Violante Placido comes into the room looking as stylish, confident and beautiful as you would expect as any Hollywood A-lister. The style and beauty come from her Italian heritage, but the confidence is rather more surprising given she has so few films to her name. Then again, she has acting pedigree, for she is the daughter of actor-director Michele Placido and actress Simonetta Stefanelli, and as such she has been around the film world all her life.
She is here to discuss her new film, ‘The American’, directed by Anton Corbijn, in which she plays the prostitute love interest of George Clooney. Speaking to her now, she does not seem too bothered about acting with, and being naked in front of, one of the world’s sexiest men or that this will be her biggest film to date. Does she not feel a certain pressure?
‘Yes, it is a big film, but I wouldn’t really say this is Hollywood, as the only real major Hollywood aspect of the film is George Clooney. Really this is an independent movie. And also working with this kind of set was much more of a cosy atmosphere, so I didn’t get this feeling of a bit Hollywood production. Anton [Corbijn] is not one for big projects.’
Were you a fan of Anton’s work before you did the film?
‘Yes, I loved the movie ‘Control’, and music is another great passion I have, so I share that with him. All his background with film, music and photography added a lot of interest for me in his work and in meeting him.’
How was it to work with him as a director?
‘He is very subtle and very visual. In this movie he worked with the same team as ‘Control’ so I felt he was very confident in every visual aspect of the movie, and acting-wise we worked in a very profound way, getting into the deep aspect of the soul of the character. Rather than just simply having the stereotype of a prostitute, it was more what this girl is really feeling and how she is relating to her life and to the possibility of a change.’
Clooney is a director as well; did he help out during the takes?
‘Well I did feel very protected, honestly. They already created a wonderful, trustful atmosphere and George is a very nice person. He is very warm and puts everyone at ease. I felt safe and was able to relax and do my best.’
Why did you think your character decided to trust the American?
‘I think that initially what drives these two characters close is the fact that they are so isolated and neither of them can trust anybody. In this way they are similar and their solitudes meet and something happens in that intimate scene and Clara feels something different going through her. Normally when she works [as a prostitute] she will put herself completely aside, but instead this time the alchemy is so strong that she realizes she is feeling something, so she eventually decides to explore that relationship with this man who just appears all of a sudden in this small town.’
Did you feel any pressure on yourself because of all the expectation that has come from taking this role?
‘At the beginning, yes. When I am casting I always look for something that challenges me as an actress. If it actually happens I do get a lot of pressure, which eventually I try to transform and use in my acting.
How did you feel about doing the nude scenes? Many American actresses feel very uncomfortable about doing it, but was it different coming from Europe?
‘It was not my first experience. When I had my first experience it was a little bit tough for me. It really all depends on who you work with and what the character means to you. Although… in a way, you are always naked while acting, using your emotions and parts of yourself to transmit something to the audience. The character sort of helps you go through that and detach yourself as a person from the role. Once you accept to play a prostitute you must also accept that the body will be involved and you can’t judge if you accept it.’
The film feels incredibly tense, what it the same atmosphere whilst filming or was it lighter hearted?
‘Well George made jokes here and there, he was the light part of the movie in between takes.’
What were the most enjoyable moments during filming?
‘We listened to music from George’s iPod or we made stones jump in the river when we were shooting there. It was all very playful and childish which was fun to be a part of.
The film was both set and shot in Italy; were they places you had been to before?
‘It all happened in a region I am very connected to and am very familiar with it since I have friend who lives out there. But I did discover new places that I didn’t know about, so now I really know Abruzzo and I could probably be a tour guide at this point. I do really love the area as it has nature all over it and this makes it very mystical, but is still sort of harsh and isolated. Up in those mountains you can get some beautiful sunrises and the light changes continually, but you can still feel very small and alone with nothing around you.’
Would you think of retiring there?
‘I don’t know how it will feel when I am old. It might be that when I am old I will want to be in a lively place or possibly I will be so elevated that I want to be close to something bigger, God possibly, that I do live in Abruzzo. I can tell you that places like that certainly make you feel closer to something special and give you a lot of good energy.’
How did the locals find it having the crew around all the time?
