“You do not become a star, you are born a star. A star is born with that indefinable extra something. Actually, truth be told, I do not know if I really am a big star. And in fact that is not the most important thing for me. What counts in life is to bring about more of your own dreams. In such a way that your life becomes like a fairy tale. This is what has happened to me, it is just like that.”
Sophia Loren is sitting on one of the velvet sofas in her house, located just a few steps from the old town of Geneva. Behind her is a big, black grand piano, there is modern art on the walls, there are tapestries. The furnishings are French. In one corner you can see the framed parchment of her official appointment as an Officer of the Legion of Honor, an Oscar nomination, some book covers. She is smiling, tanned, lean.
She is wearing a beige skirt and an olive-coloured Armani blouse. The contents of this library room tell of other chapters in the life of a star: in pride of place are the Oscar she won, her six David di Donatello Awards, the Gold Bear of Berlin, her Telegatto. And there are more: German awards, Japanese, the Golden Globe.
Sophia, what makes the most impression on you, now that you are reaching the sixty-year milestone?
There is so much importance given to this birthday. But I do not feel at all in my sixties, I did not even realize it was happening, until the other day I just did not remember.
How have you stayed so beautiful and young looking?
It’s my nature, it’s my make-up. It’s necessary to have an energy that carries you forward. You need the will to live, to have a great curiosity. To look for the best in life, to find new interests.
When did you realize that your life would become an extraordinary life?
Well, I believe that rewards in life are deserved. Every reward is the fruit of discipline, of dedication and of sacrifices. And of stubbornness.
An Italian doctor told me that I could not have children: I always disagreed and in the end he finally was proved wrong. I always disagreed.
What quality has most assisted your good fortune?
And in your work?
Luck, you need to catch the moment. Otherwise the opportunity fades.
Have you lost many opportunities? What are the most important milestones in your career?
Well meeting with my husband Carlo Ponti. And then also meeting De Sica. Carlo and De Sica have made some really fantastic projects for me. And then Joe Levine, the American producer, played an important role; he distributed the films in America with great fanfare. This had never happened before for Italian films in the U.S. Besides all this, I was able to get the Oscar for Two Women and this was the first Italian-language film to get the award. Then the following year I was nominated for Marriage Italian Style and then two years ago I won an Oscar for my career.
What does winning an Oscar mean to you?
It is the most important event in the career of an actor, an extraordinary moment, beautiful. Some people live their whole life just to win an Oscar.
And what is the most important thing in your life?
Well it is being with my mother, my sister, my sister’s children. In other words, my family is the most important thing for me.
And who are the most important actors you have worked with?
Mastroianni, he is a completely unforgettable colleague. Even in the last movie, Pret-à-Porter, which we just shot with Robert Altman in Paris, it was completely extraordinary meeting up with him again. The two of us, we’re so good together we can do anything. Ours is always a magical encounter.
But who else have you loved to work with? Who would you say? And what do you remember about Marlon Brando?
I was expecting a catastrophe when they told me that I was cast with him. Everyone told me it would be a disaster. But it did not turn out that way. Even though he was grumpy and very shy.
And what about Charlie Chaplin?
Working for him made little impression on me. Strangely, for the first ten days he only ever looked at me through the camera. It was as if he was intimidated by making a movie with me. Imagine how I felt, as I was intimidated by him. I remember him as a very kind man, always full of smiles, with nice hands. His wife was always on the set, he loved her in a crazy way.
And Cary Grant, what do you recollect about him?
He was fascinating, and then he fell in love with me.
And you were also in love with him?
I confess that I had a big “penchant” for him. Yes, there was something special between us.
Did you often fall in love on set?
Maybe little infatuations, but falling in love is quite another thing. Perhaps in life you fall in love only once.
And which of your directors do you remember in particular?
Ettore Scola, Lina Wertmuller, who I adore. My favourite, however, and for the record the one I most remember, was Alessandro Blasetti, who discovered the pair Loren-Mastroianni in Too Bad She’s Bad.
But Sophia, you have lived abroad for years, do you still feel yourself to be a Neapolitan?
I exist only because inside of me and above all else I am only and above all a Neapolitan. Naples exists inside of me, and always will. Fortunately for me there is this treasure that I have inside of me and, when I need it, then I pull it out. When we want to say important things among ourselves and the rest of the family, we still speak Neapolitan.
Another Neapolitan with a rising career is your niece, Alessandra Mussolini. What do think about her?
Alessandra is the daughter of my sister, Elizabeth. Everyone can take their own road in life as they want, I do not make judgements. But I do see that Alessandra carries herself well, and with dignity, because she is an intelligent woman, a witty woman with a sense of humour. And may God bless her and protect her!
Do you like fashion?
Yes, I like it. But only if it corresponds to and suits today’s way of life, and in this respect Armani has realized that fashion needs to be fast and convenient and he has chosen wonderful colours, colours that really did not exist before.
How do you get on with your children?
They are talented young people who respect their parents and have good moral principles. I have to say that they have turned out very well.
Have you changed over the years?
I have gained experience and matured, but my principles, my way of seeing things is still the same.
What are the commanding principles for you?
Honesty. Be honest about what you can get. To make a sacrifice and to get what you want you need to be very certain. In other words: always think about your objective, have a clear goal and commit to it from the heart. You will get nowhere with words. Believe me, it is actions that count.
Do you have film projects on the go?
Yes in America and one in Europe. But, for now, nothing concrete.
Is the cinema your number one priority?
It is something that is very important to me. I would like to act for 150 years. However the children are my first priority. I want to be near them, to try to help them. For sure, I do not want to be too much of an imposition, and I help them if they ask me. Then there are many things I would still like to do, because maturity has improved me and there are many things in life that I had not understood before: many small nuances of life that make me understand I have a lot more to give.
Are you a jealous woman?
Fortunately I have not needed to be. I find that jealousy is a miserable feeling. It means you aspire to something that you cannot have. Even in love, it is better to leave, better not to waste time.
What do you think of divorce?
I think that it is better to divorce than to argue in front of the children.
And your view on abortion?
Having had several miscarriages it is not easy for me to talk about. I do see however, that, in certain dramatic or very special situations, abortion is indispensable.
So you do not agree with the Pope?
I find this Pope to be extraordinary, he is a pilgrim, he goes everywhere, he is interested in everyone.
Are you religious?
Yes, but not practicing.
How do you see Italy to be?
Italian. There is a great future, Italians are very creative. They are unique in the world. Italy, I’m sure, will find its resources and will be back on form at the appropriate time. I say this with anger. Things do not go so well. Let’s promote Italy and be optimistic. Italy deserves it and is worth it.
What will you do now?
I will celebrate my birthday with my sister. Then I will go to Paris.
What is your favourite place?
This is now my city. I live in Geneva because my children were born here, it is where our family home is, it is the place where we find ourselves.
(Geneva, September 3 1994.)
The above is taken from Alain Elkann Interviews, published by Assouline (196A Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1J 9EY)
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Credit: RDA/RETIRED / Contributor