Monica Bellucci and Daniel Craig getting intimate in SPECTRE
At 51, Bellucci has grabbed attention as ‘the oldest Bond girl ever’. She tells Celia Walden why the role is revolutionary, and why 007 needs a grown woman
Looking like an early Renaissance Madonna – one pale hand laid in a graceful diagonal across her chest – Monica Bellucci is telling me about a recent swimming trip with her two daughters. ‘I had just put on a new green swimsuit when my five-year-old, Léonie, looked at me and said, “Maman – you’re explosifying!”’ Throwing her head back, the star of The Matrix Reloaded trills with laughter.
‘They’ve told me so many things in my life, but that was the biggest compliment I have ever received – and it’s not even a word!’ Perhaps it should be: one used uniquely to describe Bellucci. Because out of the thousands of entranced and panting adjectives used to sum up the actress’s beauty over the decades, ‘explosifying’ is as close as you’ll get to the real thing.
Still and sumptuous on a velvet sofa in her hotel suite – clad in a black knitted Alaïa midi dress and five-inch patent Louboutins – Bellucci is one of the few leading ladies who exceeds expectations in the flesh. Given her particular brand of smouldering sexuality, which harks back to the vintage va-va-voom of actresses like Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale and Gina Lollobrigida, the only surprise is that she’s made it to 51 without already having played a Bond girl.
When the call first came in from Sam Mendes, however, who was casting for SPECTRE – the 26th Bond film – Bellucci was momentarily mystified. ‘I assumed they wanted me to play the new M,’ she smiles. ‘I really did. But when Sam explained that he wanted “an adult woman to seduce Bond for the first time”, I realised that this was going to be revolutionary. It’s such a beautiful example to set for other actresses – and other women.’
Rather than react with defiance to being branded ‘the oldest Bond girl ever’, the Umbria-born model-turned-actress shows a lack of squeamishness about the passing of time – both in personal and professional terms – that’s characteristic of her sanguine attitude to life.
‘I’ve never really been in the Hollywood system,’ she shrugs. ‘But in Europe, all the actresses I see – Nathalie Baye, Kristin Scott Thomas, Charlotte Rampling and Isabelle Huppert – are still playing great, strong, feminine roles. And just look at Judi Dench! Things are changing, and there is a new way to look at actresses and women nowadays.’
That may be true. But when you’re born with a face like Bellucci’s, it must be hard to get anyone to look beyond the prism of that beauty. Which is presumably why the actress has increasingly specialised in dark, provocative, even ugly scenes over the course of her career, playing a rape victim in the hard-hitting thriller Irréversible, Mary Magdalene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the Mirror Queen in Terry Gilliam’s fantastical The Brothers Grimm and a breastfeeding prostitute in Bertrand Blier’s Combien Tu M’aimes?.
All of which makes her role in SPECTRE as Lucia Sciarra – a Mafioso femme fatale widowed by 007 – look positively wholesome.’Daniel [Craig] is so generous as an actor and a man, so I was never uncomfortable. When you have to do intimate scenes with someone, it’s so important for the chemistry to be there – because then it becomes more like a tango,’ she says.
‘But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of the roles I’m playing now are women coming out of the darkness into the light –because I do feel that ageing has given me a new freedom. When I was younger, people would tell me I looked cold,’ she muses. ‘But maybe that was because I was scared and insecure, and knew so little about life.’
Now that she has reached the half-century mark – with two children, Léonie and Deva, 11, from her marriage to French actor Vincent Cassel, from whom she separated in 2013 – Bellucci feels more ‘in touch’ with herself, she says, ‘which allows me to act so much better’.
In the past, the actress has spoken defiantly about the roles her looks have denied her, but today Bellucci is more considered on the subject. ‘To speak about beauty as a handicap is very bad,’ she frowns, ‘because beauty is a gift – just like good health or intelligence. The only thing,’ she concedes with a small smile, ‘is not to be proud of being beautiful. Because you didn’t do anything; it was given to you.’
In Bellucci’s case, it was a haulage company owner and a housewife from the small, walled town of Città di Castello who bestowed those looks upon her. ‘I was very shy as a girl,’ she admits. ‘Absurdly shy, even. Maybe because I was an only child,’ she goes on, tellingly pronouncing ‘only’ as ‘lonely’. ‘And I think that’s why I’m so happy to have two kids now.’
‘I have a very strong memory of being eight years old and desperately missing having someone to play with. So when I turned 13 and started to be pretty, I was very glad because people came to me – rather than me having to seek them out. But at the same time, I think I used [my looks] to create a mask that I could protect myself with. So in a way it’s good when that youthful beauty – what in France they call “la beauté du diable” – starts to fade because you don’t have that mask to hide behind any more.’
