'Years in theatre is very important for any actor. This is really where the school begins. You work all day to resolve the problem of acting... how you have to move your hands, how you have to move your legs, how you have to tell your lines. There are a lot of questions to get to the answers. In theatre you learn to truly focus. You have to have the resolve to be so focused for one or two hours. The world around you doesn't exist.'
Luca Zingaretti grew up in Rome and from the age of twelve to nineteen his whole world was about football. Football training. Football matches. His football mates. His future was football until the most absurd, and unexpected thing happened. Luca won a scholarship to study at the National Academy of Dramatic Arts. Luca found himself at crossroads. He had to make a choice between an art on the field he knew and loved and a new found love - acting.
Emma: “You chose the dramatic arts?”
Luca: “Acting was a new passion, which initially I was drawn to for the women!” he laughs. “But when I tried out for the position at the academy and out of 600 people I received a place, I thought there is really something here for me.”
Emma: “What do you think the academy saw in you?”
Luca: “That’s a good question, I don’t know. I think that when you go to do an exam like that it is not important to be a good actor because you go there to become an actor. I felt they would be looking for something new, something special. I prepared something very strange, I prepared a song from an Italian musical. The scene involved twenty actors. I did every part.”
Luca explains to me that theatre and football do have some commonalities. In a football team the manager is like a director in theatre. They are both steering the team in the right direction, inspiring and leading. In both situations the members need to work together to achieve greatness. It is all about unity and collaboration. The group needs to move like one.
Luca: “On stage for two or three hours you have to work like you are part of an organism, you have to forget love or hate. In that two hours you are my sister or brother but when it’s over I can go back to the reality of how I feel about you.”
Playing football taught Luca to never surrender or give up. You are in it until the end of the fight. He recalls a moment in a Martin Scorsese film where Robert De Niro is a boxer and he is in a fight scene. He loses the fight but with a bloody face he famously calls ‘I lost but I never went to the ground.’ This is how Luca feels about acting. He puts his everything into it.
After three years at the National Academy of Dramatic Arts Luca graduated and was invited to participate in an incredible theatre production with the very famous director Luca Okolie. This was Luca Zingaretti’s first big break. He remembers being so incredibly nervous. Opening night. The stage manager would call ‘30 minutes’, ‘15 minutes’, ‘5 minutes’ and then finally ‘it’s time.’ Luca’s heart was racing. As he walked towards the stage he could see an exit to the theatre. He had to use every ounce of courage to continue his path onto the stage.
And he didn’t look back.
Luca then spent the next fifteen years in theatre, only theatre.
Luca: “Years in theatre is very important for any actor. This is really where the school begins. You work all day to resolve the problem of acting... how you have to move your hands, how you have to move your legs, how you have to tell your lines. There are a lot of questions to get to the answers. In theatre you learn to truly focus. You have to have the resolve to be so focused for one or two hours. The world around you doesn’t exist. And in theatre there is literature and history, the lines exist after one hundred years.”
Luca eventually received his first opening in film. He was working in theatre when director Marco Risi of a new film called Raging Bull came by looking for a protagonist. He said to Luca ‘you are the man.’ When the film was finished and cut, Marco called him and said ‘you are marvellous, you are going to be a star. Your life is going to change.’ He also added that ‘I think my wife is in love with you, professionally of course.’
Luca was the boss of the baddies in this film.
Emma: “So did you have your football face on, you know that face you used to wear when you were ready to take on the enemy?”
Luca: “Ha, ha yes I did.”
Luca was so excited about the film. It was 1980. He really felt this was his big break. He arrived at the Venice Film Festival and disaster struck. Someone on the jury at the festival had leaked to the press about the film, giving it a negative review. And then the scandal blew up. At the end of the first showing of the film everyone began to boo. The movie was too violent.
Luca: “It was terrible. When your head is filled with all these possibilities for the future and then it is dramatically taken away from you, it is a hard thing to make peace with. I went home after this experience. I cried for two days and was depressed for two months.”
Eventually Luca dusted himself off and went back into theatre, more film and even TV roles came his way. He then tried his hand at directing, very successfully.
Emma: “What inspired you to direct?”
Luca: “ I don’t know why I became a director, one day I just said ‘I want to direct. I want to do this play, I want to do this piece’. There is a point in your career when you read a book, a text, a play, a novel and you start to see something that before you didn’t see.”
Luca Zingaretti is probably the most famous actor in Italy. He is a household name thanks to his charismatic role as Inspector Montalbano in the very popular telemovie series. He has played this role for over 15 years and still enjoys it. He believes the series, shot in Sicily, is so successful because of the old-world charm of his character. He is the ultimate gentleman yet gets himself in the thick of the crime world, fighting for justice until the end.
Perhaps Luca is right, he hasn’t moved too far from his original game strategy on the football field. Fight till the death, while dazzle with charm. When I suggest this to Luca, he puts his game face on, and grins... mischievously.
Words credited to Emma Scott. Images credited to Julie Adams.