'Mum said to me 'I just saw an interview on TV with Gabriele Muccino and he just wrote a movie about an Italian girl going to the US to find herself, it looks like he wrote it for you, you should meet him.' I said 'Mum, it's not that easy, I can't just walk down the street and bump into him'. A week later I went to the restaurant to work and he was there having dinner.'
I am so perplexed by the art of acting. How do you get up in front of people and play a character with truth and sincerity? It seems like the hardest thing to do in the world, so I am doubly perplexed as to how a young, extremely shy woman can discover by chance an incredible talent. This is the story of Matilda Lutz.
Matilda grew up in a little country town outside Milan called Gudo Visconti before moving to Milan at the age of twelve. Matilda’s Dad, Elliston, is American and met Matilda’s Mum, Maria, when they were both modelling and travelling extensively. When children came along they decided they wanted a peaceful home, hence the move to the country. After modelling Elliston transitioned into fashion photography and Maria became a PR for a fashion press office so she would still travel to New York, Paris, London and all the fashion cities. Their country abode was their oasis.
When Matilda was just five years old her parents separated and Matilda moved with her Mum to Milan while her Dad moved to New York.
Matilda: “I remember hating my mum because I loved my home. I had a house with dogs, cats, rabbits, fish, hamsters, any animal you could possibly imagine. One of my dogs got pregnant and for a second we had nineteen puppies running around the house. In my hometown I could just walk in the street and play soccer with my friends or get ice cream. It was really safe. Everybody knew everybody. Then when I had to move to Milan I didn’t want to leave any of my friends. It was such a big change for me. Looking back now I thank God for the move because, although I had the perfect childhood, if I stayed there I don’t know if I would be here doing what I am doing now. When you are little everything seems bigger than what it is.”
Adjusting to life in Milan in the beginning was very hard. Matilda was very reserved.
Emma: “Why do you think you were so shy?”
Matilda: “I don’t know, maybe because of all the family drama when I was little, maybe I kept quiet all the time and I didn’t want to be the problem and that is what I still do today. I still hate being the centre of attention with all eyes on me. That’s why I like very small interviews with not a lot of people.”
Emma: “So you think the separation had a major impact on you?”
Matilda: “I think so, even though the only thing I really remember about the separation was the fact that I missed my Dad, because he went back to the States. I would see him once a year. He was far away because he had to work but he wasn’t far away in the sense that he would call me every day and he would make sure every birthday and Christmas we had a little present coming. He made sure to be there even though he wasn’t physically there. He wasn’t away because he didn’t want to have anything to do with us, he had to work, it is just life.”
Emma: “What is your relationship like now with your Dad?”
Matilda: “We have a great understanding. If we are in the same room, I might be reading my book and he is doing his thing and we just know that we are there for each other. It is beautiful, there are not many people that you can do that with. There is a real peace to it.”
Matilda started drama class after she left school at 19. Maria helped drive the decision. Maria had always wanted to be an actress when she was younger, but this wasn’t why she encouraged it. Matilda was shy and didn’t know what she wanted to do. She didn’t want to jump into business school or law, it seemed boring and all her friends were doing that. In Milan most parents expect their children to go to university and get a degree. Matilda wanted to do her own thing, so she signed up for acting school in New York thinking she would never meet these people again so there was nothing to worry about... not quite how things ended up.
Matilda: “When I was young I did not think for one second that I wanted to be an actress. I couldn’t imagine myself up on stage in front of people. I was so shy I couldn’t even go into a café and ask for water so my mum suggested I do an acting course for my confidence.”
Emma: “What was acting school like?”
Matilda: “The course was about three months so I though I would give it a try and I took some singing classes and dance classes. I was doing a little bit of everything and I just loved it. Looking back it was not one of the best schools I had been to but because we were doing a little of everything I really got a feel for things.”
Emma: “What resonated with you?”
