Wearing a tank top and looking very down-to-earth, Kim Rossi Stuart explains that he's more than a little tired. Indeed, he’s had a long day of interviews for his controversial film Angels of Evil (2010), and all of them in English - I am actually his first Italian interviewer. As it happens, the interviews have featured very similar questions, with one in particular which he had to answer every single time.
“How was meeting Renato Vallanzasca?” I can’t avoid it myself, and I apologise in advance – he’s definitely seen it coming. But my curiosity is such that I have to ask – what he’s experienced in preparation for his role is not something of everyday occurrence. Renato Vallanzasca, one of Italy’s most infamous criminals, is surely somebody you don’t usually meet (and probably wouldn't want to, in normal circumstances).
Vallanzasca rose to popular culture fame in the 1970s as one of the most powerful mobsters in the Milan underworld, and after years of robberies, murders and kidnappings – as well as several attempts of escaping from prison – he is now serving four life sentences as well as an additional 260 years in jail. No, he’s definitely someone you don’t usually meet.
“Meeting Vallanzasca was, really, a shortcut in my preparation for the role, because it gave me the chance to understand what he’s made of in reality. My first impression was surprise – I was meeting a man who, at 60 years old, had spent 40 years in jail, so I was expecting to see a distraught, tired person, yet he’s nothing like that. It makes you realise that he is, indeed, an unusual man, a peculiar one, whose personality is built upon contrasting aspects – good, evil – as well as someone with an out of the ordinary psychological situation. He’s fresh, energetic, ironic, playful, generous and caring even. It makes you think that he must have some sort of “internal life saver” that’s allowed him to be what he is. There must be a reason.”
So how did he prepare for such a complex role? “Well, first of all, I read the book. I’d already read it many years ago, and I still have a very strong memory of it – it pushes you into putting yourself in the shoes of somebody who lived a reality so completely different from that of a “normal” person, an absurd reality which included the totally brutalising experience of jail.
"Secondly, I co-wrote the script together with Michele Placido, and this was very important as I had to research and deepen my knowledge of the facts.”
“How was working with Michele Placido?” Being a great fan of the director, too, I ask – I know they’ve worked together before. Kim corrects me - he’s very precise, as well as humble in his refusal to inflate any detail concerning him and his career, even if inadvertently. “I only worked with him before in a coral project – Romanzo Criminale (2005) – and now on Angels of Evil. Working with him is an atypical experience, as directors often want to have the sole rights to everything they do or be the only ones responsible for their projects. Michele, instead, likes to surround himself with dynamic people, and gives everybody space to express their opinions, so that his work becomes a big collaboration of many.”
Angels of Evil, though, doesn’t present a very flattering image of Italian law enforcement: in fact, officers appear as rather thick, gullible and unprofessional – or downright corrupted. It’s easy to generalise from there – what idea of Italian society does the film present to a foreign audience? “You tell me” Kim counteracts when I ask. “I’d like to know, too. I do think that the film’s story is quite universal – every country, after all, has its Vallanzasca, the rebel who’s decided he doesn’t want to live by the rules. The theme of the rebellion to an often unfair society is a universal one.”
Our time’s up, but I have one last question for Kim – what does he think of the current situation in Italian cinema? “It’s quite worrying – people don’t go to the cinema wanting to think, to analyse and ponder, they only go to have a laugh.” he admits, polemically maybe, but in reality just giving his honest, direct opinion again. “There are directors, though, who break out from this dreadful mould and are able to create important and artistically valuable projects.”
A negative and positive review, then? Kim does say what he thinks, but he is understandably reluctant to just bash his home country, in a bout of very subtle patriotism which is, in truth, the rightful desire to acknowledge that there’s bad and good in everything. “It’s a mirror for all Western societies, after all. Our situation is indeed paradoxical…but some aspects are universal.”
Angels of Evil is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 24 October, 2011 from Artificial Eye.