Relief from the tyranny of her own looks may have been an unexpected silver lining, but for the woman who started modelling at 18 to fund her law studies, the ageing process has still had its moments of personal poignancy. ‘There was a period when I realised that I was not the same woman I once was. Maybe my breasts are not as perfect as they used to be,’ she shrugs.
‘But those breasts gave milk to two girls, so it’s normal that they are not the breasts I had at 20. Sometimes, when Léonie is talking to me about what she did at school that day, she’ll slip one hand down my top – and it’s so lovely,’ she goes on, ‘because that’s home for her. So who cares that my breasts are not as beautiful as they once were?’
Given how relaxed she is about her body at 51, would she still feel comfortable doing nude scenes like those she memorably undertook 15 years ago in the Italian romantic drama Malèna? ‘Sexy, but not nude,’ she replies after a moment’s pause.
‘I have done them in the past, of course – and it’s not because I’ve had children that I have to do things that are “proper”,’ she says, enunciating the word with a mixture of distaste and derision. ‘I’m an actress, so I have to use my body to express so many things, but right now I want to act in a comedy. Do you know who I would love to play?’ she laughs. ‘Morticia Addams – then I could use all that darkness to be funny.’
Rather than ceaselessly try to pound back up the downward escalator of time, Bellucci maintains that ‘what’s natural is beautiful – and when you’re not you any more, you become a caricature. That said, my work does give me discipline’. To play a Bond girl ‘in a very sexy corset’, she did have ‘to make a few concessions,’ she admits – but anyone picturing Bellucci putting her body through punitive exercise regimes or juice fasts would be laughably wide of the mark.
‘I’m not someone who wakes up at 6am to go to the gym,’ she grimaces. ‘So I just didn’t eat pasta for a few days before we started shooting – and that was about it. Because the truth is that I like cakes and pasta, the odd glass of wine and a very occasional cigarette. My advice is: eat well, drink well, have good sex – and laugh a lot. The rest comes all on its own.’
When Bellucci does succumb to ‘moments of weakness’, she thinks about her grandmothers. ‘For me, true beauty has nothing to do with wrinkles and everything to do with the fact that my maternal grandmother raised five children just after the war and remained a fighter throughout her life. True beauty is the slick of red lipstick my paternal grandmother would put on before going to church on Sunday. Italian women have a unique strength, you know, because they’ve had to fight so much in their lives.’
Channelling that strength for her role as Lucia in SPECTRE came easy for Bellucci, who understands all too well what it’s like to ‘come from a world where men have all the power’. ‘It’s no coincidence that she’s Italian,’ she shrugs, ‘because in our country women still have to learn how to be free. You can have all the money and independence in the world, but if you’ve been in that cage for years, you’re still afraid to set foot outside.’
‘In so many places in the world, women have been prisoners for so long that they feel they have to scream about their rights. But when you scream, nobody listens to you. Real authority comes when you no longer need to scream – and that’s something we women still need to learn.’
MONICA BELLUCCI TALKS SPECTREPlay!02:28
The passion and emotion Bellucci brings to every subject is heightened when we discuss the position of women in modern society. ‘One thing I’ve learned over the years is that fragility and femininity should be respected,’ she explains. ‘But the structure of society today doesn’t allow for either, so women feel their rhythm has to be a male rhythm; that in order to be equal to men, we have to become like them. Only we’re not men! Rather than thinking, “This is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me,” when they get pregnant, women now feel guilty. Because they want to be a great mum and have a great career.’
But, of course, we can’t have it all, I demur. ‘But we must have it all!’ Bellucci flings back, wide-eyed. ‘So things have to change. The system has to change so that women are allowed to be all things. Because if we are not given the time to raise our child and be with our child as well as work, then we’re going to have a sick society.’
However, becoming a mother does ‘create a problem’, she points out, ‘in that once you’ve had children, you feel so complete. In nature, the puma will have her cubs and from that moment be done with the male’. Is Bellucci – who still lives in Paris after separating from her French husband – saying that she is happy to remain single?
‘Oh, no,’ she replies. ‘Men are a part of our soul. I learned so much from the 18 years that I was with Vincent. And even though we’re finished as a couple, I’m still the mother of our children, and the love is still there, only in a different way. I think that’s really important when you have kids.’
Once Bellucci has finished filming Emir Kusturica’s forthcoming adventure romance, On The Milky Road, she is looking forward to ‘going back to a simple life – a real life. Because as actors we do a job that is so dislocated from reality, so it’s important to take a step back, you know? A step back into the shadows…’ ￼
SPECTRE opens on October 26
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