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‘I’m entirely in control of my life,’ says Monica Bellucci

Nowadays, most actors only conduct interviews when they have a new project to promote. Monica Bellucci, on the other hand, is not your typical actress. She possesses the Italian film-star appeal of Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, and Silvana Mangano before her – voluptuous, dark haired, and seductive beauty. Unlike the postwar idols, Bellucci has continued to work well into her forties. She made news as the “oldest Bond girl ever” in Spectre, playing Lucia Sciarra, the widow of a known assassin.

Bond encounters Lucia at her husband’s funeral, where she is wearing high heels and a black veil. After all of 007’s hallmark conquests of young things in bachelor pads, Lucia’s age made it a reason for celebration. (Except in India, where the national censor found a kiss between Daniel Craig and Bellucci to be too long and had it cut in half.)

We meet in Bellucci’s enormous and lovely 14th arrondissement home, where she lives with her two kids, Deva, 13, and Léonie, seven. A maid welcomes me into a gorgeous sitting room with a high ceiling, huge windows, and a luxurious sofa. I can hear other employees in the kitchen.

“Of course, I have people to help me,” Bellucci says as she whirls in, speaking with 19 people.

During the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival, Monica Bellucci attends the 70th Anniversary showing.

Monica Bellucci

She reminds me that she is now a single mother, having divorced her 14-year marriage to Vincent Cassel in 2013. She claims that following their divorce, she has had to become “more regimented, more grounded.” “Before, I was only feeling. This is a new side of myself that I’m discovering in my 50s.”

Bellucci, 52, has a fascinating speaking voice, is considerably more attractive in person than she appears on television, and appears to be wearing an off-the-shoulder evening top at 10.30 a.m. (rather stylishly, of course). Her false eyelashes, it turns out, aren’t for my benefit; she was filming a video yesterday to promote a song she co-wrote with a well-known French artist.

She reveals that she is constantly contacted for jobs, particularly by photographers, and that she usually declines. But it was different when Francesco Carrozzini called her for this shoot. “I knew his mother,” Bellucci continues, referring to the late Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani. They first met while Bellucci was still a model.

Bellucci’s success as a model came before her fame as an actress, and she still feels at ease being shot. She confesses that being taken seriously at the outset of her acting career was difficult. That began in 1990, when Italian director Dino Risi cast her in the Italian language telemovie Vita coi Figli (which translates as “life with the kids”) after seeing her photograph in a magazine.
Perhaps this is why she has taken on “tough” characters such as a rape victim in the tense thriller Irreversible, Mary Magdalene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and the Mirror Queen in Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm.

“When you’re gorgeous and do something brave, people say you’re brave, but they don’t say you’re good,” she explains. “Now that I’m older, they tell me, ‘You’re good.'”

Bellucci feels optimistic about her age. But then, she hasn’t aged much. She hasn’t lost her beauty (which she attributes to acupuncture and face massages) or her physique – “I do Pilates and swim, but I don’t get up at six to go to the gym.” “Ignore it!” She also comes armed with a slew of inspiring aphorisms, such as “It is not a matter of age, it is a matter of energy”; “The body gets older, but the soul becomes younger”; “You can be ancient at the age of 20,” and so on.

“After 40, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, and Silvana Mangano may exist as icons but not as actresses.” And I believe it is absolutely different today.” Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, and Charlotte Rampling are cited as examples of this shift. “Women today look at themselves differently, and as a result, we are watched differently.”

Bellucci has been quite busy since the release of Spectre. She has acted in On the Milky Road, a magical-realism film set in the 1990s during the Bosnian War, as well as the Amazon comedy series Mozart in the Jungle, both of which she co-starred in with Gael Garca Bernal. With the Twin Peaks revival, she has also ventured into American television. (“It was an honor to collaborate with David Lynch.”)

“These are not stories I could tell before,” she says, pleased with how her life is unfolding. “I had no notion when I was 25 that I’d still be working at 50.” It’s a fantastic find for me.”