Matilda: “I felt that when I was acting it wasn’t really me anymore and I could express things that I wouldn’t normally in fear of being judged by people. My parents always wanted me to be polite to people and I was but I never got a chance to just express myself. When I was in acting class I could do a monologue and tell someone to fuck off and not be judged. The more I studied acting the more it fascinated me. The fact that I can ride a horse one day and then the other day I am pretending to be Marilyn Monroe.”
When Matilda prepares for a role she tells me she is very methodical, very intense in studying the character. She needs to have everything under control so as soon as she gets the script she can read it a thousand times until she knows every detail. She works on the exteriors. She will begin with the image of the character and the accent and the voice, the movements and the posture, all the physical stuff. That then brings her to the psychology of the character. Matilda recently played the lead role in an American reboot film called Rings, she didn’t have a script until the week before shooting started.
Emma: “Wow, how did that make you feel?”
Matilda: “All my friends were making fun of me because they were calling me and they would say ‘so how are you?’ and I was like ‘I don’t have a script yet I don’t know what to do. I’m freaking out.’ They had never seen me like this and this was a month before I started shooting. My agent told me to relax, as this happens in Hollywood all the time. So I decided to just start working on the character, Julia, and hope when I got to set that the words would come.”
Emma: “I am fascinated how you completely transform.”
Matilda: “There is this technique, it is called Alexander technique and it works on your habits. It takes away your habits and so it neutralises your posture and then you overlay the habits of the character. You kind of get one trait happening… that is how I love to work. I love to do the work before and then once I am on set I just let it happen. I was really privileged to work with some great actors on this film, my co-star was incredible to work with. Alex Roe, he is British. And I got to work with Vincent D’Onofrio, which was inspiring.”
Emma: “In what way?”
Matilda: “Life and acting, I mean you would never expect an actor like him to be very down to earth. He would help. I had this scene where I had to come to the door and I was running from another location so I had to be out of breath. Vincent wasn’t even on camera, and was giving me lines. Before the shot he would grab my hand and run. We were running all over the villa to prepare me for my out of breath scene. He couldn’t even speak he was so puffed, he is now fifty five and he is a big, big man, but he would do it for me. This is something that most actors wouldn’t do. And he was very supportive in life too, he was giving me advice because he has a daughter who is my age.”
Emma: “So how did the role come about?”
Matilda: “The first audition I did I was in Italy. I did a self-tape but I never thought it would be a horror movie because reading the scene that I had to tape, it was very happy. It was a goodbye between my boyfriend and I and we were on a cliff about to jump in the water. We were making fun of each other and because I didn’t know it was a horror movie I just really went for it and improvised and changed the words. I was really present and spontaneous, smiling, happy, so I guess that is what they wanted.”
Shortly after auditioning Matilda went back to the US to audition for an HBO pilot. They were about to sign on for the pilot when her manager received the offer to test for Rings. They had to pick. They took a chance with the film. Matilda had to do two screen tests and then went and met the head of Paramount, the Vice President and Executive Producer. They wanted to meet her in person and make sure she could do an American accent. And she got the job.
Emma: “You are very successful for someone so young, it is such a tough industry, you must have lots of talented friends that are finding it tough?”
Matilda: “I do, it is really hard. I have to say it is a combination of talent, luck and hard, hard work and it is not even hard work in the sense that you have to make yourself work it has to become your nature. When I’m home instead of going out with friends I would rather watch a movie or read a book or work on a monologue. I just love it, it is my life now so it never really feels like work. There are a lot of actors that have a hard time. Lots of actors think that it is just talent that will get you through and you will be picked because you are the right person for the role. But I believe you have to create possibilities, constantly working on being able to play different characters, do different accents, sing and dance.”
Matilda loves the fact that being an actor means she gets to travel and live a place not as a tourist but as a local. Usually the crew is local, and so you get to really experience the city. She loves the fact that you have a different family every time.
Emma: “Did you ever imagine that shy little girl would be doing what she is doing today?”
Matilda: “Well the thing is I am still that shy little girl, I find it very hard to do interviews but I don’t feel that way on set.”
Emma: “What’s the difference?”
