Seldom does one find oneself in the presence of royalty, but in the case of Sophia Loren, that’s precisely the aura she casts.
Loren is a living legend whose breathtaking beauty and charisma has left a lasting mark on audiences during a film career that spans seven decades. Now 86, Loren still projects the glamour and grace which have made her a screen icon. Tall (5’9”) and elegant, she is a symbol of eternal feminine beauty and a national treasure in her native Italy.
Above all, she remains a woman of uncompromising grace and elegance whose vitality sees her want to live every day to the fullest. Loren recently made her first screen appearance in 10 years by starring in The Life Ahead (original Italian title, La vita davante a sé), a film which began streaming on Netflix on November 13th. Based on the French novel “La vie devant soi” by Romain Gary, the drama sees Loren play Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor who comes to look after a 12-year-old immigrant boy from Senegal.
The film is also notable for the fact that it is directed by Loren’s son, Edoardo Ponti, who also wrote the screenplay and was responsible for luring his legendary mother out of retirement.
Loren, who lives in Geneva, Switzerland, was pessimistic about being able to attend the planned gala premiere of the movie in Rome.
“I don’t like going out, so in the early days of the pandemic it wasn’t too unpleasant to shut myself inside my house. at home. But as the months went by it became more difficult to stay at home.. Luckily my house overlooks a beautiful meadow, so I can open the window, breathe the fresh air, look at the plants and the colour of the flowers.”
She carries herself with an air of grace and gratitude for having enjoyed a glorious acting career that saw her emerge from the grip of poverty in post-WWII Italy to become one the most famous women on earth.
Over the course of her lifetime, Loren was hailed as both a sex symbol and a female icon, a woman whose beauty and presence transcended her screen roles. Throughout her life, she maintained an aura of grace and resilience that endeared her to audiences all over the world.
She would go on to star in many great Italian films, often opposite Marcello Mastroianni, including Boccaccio 70, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, and Marriage Italian-Style. In the early nineties, she played in Ettore Scola’s A Special Day and Robert Altman’s Pret-a-Porter. In 1991, she was awarded a special Oscar by Hollywood for her Achievement in Film.
Sophia Loren lives Geneva, Switzerland, but frequently flies to California to spend time with her grandchildren.
Signora Loren, you’ve had an illustrious acting career. How would you describe the life you’ve lived?
SOPHIA LOREN: It’s been wonderful, extraordinary in every sense. I always saw things positively. And I have not stopped thinking that way. I’ve always been a simple person who has been open to enjoying the finer things that life has had to offer. I’ve also had the ability to dismiss the nasty things in life and always try to move forward and think about what I can accomplish in the future.
Does it ever happen that you stop and think about what an incredible journey you’ve been on?
SL: When you have accomplished certain things and reached levels you could never even dream of, it is very difficult to judge who you have become and what you have experienced. Today, I can say that I am aware of having lived a very full life and lived very intensely. I don’t think I could have lived with any more passion than I have.
You’ve now just done your first film in a decade, La vita davanti a sé, directed by your son Edoardo Ponti. What is it like working with your son on a movie?
SL: Working with him is a joy, he entertains you, he makes you laugh. He presses a button and you laugh, laugh, laugh when it’s time to have fun. Otherwise he’s a very serious man, he’s 47 years old. It’s important as an actor to have a director like him, who doesn’t think of anything else when he is filming a scene. Honestly, when we are on the set, our relationship becomes purely professional. I almost forget that he’s my son and the father of two of my grandchildren…While we’re working together he’s the director and I’m the actor. I do what I am told. But because we are so close, I can almost read his mind. He doesn’t have to direct me too much…
What made you take the role in The Life Ahead?
SL: When my son proposed the role to me, it was a dream come true…My son fell in love with the novel and he made me read it and I jumped at the opportunity to make it. I loved portraying Madame Rosa.
How would you describe your character?
