The land of Hollywood is sprinkled with some of the most prolific actors like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Sophia Loren, and plenty of others who share one underlying common thread: they are Italian or have Italian heritage. Italian men and women are well known for their adventurous, 'never say die' spirit and it is this zeal which often prompts them to try their luck at acting.
Beauty Of Italian Actresses - Classic Examples
One of the classic examples of true Italian beauty and spirit is Sophia Loren. The legendary beauty has scorched the silver screen many times with such famous movies as Sunflower, The Pride And The Passion, Desire Under The Elms, and other noteworthy films. Her extraordinary beauty and classic appeal was a hit among viewers and she is known as one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. However, behind her fame, fortune, and huge success is a history of poverty, survival, and grit. Loren was raised by her mother and her grandmother in Pozzuoli, near Naples, along with her sisters Romilda and Maria.
World War II saw her home town Pozzuoli being a major target of bombing and in one particular raid, Loren was wounded underneath her chin by shrapnel. As you can see, Loren experienced the war in very close quarters and soon moved in with her distant relatives. Once the war ended, the family returned to their hometown with her grandmother selling cherry liquor and opening up their home as a pub where Loren served as a waitress. She made it to the finals in a beauty contest when she was 14, and soon she enrolled in acting classes. She was eventually cast as an extra in the film Quo Vadis.
Another fine example of Italian beauty and eternal grace is the famous actress from the 1950s, Gina Lollobrigida, who graced the silver screen for a good decade with such films as Solomon and Sheeba, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and her eternally famous film Come September which became a huge hit worldwide. Her beauty is still admired to this day and even at the ripe old age of 82 Gina looked as stunning as ever!
Both Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida had long and successfull careers in their native Italy before moving to Hollywood. By the time they crossed the ocean, they already had a huge number of fans in the States.
Struggle To Fame An Intrinsic Aspect Of Italian American Actors
What strikes us most about the Italian American actors and their profiles is their intrinsic spirit to fight things out, to not take things on a platter and to seek their calling with their own sense of adventure.
One of the most noteworthy struggles has to be that of Nicolas Cage. Having a highly illustrious family background - he is the nephew of the legendary director Francis Ford Coppola and the actress Talia Shire - Nicolas could have easily gotten some meaty roles and a great launch in Hollywood. However, Cage wanted to establish a name for himself with his own efforts and not through any influence. In order to avoid any assumptions that he received help from his uncle, Cage changed his last name from the very Italian Coppola to Cage.
Robert De Niro quit high school at the age of 16 to pursue his acting, despite his shyness.
Al Pacino failed all subjects in his school except English and quit school at just 17; he soon left home because his mother didn't agree with his quitting. After working at several odd jobs with low pay he managed to juggle basement plays in the underground theater scene in New York. He was mostly homeless and unemployed during this time and often had to sleep on the streets, at the houses of friends, or in theaters.
Christina Ricci shot to instant fame with her portrayal of Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family and was able to establish herself as a teen idol and a later a mature actress where most child actors disappear into oblivion once they reach adolescence or adulthood.
One of the most endearing teen idols is Leonardo Di Caprio who has Italian heritage on his father's side. He started his early acting career with a burst of educational movies as well as a couple of commercials. His first break happened in 1990 when he got a part in the TV series adaptation of the movie Parenthood. He also played a bit role in the hit TV soap opera series Santa Barbara as the character Mason Capwell. His charm and good looks had teenage girls drooling over him. They still do; one of his most charismatic and endearing roles is as Jack Dawson in the hit movie Titanic.
And the hit sitcom Everybody loves Raymond with the Italian American Ray Romano lets everyone relate to the typical Italian family setup. In fact, he happens to be the only actor as part of the cast who has Italian American descent.
Image And Mannerisms Of The Italian American Actor - A Profile
Hollywood is filled with numerous examples where actors as well as actresses had to change their names to more 'American' names so they could blend in. Sophia Loren was born Sofia Villani Scicolone, Ann Bancroft was born Anna Marie Louise Italiano, Penny Marshall was born Penelope Masciarelli, Talia Shire was born Talia Coppola, and Madonna was born Louisa Veronica Ciccone. Given the fact that most Italian names are long and would occupy screen space in the credits, many agents in Hollywood suggested that these actors change their names to sound more American.
