In Italy, Pierfrancesco Favino needs no introduction. At this year’s David di Donatello awards ceremony, Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars, a Favino film was nominated in all the major categories. A list of the directors he has worked with (Gabriele Salvatores, Giuseppe Tornatore, Marco Bellocchio, Gianni Amelio, Gabriele Muccino, Ferzan Ozpetek, Mario Martone) reads like who’s who of Italian cinema.
Internationally, Favino has carved out a second career as a supporting actor in Hollywood productions. At Spike Lee’s Miracle in Santa Anaby Ron Howard Run and Angels and Demonsor Mark Forster World War Z. But his most recent visit to the United States—to this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York—was for an Italian film: Andrea Di Stefano. last night of lovewhich was screened in competition.
In the gritty police drama, Favino stars as the titular Franco Amore, a good cop called in the night before his retirement to investigate the murder of his best friend and long-time associate killed during a diamond heist. It is the Italian-language debut of actor-turned-director Di Stefano (Eat Pray Love, the life of Pi) who first made a name for himself behind the camera with US independent thrillers. Escobar: Paradise Lost starring Benicio del Toro, and the informer with Joel Kinnaman and Rosamund Pike. Shot on 35mm but set in present-day Milan, the film updates classic Italian thrillers from the 1970s and 1980s for a contemporary audience.
“It’s always very exciting to come to New York, a city where I now have some great memories,” says Favino. thr rome, in an interview at the West Village Hotel in New York shortly after the last night of love premiere. “I was talking about this with friends. She was telling them how strange it is to become familiar with a city so far from your own.”
What does the public like at the premiere?
We had a question and answer session at the end with some very interesting questions, showing a really high level of attention. There seemed to be a lot of fun going on, in the sense that they also caught what might have been the more Italian aspects of the film. I must say that it has been received in the same way everywhere, here, in France, in Berlin. This is really rewarding.
He’s been a Tribeca guest before. Did you notice differences between then and now?
The first time I came here was a long time ago with criminal romance in 2006. Since then, Americans have seen me at other jobs and become more familiar with me. The reception in Tribeca has been very warm, especially from the festival director and the people who selected the films. I feel that you are familiar with the work that I have done over the years.
Is it because of the many American productions you’ve been in?
Yes, but I was also lucky to have starred in two films that were nominated for the Oscars in Italy: Marco Bellocchio’s. The traitor and Mario Martone Nostalgia and films that have been screened at international festivals such as Toronto, Cannes and Berlin. In general, there is a vitality in our cinema that is enthusiastically received abroad that perhaps we, as Italians, are unaware of or do not fully understand.
How much did it matter that the competing film is a thriller, a genre that is very popular in the United States?
A police thriller is always a very vital genre. In recent years we may be more used to seeing this genre thanks to Asian or American cinema. Italian cinema is often stereotyped as mafia movies. I realized that with Nostalgia. It’s basically a love story, but it was understood [internationally] like a gangster movie. There’s this tendency overseas to pigeonhole these movies as organized crime stories, which we honestly don’t even think about while making them. I think it would be interesting to really explore what these movies really offer.
There was a time when I was often offered roles [in American films] with a very stereotypical Italianity that he did not feel like representing. I wish I could debunk this cliché that Italy is all about pizza, mandolins and the mafia.
The discussion about diversity and inclusion in roles is interesting. Personally, I think an actor should be able to play a giraffe if he wants to. But I find it strange that Italian roles, often leading, are regularly given to American actors. I don’t understand why the inclusion stops at the moment when an Italian actor crosses the Alps. The careers of non-American actors are very often transformed when they win an Oscar for a film from their native country, or when they are lucky enough to be chosen to play roles of their own nationality in films that end up being very successful. I think of Christoph Waltz or Javier Bardem. For Italian actors, I see that it is becoming more and more difficult and I don’t understand why.
You also worked a lot in Hollywood. What memories do you have of these experiences?
Very very good, mainly due to the quality of the people I worked with. I was lucky to work early on with Ben Stiller, Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, Spike Lee and Andrew Adamson. You have to remember when we talk about making movies. [in the U.S.] it is a huge industry. In Italy, it’s a much smaller business. In America they have the luxury of being able to experiment more, do more takes, shoot different scenes, make mistakes along the way. That is a luxury that Italian cinema does not usually have. A big-budget movie for Italy is a low-budget independent movie in America. I did the Ron Howard one Run, which was an independent film, but with a budget of $45 million. In Italy, our main films cost, at most, between 12 and 15 million dollars, which is a huge budget by Italian standards.
What do you like about the American film industry?
One thing that I really like is the respect for work, of and for everyone. The fact that it is a major industry means that everyone’s work is protected and highly valued. Regardless of the role, whether we are talking about the prop maker or the actor. I also really like the very high level of preparation and professionalism.
Amazing screenwriters might not agree with you that they are valued in Hollywood…
I think screenwriting is sacred. At a time when the specificities of each profession risk being trampled or limited, the strike is necessary. We have to be careful that we are not caught unawares, especially in times when there is a lot of talk about artificial intelligence. And we have to start right now to put a limit to the possible problems that could arise tomorrow. We are dealing with an industry that creates a lot of money with huge investments involved. It’s only fair that workers protect themselves.
While you’re in New York, will you take the opportunity to see some of your American colleagues? Who have you kept in touch with?
With all of them. I do everything from Christmas greetings to arranged or casual meetings. Right now I’m working on the new Gabriele Salvatores movie with Omar Benson Miller, who was one of the soldiers in the Spike Lee movie. Miracle in Santa Ana. I keep in regular contact with Ron Howard. In Cannes I saw [Angels and Demons co-star] Tom Hanks again. I try to maintain very good and friendly terms with my colleagues, not necessarily related to work, but because of our shared experiences together and the love that has remained.
You are currently shooting Naples to New York by Gabriele Salvatores. What can you tell us about this new role?
More than my role, I can tell you about the film: I really like the tone. It is based on a script written by four hands: By Federico Fellini and Tullio Pinelli [Salvatores shares a co-screenwriting credit], and both knew how to deal with certain topics with an almost fantastic lightness. One thing I find remarkable is that none of them had ever been to New York. When I read the script I was captivated. I am very happy to work with the two leads, who are very good, and I am sure it will be an exciting and fun film. Do you know those kinds of movies that reconnect you with the meaning of cinema, not only as a form of entertainment, but emotionally? I think this movie is going in that direction.
The film tells the story of two boys who, in order to escape the misery of post-war Naples, face a challenging journey by boat to America, as so many Italian emigrants did at the time. Do you remember your first trip to New York?
The first time was the classic fulfillment of the dream because you feel like you’ve known it forever because you’ve learned it from the movies. You come here and you see that it is exactly how you imagined it. New York can still surprise you every day with the energy it has. It is a city that I love, it is a city that I come to often and I have also seen it change a lot.
What is your best memory of New York?
When I came here with my partner and our eldest daughter, who was barely two years old. We were supposed to stay a week and ended up staying a month.
This interview, translated from the Italian, has been edited for length and clarity.