POST MAGAZINE - Hong Kong, love at first sight for Maria Sole Tognazzi
Filmmaker daughter of famous actor parents Ugo Tognazzi and Franca Bettoja ‘completely blown away by Hong Kong’s beautiful tapestry of new and old, concrete and greenery, high and low’. An interview (link here) for the Post Magazine of the South China Morning Post.
by Giannella Maruzzelli
Photo by K.Y. Cheng
BORN TO BE FAMOUS. My introduction to the Italian celebrity system took place in a rather daring way, during an afternoon in June 1971. As a “preemie”, I spent a month in an incubator. Nevertheless, the paparazzi managed to get snapshots of my little body attached to the wires and tubes that kept me alive.
My parents (actors Ugo Tognazzi and Franca Bettoja) found a way to get me out of the clinic and escape further public exposure: I was transported in a laundry van from Villa Margherita to my maternal grandparents’ home. Villa Margherita is the Roman clinic in which the offspring of local movie stars are usually born – to name one, Isabella Rossellini (Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini’s daughter).
The clinic was located within the embassy area, bordering my maternal grandmother’s garden. My parents wrapped me in a white towel and took me in the elevator down to the clinic’s covered parking, where we hopped into a van filled with clothes and dirty laundry. We were home in no time, and managed to avoid the paparazzi that had been camping outside the front and back gates for days.
I must have been a bit of an attraction: my dad was one of the most famous actors in Italy at that time, and my mum, too. But dad was still married to his previous wife and, back then, divorce was not legal.
My brother, Gianmarco, and myself were the two illegitimate children of two movie stars: pretty good subjects for any gossip column. My dad already had two other sons, Ricky and Thomas. In 1972, when divorce became legal, he married my mum. That was when our family officially started.
My dad was one of the most famous actors in Italy at that time, and my mum, too. But dad was still married to his previous wife and, back then, divorce was not legal.
LIFE OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT. Being Ugo Tognazzi’s daughter has not been easy. Especially in a city like Rome, and particularly in those years when he was featured everywhere: cinema, TV, magazines. Shortly after I was born, my dad decided we would be better off if we moved to the countryside. So we settled in Velletri, 50km from the capital, in a beautiful house that is still our family home and Gianmarco has renamed La Tognazza, after our father.
It is a place where we can live in-between travel and work, remembering Ugo and also producing interesting wines.
In Velletri – the very last hill of the Colli Romani and the town neighbouring Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer palace – we spent the most amazing childhood, always immersed in nature. And by that, I mean we grew our own food, way before it became trendy. Ugo was renowned for his cooking skills and used to invite fellow actors, directors, writers and his closest friends over, to let them enjoy his signature dishes.
But most of all, in Velletri we could have a true and honest relationship with our neighbours. Everyone knew who we were, obviously, but none seemed to care much beyond the first routine question: “Oh, Ugo’s daughter?” We attended a very local school, with no frills, and I still thank my parents for protecting us from the ruthless spotlight of show business.
CELEB HIDEOUT. When we were a bit older, our secret hideout was a family beach house in Torvaianica, by the Roman seaside. I still drive there every year on the 1st of April and close the door behind me only at the end of October. But, to be honest, I spend a lot of time there during winter, too. It’s more than a holiday place; it’s a very special house that Ugo built according to his idea of “clan”.
My father gave a lot of importance to being together and feeling close, be it with family or friends. The beach house is located in an area that is now known as Villaggio Tognazzi (“Tognazzi’s village”). Back in the ’60s, it was a piece of land Luciano Salce, a famous director, talked a group of friends from the Roman movie industry – the likes of Vittorio Gassman, Elio Petri, Ruggero Mastroianni (Marcello’s brother) – into building their holiday places on.
It was conveniently located, near the Cinecittà Studios, where all of them were working, even during the summer time. The place quickly became a small but very popular enclave.
ACCIDENTAL MOVIE STAR. I had actually never thought of working in the movie industry like dad, mum or my brothers, let alone becoming a director. But life itself can be the most powerful director.
When Ugo died, at 68, I was only 18. It was October 1990 and I had just started a bachelor’s degree in classical studies at the University of Rome. I found myself facing the biggest change of my life overnight. Long story short: I had to find a job. I started knocking at the doors of people close to our family, and they all worked in the movie industry. In no time, I became an assistant director and I realised how the movie world had been already running naturally through my veins. It felt like I was home again.
In my spare time, in between productions, I started working on my first short movie, This Is Not the End, starring my brother Gianmarco. It is a very sad story about a man committing suicide in the cold sea, off Torvaianica. When we shot the movie, it was January and – according to the script – my brother had to disappear under the waves in front of our family beach house. It was so cold that Gianmarco still brings that episode up.
FROM PAST PERFECT TO HONG KONG. My first movie as a scriptwriter and director was Past Perfect, in 2003. But it was only in 2010, when I was asked by a national television broadcaster to put together a documentary about my father’s life and career (Ritratto di Mio Padre), that my movie was screened at the opening of the Rome Film Festival. It was a landmark in my career.
In 2013, I travelled the world with actress Margherita Buy for my first global hit movie, A Five Star Life, in which I told the story of a woman who was alone and yet very happy. My latest film (Me, Myself and Her, 2015) portrays two mature women. They are in a relationship and face the challenges typical of any relationship, regardless of gender or social status.
This movie has brought me to Hong Kong, where I attended the Cine Italiano Festival, at The Grand Cinema (in Elements Mall), in September. I had never visited Hong Kong before and I have been completely blown away by its beautiful tapestry of new and old, concrete and greenery, high and low. It was colpo di fulmine, love at first sight, with this city. Who knows, maybe Hong Kong could be the perfect location for my next movie ...