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Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Conversation with Valeria Solarino

With a track record of diverse roles, actress Valeria Solarino proves time and time again that she is not afraid to play the rebellious character who doesn't follow the crowd.

Born in Venezuela to a Sicilian father and Turinese mother, Solarino was raised in Northern Italy and grew up surrounded by culture. As a student, she majored in philosophy but turned her direction to acting in 2000 when she auditioned for the prestigious northern Italian acting school, Teatro Stabile di Torino, and was selected to enroll in their program. After following the three-year intesive course, she received her first acting job shortly after graduation; a role in Mimmo Calopresi's 2003 film, La felicità non costa niente (Happiness Costs Nothing). One year later, she accepted the role of Bea in Giovanni Veronese's Che ne sarà di noi (What Will Happen to Us). The role turned out to be life changing for the actress. She fell in love with the director, and 10 years later, the couple is still going strong.

Through the years, Solarino has chosen challenging roles based on actual women who stood strong in their beliefs no matter what the cost. In director Donatella Maiorca's 2009 drama, Viola di mare (Purple Sea), Solarino plays the part of Angela, a woman who falls in love with her childhood best friend, Sara. Based on true events, the forbidden love story takes place in 19th century Sicily and shows the lengths these two young women must go in order to stay together. The film was shown on this side of the Atlantic at the 2009 Nice New Italian Cinema Events film festival.

In 2010, Solarino had another opportunity to portray a real-life woman known for her strength in the most challenging times. Michele Placido's, Vallanzasca - Gli angeli di male (Angel of Evil) is the story of Renato Vallanzasca, the notorious Milanese criminal responsible for robberies and homicides, which spanned from the 1970's to the mid-80's. Adapted from the biography written by Renato Vallanzasca himself, Carlo Bonini and Antonella D'Agostino, Vallanzasca - Gli angeli di male offers a rare glimpse into the personal and criminal life of one of Italy's most ruthless gangsters. Solarino took on the role of Consuelo, Vallanzasca's girlfriend. Solarino conveyed the pain, fear and also love that Consuelo felt while in this relationship with Vallanzasca. Consuelo lived a tormented life, always torn between her love for Vallanzasca and her conscience until the moment arrived when she had to make a choice between the two. Actor Kim Rossi Stuart played the part of Renato Vallanzasca and the two were able to convey the poignancy of this love story in the midst of a chaotic, dark underworld.
I caught up with Valeria Solarino when she was in New York promoting her latest film, Smetto quando voglio (I Can Quit When I Want) at the Open Roads: New Italian Cinema film series. We talked with her about her journey in becoming an actress and the diverse characters she's played.

You were born in Venezuela. Your father is Sicilian and your mother is from Torino. How has all of that culture influenced you as an actress?
My physical features are very typical of the south. I'm of Sicilian heritage and so that's perfect for representing someone southern, but I can also easily represent someone northern because there are many Sicilians in the north. So, I can certainly portray the Mediterranean type.
With Valeria Solarino after our interview in NYC, 2014
Tell me about your journey as an actress. When did you realize this was your dream?
About 15 years ago. My mother was a stage actress when she was young, and although I never saw her perform, she took me to the theater a lot and it was sort of something that I had inside of me. So, I decided one day when there were auditions for a school- the Teatro Stabili of Torino, an important acting school, that I would try out. I did the audition and I got in. From that point, it was like 8 hours a day every day of the week for three years. While I was there, I realized that this is my life. 
Let's talk about two of your films that are available in America. First, Viola di Mare. Angela is such a strong, complex character. Tell me what it was like to portray her.
This was a very beautiful character for me to do. From the very start, it was good. The movie was adapted from a book. I was fortunate because I had plenty of time to read it, and to really get to know the character. So I went into the project wholeheartedly.
Which qualities of that character did you appreciate or identify with the most?
The aspect I appreciated the most is how I shared this idea of love between two people independently of their gender. We were shooting some very delicate scenes between two women, scenes that you don't generally see in Italian cinema. But I had no problem to do them because I saw this as a story of love between two people.

 Another strong woman that you portrayed was Consuelo.
Yes, I really loved playing that role and working with the director, Michele Placido, and the great actor, Kim Rossi Stuart. He's the kind of actor where all you have to do is look at him and you are able to respond as you need to. Being able to depend on someone like him when you're doing a film is a great experience.
What were your challenges in portraying that character?
It was a complex character and I was always trying to keep a balance with her eternal sweetness and that kind of tough, provocative side that you need to survive in such a tough environment. So I tried to bring these qualities into the character; both this sort of sweetness with a more provocative side, which is a more decisive thing you see in her when she decides to leave because that was such a hard life that she had to face and you have to be very strong to survive in such a tough world.
During the Q&A at Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, 2014
I noticed that all of the films in this year's edition of Open Roads speak to the economic crisis in Italy right now. Your film, Smetto quando voglio does so with comedy. How is that reflective of Italian culture during these trying times?
The inspiration behind this film was a little piece in the newspaper, Il Messaggero, about two street sweepers in Rome who were meeting in the dawn and talking about The Critique of Pure Reason by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. If you think about it, it would make you laugh but it's also a startling reality. The director said, "This is a world that I want to talk about." This is something happening in Italian society and also throughout the world where you see how talented people are not able to express themselves. This lent itself as a starting point to tell a story in the style of a comedy. 
Valeria Solarino currently has four films in production, which include Michele Placido's latest project, La Scelta. Solarino's films, The Purple Sea and The Evil Angel are both available stateside through Amazon.

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