Matilda: “The difference is first of all that you are playing somebody else, you are not you and then the second thing is that on a set everyone is concerned about their own task. The light guy is worrying about the lighting, the make up artist about whether your make up looks good... everybody is doing their job and even though you have eyes on you it is not because they are there to judge, it is because everybody is there making sure the movie is going to be great with every little piece of the puzzle. With an interview you have an audience eventually and they are all judging you and what you say.”
Emma: “What’s been the most pivotal moment in your career to date?”
Matilda: “In Italy when I booked this movie Summertime by Gabriele Muccino it was a big, big thing because he is one of the only Italian directors that went to the US and is working non stop in the US. He directed The Pursuit of Happiness with Will Smith, which won Sundance and Will Smith was nominated for an Oscar. It was a huge thing.
Matilda was always in love with this movie, even before she developed an interest in acting. The relationship between the dad and the kid spoke to her heart. So two years ago Matilda went to LA for an acting course, she was accepted into a major movie school where every director you can think of, such as Fellini, had been to. It was a big deal for Matilda, Maria was really excited for her. She was only supposed to be there for three weeks but after a week she realised that this was the place she wanted to be. She called Maria and said “I’m not leaving”. Maria initially was pretty upset because Matilda was in college studying psychology. She felt like she was throwing away her education and opportunities in Italy to be a waiter at a restaurant!
Matilda: “‘Mum was like ‘ok if you want to be there, you take care of yourself,’ and I was like ‘ok sure’. So I got a job in an Italian restaurant called Terroni as a waiter. After a month things were fine with Mum because she could see that I was happy and if I am happy then she is happy. Mum said to me ‘I just saw an interview on TV with Gabriele Muccino and he just wrote a movie about an Italian girl going to the US to find herself, it looks like he wrote it for you, you should meet him.’ I said Mum, it’s not that easy, I can’t just walk down the street and bump into him. A week later I go to the restaurant to work and he is there having dinner.”
The owner of the restaurant knew how much Matilda loved Mr Muccino’s work so he said ‘come and I will introduce you to him’. Matilda was mortified and said ‘no, it’s fine don’t worry.’ He was insistent and they met briefly. Matilda then began following all his posts on social media, he always writes about Italian Americans... what he likes about the Americans, what he likes about Italians, what is not working in both countries, what is working. Matilda can relate to that. She doesn’t feel American, she feels Italian but there is something about Italy that doesn’t convince her. She is always trying to escape. She doesn’t really admire the standard Italian work ethic... wanting to be successful without having to work hard.
Matilda wrote Gabriele Muccino a message on Facebook.
Matilda: “I thought, he is never going to answer, he has a lot of followers.
I wrote a really honest message about what he wrote on Italians and Americans and the fact that when he moved to San Francisco in 1991 that was the year that I was born, and a few other little connecting things. I guess it surprised him because he answered and said ‘I would love to meet you’. We didn’t meet for eight months because we were never in the same country at the same time. Finally, this February past he calls me and says I’m coming to LA I would love to meet you to talk about the movie. I did a self-tape. And then I ran into a big problem, I was cast for Rings and they were going to conflict so he was about to cast another girl. I don’t know why, for some reason things worked out, I was in Atlanta shooting Rings when they called me to go to New York and do chemistry reads with the guys for the Muccino movie. I got the role, I’m shooting now.”
Matilda tells me Summertime is a very different experience to shooting The Ring. They have a lot of time to improvise on set, which she loves.
Matilda: “My character is Maria and just the pace of her speech gave me a lot of the character. Gabriele suggested that I speed her up. And the clothes do a lot so when I got on set I was just feeling it. Gabriele has this thing which I don’t think I have ever seen in another director, where he believes you have to feel the emotion in a scene. When he talks to you he is expressing the emotion himself, so you kind of get it from him without him actually telling you. He is very sensitive. It is a dream come true doing what I love, working with Gabriele Muccino.”
Words credited to Emma Scott. Images credited to Julie Adams.
Location: Many thanks to the beautiful Hotel Locarno.