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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Claudio Santamaria: Cinematic Chameleon

A recent New York Times Magazine article stated the actors belonging to the new concept of a character actor are, instead of playing types, hired for “their ability to play no type at all, to disappear into roles completely while at the same time imbuing their performances with something memorable; they are chameleons in the truest sense of that word.” This description certainly applies to Claudio Santamaria.

Born in Rome in 1974, Santamaria began his acting career in 1997, quickly making a name for himself while working with the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci, Bud Spencer and Monica Bellucci. In 2001, he emerged as a major force in contemporary Italian cinema with his performance in Gabriele Muccino’s record-breaking L’ultimo bacio (The Last Kiss). As Paolo, brash Gen Xer forced to come to terms with getting older, being responsible and letting go of a lost love, he plays the leader of a pack with whom countless young adults in Italy could identify. The film broke box office records there and earned Muccino Best Director and Best Screenplay prizes at the David di Donatello Awards as well as the Audience Award at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. In 2010, Santamaria reunited with Muccino and the cast for a reprisal of his their roles in Baciami ancora (Kiss Me Again).

In Emanuele Crialese’s 2011 Terraferma, Santamaria has a small but powerful role as a police chief cracking down on the fishermen helping clandestine immigrants enter the island of Lampedusa. Santamaria’s character is a law-enforcer showing no sympathy for acts of kindness towards the refugees. Though his appearance is brief, his presence and command prove that, even with just a few lines, Santamaria can make a strong statement.

Gabriele Mainetti’s Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot (They Call Me Jeeg Robot) was a wildly imaginative runaway success in 2015, and much of the credit for that goes to Santamaria’s outstanding performance. A classic tale of good vs. evil that combines the thrills of an action adventure and the suspense of a horror movie, the film pits Santamaria’s flawed hero against a villainous gangster played by Luca Marinelli. Watching these two talented actors fully immerse themselves in their roles is awe-inspiring. Santamaria plays Enzo, a loner who obsessively eats eating single-serving puddings and robs ATM machines. After being chased by the police, he falls into Rome’s Tiber River and is exposed to radioactive waste, which gives him super powers and strength beyond his wildest dreams. Along the way, he meets and falls in love with Alessia. She inspires him to use his super-human abilities to make the world a better place. When Marinelli’s character, "The Gypsy", catches wind of Enzo’s new skill set, he hunts him down and that’s when the real fun begins. Santamaria delivers an empathic performance that makes the audience root for him despite his flaws.

The Millionairs
Last year, Santamaria stepped behind the camera and directed his second short film. The Millionairs is a noir-style tale of deception and desperation fueled by greed. Brimming with suspicious characters, suspenseful scenes and dark landscapes, the film was produced by Marinetti and features a diverse cast, which includes  Peppe Servillo and Sabrina Impacciatore, and has earned rave reviews. The project brought Santamaria back to his southern roots. Set in the mountainous terrain of Basilicata's Pollino National Park, the largest protected area in Europe, the film was the first official project of Lu.Ca., an initiative to bring together the film commissions of Calabria and Basilicata. Santamaria and Mainetti have co-presented The Millionairs at numerous film festivals. In November, Santamaria brought the film to this side of the Atlantic, presenting it at the 13th edition of the Cinema Italian Style fest in Los Angeles.

When he’s not making and promoting films, Santamaria has been seen out and about with the woman in his life, journalist and novelist Francesca Barra. Both with origins in Basilicata, the two originally met as teenagers when they shared a special slow dance while on summer break with their families. They went their separate ways and last year, rekindled that spark of many years ago.


Santamaria recently wrapped up shooting on Antonio Morabito’s Rimetti a noi i nostri debiti (Forgive Us Our Debts) which focuses on the victims of a loan shark. The project is currently in post-production. The Last Kiss, They Call Me Jeeg Robot and Terraferma are available through Amazon.

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