately, it is in Italian. But it has no rivals. It is more emotional and profound.

Italian maestro Marco Bellocchio makes his impressive long-form TV debut with EXTERIOR NIGHT (Esterno Notte), which is his depiction of the notorious 1978 terrorist kidnapping of politician Aldo Moro. It is spectacular. I saw it all in one breath. Six hours straight. But they flew by.  

PP: You just pressed the right button. We should all have a little less pessimistic view than the one that hovers in Italian circles. We’re good too.

With Esterno notte, Bellocchio has done not only something linked to the emotionality of those who have lived that historical moment, but he has proposed a sort of great Italian novel in which even the 18-year-olds, the 20-year-olds, the 25-year-olds can enjoy a fact that really happened. It is staged so well that it can also be a fiction, in which so much is told about that particular Italian history.

With an epic sweep and skilfully maintaining tension throughout, Bellocchio brilliantly recreates what took place, as well as the decidedly mixed response of the establishment, from politicians and the security services to the media and the Church.

At the same time, you can enjoy information, history and entertainment. These are the three things that should always work in any cinematographic work.

 

MC: What are you up to next?

PP: If you like Venice, I played a role in the film Welcome Venice by independent Venetian filmmaker Andrea Segre, which now is also available on DVD. It tells a story set not in the well-known postcard Venice, not the city of the gondoliers and St. Mark’s Square or spy stories, but the Venice of the fishermen at the Giudecca, who are specialised in moeche.

Paolo Pierobon in Welcome Venice movie poster

The moéca is the name that the Venetians gave to the Laguna crab, when it loses its armour and before it gets rebuilt, in contact with salt water. The armour-less moeche are velvety in hand and ready to be sold at the market. They are amazing! I wish you could taste them.

True Venetians eat only fish from the Lagoon, not that of the Adriatic Sea, because it is tastier. Moeche are very rare and expensive. You have to know how to fish and cultivate them. They also make them fried. Welcome Venice is a film that you will love so much, because it is about three fishermen brothers. We talk about the legacy of a house.

There are different points of view: those who would like Venice as a tourist city without a soul and those who would like to keep it without tourists. A place like Giudecca is still outside the tourist Venice.

 

MC: I would like to keep Venice without tourists. I love her too much. From Bologna I used to go there all the time by train. I know it well and I suffer when I see it full of tourists.

PP: I saw Venice in an absolutely privileged way. When we shot Welcome Venice, we were in full lockdown without even one tourist. And going around Venice at that time was something stunning and wonderful. In the film we speak Venetian dialect, Giudecchino, with Italian subtitles. The expression ‘ghesboro’ (literally “I ejaculate on it”), in English is translated as ‘Amazing’ which does not render at all.

 

MC: What else are you preparing for the theatre?

PP: Richard III will tour many cities. Maybe even to Budapest.

 

MC: It seems to me that your career choices are dictated more by the complexity of the challenges rather than by achieving easy fame. I really like this.

You were also Berlusconi in 1994…. Not an easy character and above all very controversial.

How did you prepare for this interpretation?

 

PP: This role was also very interesting. The reviews have been very positive. 1994 is a cross-section of Italy from 1994 onwards. There it was a question of suspending judgement and seeing, as the great Gaber said, “the Berlusconi in me” not so much of pointing the finger. It wasn’t easy. The actor’s work is endless.

You find out things about yourself that you would have never imagined. And you also discover things about characters that you work on that you would have never expected. This job often forces you to review your positions, to renew and refresh the viewpoints of others.

We live in a very ‘performative’ age where everybody photograph themselves on Instagram. They’re all actors, damn it!

MC: You stay out of social media, though!

PP: I’m totally out of social media. It is not an ideological prejudice, but it is precisely because I am an actor. I prefer cultivating a bit of absence from the scene when I’m off duty.

Why add a character to it? If they always saw me there, maybe they would think that I could never make a totally different and unexpected character. On the other hand, social media supports promotional campaigns for theatres. I still remember when in the ‘90s we went out at night to glue the posters of the shows on the walls. Now with Facebook it is much easier and cheaper to communicate.

 

MC: You have a beautiful voice and I’ve listened to a few audiobooks.

PP: My latest is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, read by myself for Emons Edizioni. I also read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, and on Rai Sound in the series Aloud Il fondo di bottiglia – a novel by Georges Simenon. The RAI podcast is free.

 

MC: Thank you and see you soon!

PP: I’ll be waiting for you in Bolzano in April 2023 at the Richard III show!

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