Italian American actors as well as actresses are often perceived to have certain typical characteristics, mannerisms, and an association with crime, which is how Hollywood often chooses them for particular parts. One of the classic examples is the Italian actor Richard Conte who had a striking, ethnic, dark Italian look and was often typecast as the bad guy, the tough guy from the streets, the mobster boss. His most memorable works include in films such as The Godfather trilogy and Oceans 11.
Most of the parts offered to Italian American actors and actresses are typecast and include roles of comedians, mobsters, cagey detectives, owners of a pizza parlor and the like. Probably the only exception to this typecasting happened when Joe Mantegna was offered a role as Joe Novelli, a Supreme Court Justice in the TV series First Monday.
Since many Italian American actors and actresses have ethnic features and dark looks, they have not been asked to play traditionally 'American' parts such as that of the U.S. President.
Tough guy, mobster, street smart, and wise beyond his years - these are just some of the characteristics of roles offered to the average Italian American actor. Take the classic trilogy of The Godfather, in which much of the cast were people of Italian American heritage. Robert De Niro's character of the taxi driver in the movie Taxi Driver was another such character, as was his role in Raging Bull. Sylvester Stallone's portrayal of the tough soldier in Rambo or the boxing ring fighter in Rocky catapulted him to instant fame and success. It is difficult to imagine Stalone in a sober role like that of Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, though he has indeed done well in such roles, as in the movie Copland. Still, he is etched in our memories as that of a robust tough guy with a bit of a 'bad boy' image who does justice to the tough roles with his dark, ethnic good looks and rugged features.
One of the biggest highlights of any role showcasing an actor of Italian American descent is the heavy accent. The movement of arms and rather animated gestures all go to convey the larger than life persona of such actors who love to live life to the fullest. In fact, when it comes to typecasting roles for Italian American actresses, it is usually about speaking with a heavy Italian accent and playing on the image of the sultry exotic female. Most of the legendary Italian beauties such as Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and others have been chosen for classic roles in mythological movies. Of course, these actresses have consciously tried to break away from the mold of being typecast and have chosen roles which demand skill for tremendous acting. Take for example movies such as Sunflower where Loren plays the role of a widow who takes revenge on her supposedly dead husband.
Being Grounded In A World Of Glamour
One of the things about Hollywood is that the glitz and glamour is so overwhelming that anyone who hails from humble origins can easily lose themselves in this business. However, when it comes to Italian American actors and actresses, they have displayed tremendous restraint in being grounded and remembering where they came from. Sophia Loren chose to marry Carlo Ponti even though she had a string of suitors interested in her. She chose to marry Ponti because he was Italian and understood her values and would provide support. This shows how grounded she was and that when it came to family matters, she had different priorities than fame and fortune. Al Pacino has made a success of his acting career and yet continues to remember his struggling days as an artist, and Rene Russo has been happily married to Dan Gilroy, a screenwriter, since 1992 and they stay in Los Angeles.
Presence Of Business Acumen
If you take a look at most of the Italian American actors and actresses, almost all of them have invested in some business or another. Christina Ricci has her own production house called Blaspheme Films, which makes films like Prozac Nation, and Alyssa Milano has her own sports apparel line called Touch. Leonardo DiCaprio is a film producer and his production house Appian Way has films to its credit such as Shutter Island, Gardener of Eden, The Aviator, and many other famous movies.
Many Italian and Italian-American actors also have a knack of knowing the pulse of what people want and which business will click well. Sophia Loren has dabbled in a vast array of businesses such as jewelry, cook books, perfume, eye wear, and many other areas. Danny De Vito has brought out his own line of special Limoncello Liqueur, which is a special lemon flavored liqueur that has been estate crafted to perfection. De Vito is very proud of his Italian descent and wanted to create a liqueur which would have the taste of Sorrento in it. Matt LeBlanc, who played the character of Joey Tribbiani in the hit sitcom Friends, has his own production company called Fort Hill Productions and was instrumental in co-producing the movie The Prince in 2006.
Gina Lollobrigida is a professional photojournalist in addition to being one of Italy's most famous actresses of the 1950s. She made her foray into photojournalism toward the end of the 1970s and was able to churn out a very successful career. She photographed several people during this time including Salvador Dali and Paul Newman, as well as the national level football team of Germany. She was also able to get an interview with Fidel Castro on an exclusive basis. All her body of work was published during 1973 called 'Italia Mia'.
All in all, Italians and Italian Americans have permeated American society, and their shared characteristics make them a rare and exciting people.