Belladonna: Monica Bellucci at 50

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She grew up an Umbrian country girl with an insatiable appetite for international success. Her lottery-winning combination of Italian genes, on-screen presence and chameleon-like ability to transform from a bride of Dracula to a nun to a devoted wife of an Iranian revolutionary has placed the beauty in a league of her own. Her next cinematic pursuit has utterly defied Hollywood’s increasingly unreasonable conventions of beauty. Monica Bellucci was hand-selected star opposite Daniel Craig in the 24thinstalment of the James Bond franchise, Spectre. Priya Kumar uncovers how the Italian beauty was cast as the most mature actress to play a Bond Girl ever.

When director Sam Mendes arranged a meeting with Monica Bellucci to discuss Spectre, the next James Bond film, she assumed she was being auditioned to replace Dame Judy Dench as M. The character made perfect sense for a woman of her age. “Why did you call me?” Bellucci recalled for the British press. “I’m 50 years old. What am I going to do in James Bond?” When pushed for answers, Mendes simply stated: “For the first time in history, James Bond is going to have a story with a mature woman. The concept is revolutionary.” Revolutionary, it is. James Bond has never been paired with a woman of his age. In fact, the second oldest Bond Girl was Honor Blackman at 39 in Goldfinger (1964). “Many 50-year-old women feel invisible to men, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” Bellucci continued, citing Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Deneuve and Charlotte Rampling as prime examples. “I look at those women and hope I can have that interior richness as I get older, the kind you cannot see through the eyes.”

Over the years Bellucci has topped countless “hottest female” lists around the world. Her ability to graciously guide the press through interviews that begin about her looks before exploring her passion for cinema is unparalleled. Having starred in films that range from critically acclaimed European festival favourites to big-budget Hollywood blockbusters—including The Matrix films—Bellucci has never forsaken her passion for acting in favour of a quick paycheque. “Beauty is boring without brains,” shepoignantly stated in a recent interview. Her talent for tempering her smouldering beauty with a formidable on-screen presence is the element that has made the actress so timeless. Bellucci was born in 1964 in the picturesque village of Selci Lama, perched on a mountain in the Umbrian Apennines. The only child of Pasquale Bellucci, the owner of a shipping company, and Brunella Bellucci, a housewife, the beauty is often teased in jest by her parents: “She was so ugly,” Pasquale has saidwith a chuckle. Until she was in her mid-teens, Bellucci wore her hair short. “That’s why she still has that long beautiful black hair today,” he attests. Her interest in fashion by her pre-teens was palpable. At the age of 12, Bellucci experimented with fashion including makeup and heels. Her signature look also included a scarf tied around her cropped, curly hair.

During her teenaged years, Belluccirapidly blossomed. Locals from her small town were unable to take their eyes off of her captivating beauty. She would receive propositions to run away and live abroad for large sums of money, waiters and waitresses would let her dine for free and a teacher at school handed a sketch to her parents of Bellucci sitting in class when he should have been teaching. “All the kids would go and hang around in the piazza after school, as teenagers do. But Monica would hide away, taking a detour trough the backstreets and then coming straight home,” Pasquale recalls. “One day I asked her why she didn’t want to be in the square with the others and she said: ‘When I go in the piazza everyone looks at me. The men look at me. The women look at me. All the kids from school. I feel ashamed.’” Looking back on the experience, Bellucci told an Italian newspaper: “I was born in a provincial town…There, any beautiful girl elicits a morbid curiosity just for existing. It was annoying.”

However, with age came confidence. She quickly found her footing and was discovered by local hairdresser Piero Montanucci, who remains a dear friend to this day. Driving into town, Montanucci was hailed by a teenaged Bellucci for a ride. He was taken by the young girl’s exquisite features and immediately set her to work as a model for commercial shoots. However, she always put school first with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “She didn’t want to become famous,” Montanucci explains. “She always said she wanted to study ‘and then we’ll see’. Everything just happened to her. She did everything slowly, little by little. That’s why her career has lasted. That’s why she’s still a star at 50 years old.”

The last time Montanucci and Bellucci shot together, she was 19. Bellucci had been discovered by Elite and was set to move to Milan to pursue modelling full-time. Despite her momentous success in fashion and film, Bellucci returns to Selci Lama regularly, often with her young daughters Deva and Leonie in tow. Her parents have lovingly saved all her television interviews on VHS and press clippings. “It’s lucky we never had another child,” Brunella says with a laugh. “They would probably have been jealous of Monica.”

Throughout the course of her storied career, Bellucci has been nothing short of dedicated to her craft. For Martin Scorsese’s haunting film Rhino Season (2012), Bellucci learned how to speak Farsi and intensely studied Iran’s cultural history for the lead role: “I do my work as an actress because, through my work, I get a chance to get in touch with more cultures that are so different from mine,” Bellucci said during a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film premiered. “That’s why my choice, from the beginning of my career, was to work with Italian directors, French directors, American directors. But I never thought that one day I would work with an Iranian director and speak Farsi in a movie.” Rhino Season is set in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in the late 1970s. It is based on the true story of a poet who was incarcerated along side his wife Mina, played by Bellucci. The love story spans three decades and allows audiences to truly identify with Bellucci’srange as an actress. Her character is released from prison after ten years and is informed her husband has been killed. Mina leaves Iran for Istanbul, but unbeknownst to her she has been misinformed about the fate of her husband.

Ultimately he is released from prison two decades later and sets out to find his wife. The vision of Mina is the only thing that got him through his harrowing experience in prison. “I think there is part of my work that is rational, like learning Farsi and gettingin touch with the culture that is so far from mine,” she continues.“Then of course there is an irrational part. The most important thing for an actor is the instinct.” Her Rhino Season director, Bahman Ghobadi, stands by Bellucci’s method. Through an interpreter at the press conference, Ghobadi expresses his admiration for his leading lady: “Number one, she is a good human being. Number two, she is a good human being. And number three, she is a very good actress.”

Spectre is scheduled to premiere in theatres internationally on November 6, 2015. Monica Bellucci will star opposite Daniel Craig as Lucia Sciarra.

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