Is James Bond ready for a grown woman?
October 18, 2015 — 12:15AM
«If you don’t leave now,» whispers Monica Bellucci to a besuited Daniel Craig, his body smushed against hers, their lips a moment away, «then we will die together, Mr …»
Who else could it be? Bond, of course. James Bond. Their kiss, when it comes, is passionate, knowing, steaming up the gilded mirror in a grand rococo room somewhere in Rome. It’s the sort of ka-pow! smooch that 007 was always destined to share with a Bond woman. Not a Bond girl.
Bellucci plays Mafia widow Lucia Sciarra in Spectre, the new Bond film helmed by Oscar-winning stage and film director Sam Mendes on the heels of his success with 2012’sSkyfall.
The Italian actress and model, who has starred in blockbusters and indie films, is an inspired choice of leading lady in a franchise synonymous with youthful sexpot sidekicks, even if Bond still gets to dally with sassy Dr Madeleine Swann, played by 30-year-old French actress Leá Seydoux.
The previous «oldest» Bond girl, Honor Blackman, was 39 when she played Pussy Galore in 1964’s Goldfinger. Bellucci is 51, and she initially assumed that Mendes wanted her to replace the inimitable Dame Judi Dench as M.
«When Sam told me I’d be playing opposite Bond, I laughed,» says Bellucci, a mother of two, in her fluent but heavily accented English. «Then I started to think that by choosing me, an adult woman around Bond’s own age [Craig is 47], Sam is creating something like a big revolution.
«At around 40, women start to get scared [of ageing], so this is a beautiful message to say that women are amazing at any age.» She pauses, toys with a tendril of long, dark hair. «True sexiness is in the soul, the eyes, the imagination.»
Or in Bellucci’s case, written all over her. Having kept me waiting nearly five hours, she’s every bit as gorgeous as she appears on screen. She’s wearing a pair of vertiginous Louboutins and a rose-printed silk organza dress by Dolce & Gabbana, whose advertising campaigns she appears in.
All full lips and melting brown eyes, her face is more attractive for the fine lines that tell of a life lived; her healthy curves confirm her assertion that, being Italian, she loves to eat.
«I am so sorry to be late,» she says, waving a manicured hand in the direction of the exit and the departed photographers from Mexican Vogue, whose shoot ran way over time. «Please.» A smile. «Will you forgive me?»
Bellucci is aware of the effect of her charisma. After all, this is the girl from a small medieval town in Umbria, in central Italy, the only child of a freight company owner and a housewife, whose looks were so captivating that waiters let her eat for free and teachers confessed to losing concentration.
While studying law at the University of Perugia, she was snapped up by Elite Models in Milan, dropping out of studies when demand became too great: «I was always travelling. But I think being a lawyer would have bored me.»
She’d only been modelling for a few years when Italian director Dino Risi spotted her picture in a magazine and cast her in his 1990 television movie, Vita Coi Figli. Two years later, director Roman Coppola saw her photo in Italian magazine Zoom and convinced his father, the great director Francis Ford Coppola, to invite her to Los Angeles to appear inBram Stoker’s Dracula. Bellucci had a tiny but memorable role as one of the vampire’s topless brides.
«I have never had a problem with nudity if it is beautiful or essential to the character,» she says. «Unlike a musician, an actor uses his body as an instrument, sometimes in a violent way. To be an actor is the most violent work of all the artistic expressions.»
Bellucci relocated to France in the mid-1990s and met her future husband, French actor Vincent Cassel, on the set of the moody thriller L’Appartment. For nearly two decades Bellucci and Cassel, who appeared in Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen, were the Brangelina of the European film industry, making a clutch of noteworthy films – along with two daughters, Deva, 11, and Léonie, 5 – before they split up in 2013.
«I like to give this message to my daughters, for their future: it is not obligatory to have a husband or a partner,» Bellucci told Vanity Fair Italia that same year. «Solitude should not scare us. After many years as a couple, a period of self-reflection cannot but be welcomed.»
She’s on good terms with the Brazil-based Cassel, who «helped me to grow, put me in front of a mirror and made me see more things about myself».
These days, Bellucci mainly lives in Paris, where her bright, energetic, multilingual children attend school. Briefly rumoured to be dating Russian oligarch Telman Ismailov, she refuses to speak about her private life: «Everything was so public when I was married,» she says with a shrug.
Her current reading matter, Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ best seller Women Who Run with the Wolves – a collection of myths and stories about the archetype of the wild woman – hints that she’s relishing her freedom. Just as the heroines she lists – pioneering French lawyer and women’s rights advocate Simone Veil, and Italian scientist and Nobel laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini – suggest a questing intelligence.
Time and again, Bellucci’s choice of roles has bolstered her reputation as an actor willing to take risks. Irreversible, the 2002 rape-revenge movie by Argentinian director Gaspar Noé, shocked critics and audiences alike with a horrific nine-minute real-time sequence that saw Bellucci’s character raped, disfigured and left for dead in a Paris subway.
She has gone on to play everyone from Mary Magdalene in Mel Gibson’s controversial The Passion of the Christ to a witch in Terry Gilliam’s dark fairytale fantasy The Brothers Grimm.
«At this age, my life is so interesting because I am in all these very different movies,» she says. «So I am doing Bond, but also working with Kusturica.» She’s referring to her friend, Palme D’Or-winning Serbian director Emir Kusturica, with whom she’s spent the last three summers in Serbia shooting a «very violent, very poetic» wartime adventure titledOn the Milky Road, due out next year; stills show her leaping from waterfalls and submerged in a lake while wearing a wedding dress.
«I like to move from one universe to another,» she says with a smile. «When you choose roles, you are looking to express a moment of your life, whether it is a big film or a small one.
«But you know, I’ve never been part of Hollywood,» she continues. «I moved to France because I wasn’t getting the roles I wanted in Italy. Italian cinema used to go all over the world with great directors like Fellini, Pasolini and De Sica, and screen goddesses Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, Gina Lollobrigida.» She sighs dreamily.
«Now this sort of thing is rare.»
It’s no surprise to discover these smart, lusty divas of yesteryear inspired the young Bellucci. With her va-va-voom figure and earthy yet mysterious demeanour, she is often said to embody their essence – and nowhere is this more in evidence than in Spectre, where her character of Lucia is a woman from a world where men have all the power, who has to shake off her past to be free.
«Lucia is very, very Italian. In Italy, we have a tradition where family and children are the most important thing, where being a mother is more important than having a career. We Italians need to learn more about our rights and becoming really independent from men.
«Of course my kids are my priority,» she adds quickly, «and I try to deal with working and travelling and taking care of them, which as any mother knows isn’t easy. I always tell them how important it is to find a passion in life, and I hope they’ll find something they love.»
She pauses, playing with her hair again. «There’s a special moment in the film, I won’t say when, that pays homage to the great Italian actresses I grew up with. Sam [Mendes] has been very clever at putting together these different realities. So where Leá’s character is a contemporary action woman, equal to men, my character of Lucia – whose husband has been killed and whose life is in danger – realises she can use her feminine power to get Bond to save her.
«They agree that Bond will get her out of Italy if she gives him the information he needs. The way they sign this contract is very interesting.»
With a steamy kiss against a mirror?
«Ah.» Bellucci flashes a huge smile. «Now that would be telling.»
Spectre is in cinemas November 12.
- As a girl, her parents kept her hair cropped short so that it would grow into the thick, lustrous locks she has today
- She speaks Italian, French, Portuguese, English and Farsi.
- She has said that James Bond is the ideal man. Why? «Because he doesn’t exist.»