SL: She is tough, she is fragile, she is a survivor…She is a very strong woman, who takes care of the children of others, and knows how to give love more than a mother would to her own children…In many ways she reminds me of my own mother.
Is it a gift of sorts to be able to have the chance to play Madame Rosa?
SL: It’s a wonderful story, a role I’ve been waiting for a long time.
This is a special film to which I have given all my unwavering love for the cinema. It’s a strange thing, perhaps, because I’ve played, indeed I’ve lived through more than a hundred films. When I’m working, I don’t act, it’s me, and I imagine myself as if I am the character and that I’ve lived the character’s life as my own. I always miss not being able to work on a film.
As a mother and grandmother, how have you been adjusting to not being with your family as often as you would like owing to the pandemic?
SL: It is not a good life – I no longer see my children, my grandchildren, and this is painful for all of us. We are accustomed to meeting up and spending time together during the course of each year. I will go to Los Angeles, they will visit me here in Geneva. Now we talk on the phone or on Skype, but it’s not enough.
I especially feel sad about not being able to visit my sister Maria. We haven’t been able to see each other for a long time even though she lives in Rome which is not very far away from me in Switzerland, but again the virus keeps us mercilessly apart. Thank goodness we can at least stay in touch by phone or other devices, I couldn’t live without her saying good morning to me.
Yours life is truly a rags-to-riches story. When you were growing up in Naples, did you have a strong sense of destiny when it came to acting in movies?
SL: Oh, yes. I knew it instinctively. I was always fascinated with the movies and I was constantly acting out scenes by myself or in front of friends. I give a lot of credit to my aunt who would take me to the movies. She was always encouraging me as was my mother.
My mother believed in me and she gave me such confidence when she kept telling me that she thought I would be a big star one day. Those are the kind of experiences that give you the courage and belief in yourself to go out and achieve things in life. I knew that I wanted to lead an interesting life and I saw that the cinema offered me that chance.
You endured great hardship as did so many Italians and other people in the years following the end of WWII. What are your memories of those times when life was a struggle?
SL: When I was little, the impact of the war made life difficult for me and my mother and so many of our friends. It’s impossible to imagine how you survived so many of the things you suffer through when you look back. You don’t see how you did it. But that was the same for my mother and other people who had the responsibility of trying to look after their children and families. It was a terrible time for everyone…But the world is what it is and you have to cope with it…You don’t have a choice.
What do you recall of the time when you and your mother moved to Rome where your film career began after being cast by Vittorio de Sica in The Gold of Naples ?
SL: I started from nothing. My mother was a poor lady, we were dying of hunger, and so we moved to Rome. Without people who believe in you, you won’t go anywhere. In Rome I met Carlo Ponti, my future husband, and he was the one who introduced me to Vittorio De Sica. I still carry the memory of De Sica in my heart. I remember we were in Dino De Laurentiis’s office where he was preparing to make L’oro di Napoli. I didn’t dare say a joke. I understood that he liked me from the way he spoke to me: “Since I’m leaving for Naples I’ll give you an audition right away…Come to the set tomorrow.” I began to cry. That’s how it all started.
You have been revered and admired for your beauty. How does one live under that spotlight and not become overwhelmed by it?
SL: I never saw it as anything but a gift. It was a blessing for me and I appreciated how it opened up so many opportunities for me. It was never something I worried about or really thought too much about. You only tend to become annoyed if that is all people think you are. That is difficult….So you have to always make sure that you are pushing yourself to be so much more than just your appearance. Beauty is a great gift, but it is also up to you to go beyond that and not think that is the only thing that matters. If I didn’t have any talent for acting, I would never have been able to accomplish anything, or at least not anything close to what I did.
Did it make you all the more determined to prove yourself?
SL: I would have done the same thing, anyway…Even if the world tells you that you’re beautiful, you don’t really think about it. Yes, you appreciate it and it’s flattering, of course, but it’s not something
you’re carrying in your head.
Whe n I was making movies at the beginning of my career, I only thought about doing good work and learning as much about acting and improving with every picture I was making.