Bellucci was raised in an affluent household in Città di Castello, near the Umbrian-Tuscan border. Pasquale, her father, managed a haulage company, while Brunella, her mother, was a housewife and amateur painter. Bellucci is an only child because her parents did not want any more children. “They had me when they were quite young, and while my mother was maternal, she may have been too young,” she explains. “However, she did the best she could.”

She says that, despite having many cousins, she recalls feeling very alone when she was eight or nine years old. “I believe I wished I had a sibling or sister.” That’s why I have two kids; even if they fight occasionally, it’s better to quarrel than to be lonely.”

Her personality – “so interested, so open, I want to know things” – meant that throughout her early adolescence, she yearned to see more of the world. “A tiny town can shelter you, but it also made me want to flee and look for other things.”

What happened was, of course, modeling. “I started taking pictures when I was 13.” ‘Can I have a picture of Monica?’ asked a family friend who was a photographer. When I was 16, another of my father’s friends who was into fashion approached me and said, ‘I’d like to do fashion photos with Monica.’

“So I had a fashion show in Florence and later in Milan, and I was doing fashion shows three times a year while still in school.” “I became a professional after I graduated from high school at the age of 18.”

Bellucci’s teenage photos (“I looked like a woman at 13”) show her with crimson lips, curled hair, and a waistcoat that swings sideways to reveal her breast.

“Modeling came effortlessly to me, and I adored taking images,” Bellucci explains.

“I was fascinated by the realm of images.” I did not do something that was compelled of me. I used to have books by Helmut Newton and Bruce Weber when I was little… “From a young age, photographs spoke to me.”

What did her parents think of her modeling career? “Perhaps because they were young, they accepted and comprehended it.” Her mother, in particular, she claims, wished for her daughter to have a profession. “On the inside, she was thinking, ‘Oh my God, no, not the same life as me.'”

After being signed by Elite Model Management, Bellucci found herself living in Paris, Milan, and New York by her early twenties, where she partied with newfound acquaintances. “It was almost as if my parents let me be free in an absolutely extraordinary degree, almost too much, but it was great.”

At the age of 25, she married photographer Claudio Carlos Basso. The marriage only lasted 18 months. “I haven’t seen him in a long time,” she says.

Roman Coppola discovered Bellucci’s flaming sexuality in Italian magazine Zoom in 1992, two years after Dino Risi was so enamored by an image of her that he put her in his Italian TV film, and urged his father, director Francis Ford Coppola, to cast her in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. She was cast as one of Dracula’s brides.

“It was only for a time, but I had to go to LA,” she explains. “I guess my desire has always been to be an actress, but I came from a location where cinema was so far away.”

Roman Coppola would not meet Bellucci until 25 years later, at the Golden Globes, where his co-creation, Mozart in the Jungle, won an award. “‘Hey!’ he said. You owe me something because I am the one who discovered you.”

But, at 28, she was just another aspiring model hoping to make the transition from catwalk to stage. She enrolled in acting courses to work on her modeling “tics.” “You lose that kind of natural style you need for movie by the way you walk and talk,” she explains. “In modeling, there is an attitude.”

Her debut came in 1996 with The Apartment, a melancholy French picture about a romantic young executive, played by Bellucci, who leaves corporate life behind to pursue his first love. She was nominated for a César Award for Most Promising Actress and met her future husband, Cassel, the dynamic French actor best known for his roles in Ocean’s Twelve and Black Swan.

The couple went on to make eight more films together, and despite the fact that they are now divorced and living on different continents (he in Brazil), she maintains their relationship is still friendly. “It’s crucial to have a relationship with your children if at all feasible.” Cassel, she claims, is a good father, but the girls live with her since he travels frequently for work. Life is now intertwined with her children.

“Because I had my kids late,” in her 40s, “I have the freedom to create one picture a year and then spend the rest of my time with them,” Bellucci explains. She makes their breakfast, walks her younger daughter to school, and they eat dinner together most of the time. “I go out if I need to, but kids like it when their mother is there.”

Despite being in a relationship (she laughs, shakes her head, and refuses to elucidate), she has homes in Rome and Lisbon and considers herself to be completely self-sufficient. “I am entirely in control of my life, 100%.”

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