‘They enjoyed it a lot, and it probably brought a smile to them. That region was the one that had the earthquake that happened just 6 months before we shot; that was another aspect of working there. When we went onto set we would often pass by lots of tents where people were living without homes – it certainly brought you back to reality. But at the same time at least there was something alive going on, something that was putting the story and image of that region into a movie that will stay and people will watch.’
Were many locals used in the film as extras?
‘Yeah, in the procession there was about half of the town. It was really crazy since they were so excited and George was playing jokes on them and they were laughing about everything. They would ask you for pictures and autographs in between takes. So in a really tense scene, when we stopped to change camera, all of a sudden all they wanted was autographs and pictures and then after a while they went back into the role.’
Would you consider this to be your best role so far or is that another one you were more proud of?
‘I am very happy to have been in this movie and I think I have discovered more subtleness in trying to conceive something, so this has been very interesting. But I try to explore myself and give more with each new experience I have. Also this was not such a big role, so I am happy with the work I did in those few scenes.’
Are there any plans for films coming up soon?
‘I am about to start a new project, which I am not allowed to talk about too much, but it is another American movie, so it is very exciting. It is going to be completely different again so I am very happy.’ [The film being referred to is ‘Ghost Rider 2’]
Do you think a lot of opportunities will have arisen out of this film?
‘I knew that ‘The American’ could offer me the possibility and [‘Ghost Rider 2’] came soon after the movie was released. The directors told me they wanted to see me because of ‘The American’; they saw the movie and really enjoyed it. I am quite excited right now.’
Do you think you will be moving over to LA like a lot of stars seem to?
‘I don’t know, now it is possible and so easy to get into movies from other countries. I have an agency in America now, but you can cast from Italy to them, I did it that way for both movies. Eventually I might if I really want to push it and be there during certain periods, but then I could also have an international career by staying in Europe.’
Are you attached to Italy then?
‘Yes, I am quite attached, but I am still a very curious person and I like to travel. I am very happy to have had this opportunity to confront myself and also experience different cultures with different directors because I am, when possible, very open to new experiences. Still I would like to keep working in my country.’
How do your family feel about your success? Have they been very supportive?
‘Yes, they have been very supportive.’
Did you imagine yourself doing anything other than acting or singing? Your father is a director and your mother is an actress so I’m sure that might have persuaded a little?
‘Actually, when I was very young I wanted to sing and act, but when I grew up a little bit more I suddenly had a real refusal; I didn’t want to be an actress and I was going horse riding all the time and wanted to go all the way to the Olympics. I just wanted to do something else. It took me sometime to actually understand and decide to try this career; it didn’t come so easily because I was coming from an acting family.’
When you did decide that you wanted to act did those family connections help?
‘My parents never pushed me to become an actress and I always tried to go on my own. I think in a job like this it is such a personal choice since you are exposing and challenging yourself. People can help you to a point, but you really need to find your own determination. Often though the connections you have if you come from an acting family are just natural. At the beginning when I started my parents helped look for parts for me, which was a great advantage, but after that I took a year out and went to Los Angeles. I needed to know if it was me deciding to do this so I learnt to play the guitar and took some small acting jobs and stuff like that.’
So is playing the guitar a hobby?
‘It is a hobby, but I love it. When I am shooting in hotels I always bring the guitar with me. I use it to write songs for the band and I also sometimes record with it.’
What is the culture in Italy like for celebrities? Over here it is very much that paparazzi are at your door and in your face all the time, is it the same for you?
‘You do get a lot of that in Italy, but in the end it is hardly ever the great actors and actresses who are in the newspapers. It is always TV people and footballer players. It can be in between, sometimes actors can be in a period of their life when all of a sudden they get a lot of attention, but usually you can avoid it. If you want to, then in some way you can avoid it and if you look for it then you are going to have it.’
I venture to ask about how she feels with the media hounding celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, but clearly this subject is a little too sensitive. Violante’s PA sweeps in, states that the question is not exactly appropriate, and with that, the interview is over. Nonetheless, it seems that on the basis of her performance in ‘The American’, Violante Placido is going to have to cope with a lot more attention than she might be used to.