You’ve lived such a full and extraordinary life. Do you have any regrets?
SL: Why should I? Everything turned out so well for me. Even if my mother and I had a troubled life at the beginning, and then we really needed me to succeed as an actress, you understand that those obstacles that life put in front of you were what pushed you to make something of your life.
Nothing comes easily in life. When we moved to Rome after coming from a small town like Pozzuoli, it was like entering a jungle where everything was so strange and forbidding. I was only 15 years old, and it was like starting my life over again. But looking back and thinking about the enormous sacrifices my mother and I made and how it was a fight to live, I still have to say that things turned out very well, no?
What is the best decision you ever made in your life?
SL: To become a mother. I think that generally applies to women who reach a certain age.
How difficult was it for you to deal with all the stories and gossip reports, especially in the Italian media, about your private life?
SL: It is certainly has been a curse that everything is reported and spoken about what happens to me in my life. But you shouldn’t think about it so much, but instead just invest your energy in the good things in life. And when you go through difficult moments and things look bad, you have to try to just forget about it and move on. But my life has been wonderful.
You’ve spent the last few years touring America talking about your life and work.Is there any question you wish someone would ask that hasn’t come up yet?
SL: Everything that we discuss, I enjoy. It’s so nice to be in front of the live audience. I actually feel their love for me. I like questions about my work. But no one has asked me about why I stayed at home from the Oscar ceremony when I was nominated for Two Women. I’ll never tell!
Does travel become harder with age?
SL: The only thing I don’t like much is to fly…And I’m not particularly fond of getting older, but I can still fake being 15 years younger. [Laughs] I like to live my life, I like to have my children, I like to get old, I like to look younger. Why not? Is that a sin? No! So I try to eat certain things – I’ve even published two cookbooks. I try to exercise a lot and do things for my body. I try to enjoy a wonderful, serene life. Serenity is the key to beauty. You can make peace with yourself.
Did you always know that you were going to be an actress?
SL: I just wanted to always act. It takes years to know that you are a star. Maybe I knew only when my mother said I was a star. I became interested in acting when I watched movies as a young girl with my aunt. I would see a different kind of life and I said to myself that the life I am living is not the only kind of life. There was another kind of life that I thought I could aspire to when I was older…
Acting for me is life. Acting is my life. Acting for me is a way to think about what I am doing and what I am able to do which I could not do before. I have learned so many things in my profession that it is a pleasure to show feelings, to show suffering and feeling joyful. It is a wonderful thing.
You were married for 41 years to Italian producer Carlo Ponti (who passed away in 2007). What was the secret of your long marriage?
SL: No secret. It was love at first sight for both of us. We genuinely loved each other.
What would your mother say about you and your life today? What would Carlo say?
SL: My mother would say that I deserved everything I have and that she was proud of me. My Carlo would just smile.
Madame Rosa is such a powerful story and recalls the kinds of historical films that you did with Vittorio de Sica and Ettore Scola, for example?
SL: Those films brought me closer to the life I had known in the times of poverty and they were also the most important, together with this one I’ve done with Edoardo. which recalls other horrors of the war and the past. They were the best stories of my work and mine and it was my great fortune to be chosen by those two wonderful directors who believed in me. But when you see the films you understand that they too had a great opportunity with me, don’t you think? And then with Scola there was also Marcello [Mastroianni], and together we made a couple of wonderful and memorable movies.
When I look through all the beautiful photographs I have kept from those days, my favourite is the one of me and Marcello when we were young. I keep it in my diary and I always carry it with me. When I am going through difficult moments, as we all go through in life, I look at this photo and…and I can’t speak anymore, I feel like crying, and I don’t want to cry. But it’s Marcello who always moves me!
The above comments by Sophia Loren were made while she was promoting her new film The Life Ahead by phone from her home in Geneva and in person while the film was being shot in Bari, Italy last July.
INTERVIEW: JAN JANSSEN (WENN.COM)