Tuesday 12 December 2017

La Bella Bellucci: Monica at 51

Monica Bellucci's once-in-a-generation appeal hasn't dimmed now she's in her 50s. Just ask James Bond

Bond woman: Monica Bellucci joins the 007 franchise.
Bond woman: Monica Bellucci joins the 007 franchise.

Julia Molony

When Monica Bellucci, now 51 years of age, was announced as a Bond girl in the latest instalment of the 007 franchise, Spectre, directed by Sam Mendes, it was hailed as a small victory for women and a rebuttal of a grand and enduring tradition of ageism onscreen.

While there may be some truth in the hype around the casting, it has to be said that Bellucci is no ordinary 51- year-old. She remains one of the most remarkable-looking actresses working today. With that face, which looks at the same time sacred and profane, that Morticia-meets-The Madonna style and the way she embodies the Gothic and the sensual. In the flesh, her beauty is revealed as a monumental, once-in-a-generation thing. And she wears it as proudly, and as comfortably now (or perhaps more so) than when she was first coming to prominence in the early '90s.She's a fan of the new, reconstructed, contemporary Bond as portrayed by Daniel Craig, which she sees as "James Bond as something that is dark - dark, looking for death, not just killing but looking for death. He struggles, and he is looking for something and this gives him more mystery, but at the same time he becomes even more sexy, because he's even more dangerous."

It was she who insisted that as a female bond cast member, she be referred to not as a Bond girl, but a 'Bond Woman.' "It was fun," she says, manicured fingers pushing back a strand of ebony hair, "when my agent called me, he said 'do you want to laugh? They want to meet you for James Bond.' And I said, 'Me!? What am I going to do at 50 in James Bond?' And then we met Sam and he said, 'No, no no. I think it's beautiful that an adult woman is in James Bond. I think it's a beautiful idea.' I said, 'I agree with you!' Unusually, she is generally optimistic about the prospects for older actresses on screen.

"Actresses in the 1940s, even though they were still beautiful, their career was over," she says. "And now it's not like that anymore. I'm not part of Hollywood, I'll never be part of Hollywood. I've never lived really in Los Angeles or New York. But I see what's going on in France. And in France, where I live, there are all these actresses like Natalie Baye, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert and Charlotte Rampling, even though she's English. And they all have great careers, and very beautiful and sexy roles. I think there is a different way to look at actresses and also to look at women. Because, a child is born today, he knows that he has 100 years of life. So when you are 50, you are just at half of your life."

But her own insistence on greater seniority in the Bond canon compared to the "girls" who have gone before, doesn't mean that she thinks they were simply accessories in the franchise? In fact, she feels pleased to be part of what she sees as a proud tradition. "I have so much respect for all the Bond ladies. Eva Green - she was unbelievable, Rosamund Pike, we all know what a great actress she is. Halle Berry, Sophie Marceau it's great to be a part of this beautiful tradition. There are images that are going to stay iconic forever. [Ursula] Andress coming out of the water . . . I remember all the names of all those actresses, because every time I saw a James Bond they gave me good emotions and strong emotions. In a different way, they each had something to add."

Bellucci herself was born in a small, otherwise unremarkable village in Umbria. Her original plan was to study law, until she was discovered as a model, and shortly afterwards, broke into acting in her native Italy. She moved to France upon marrying the actor Vincent Cassel in 1999 and has remained there, even though they announced their divorce in 2013. Living away from Italy, presumably, has given her some perspective on the state of womanhood in her native country, something that she brings to bear on her character in Bond.

"It's not a co-incidence that Lucia (her character in Spectre), she's Italian. Because we have to learn how to come out of the cage . . . I think that Italian women have to learn how to become free. This woman is a widow with secrets. Her Mafioso husband gets killed, and she risks the same thing happening to her. And when she first meets Bond, she doesn't trust him, because she comes from this world where men control everything." But there is a plus side to being raised in the Latin tradition, apparently. "When the attraction takes place, and she realises her feminine power over him, then she thinks that she can get out," Monica says. "Between Bond and Lucia there is a commitment. He gets her out of Italy and safer, and she gives him the information he needs, and they find an interesting way to sign the contract between them."

Monica's own two daughters, from her marriage to Cassel, were born and raised in France. Now 11 and 5, they live at some remove from the professional world their mother inhabits. She says the only film of hers they have seen is the French comedy Cleopatra. "I don't want to make my kids see my films. I want them to be concentrated on their life. I don't want them to live my life. I have to be there for them, not them there for me. . . They do come on set sometimes. And I love when they come with me, because you know, as a woman you feel a bit guilty to do this job, which sometimes means I have to stay away. But the great thing with acting, is that sometimes you have months in which you can be with your family. It's my choice. If I don't want to work I say, I take five months and I stay with my family and take care of my kids."

Monica says that motherhood is part of what helps her to "stay in shape." But it's her chosen career that really imposes the discipline. "I love to eat and I love to have some red wine," she says. "Of course, when you have to work, if you want to play a James Bond woman you have to eat less pasta." But that's about the only concession she'll make, it seems, to a Hollywood lifestyle. Especially after 50. "It's good, darling!," she exclaims.

"We are alive. We could be dead! After the 40s, we are all survivors. I want to be alive until 100. I want to be old, old, and in shape and see my kids growing up. I want to be an old lady and drink a good cappuccino in the Piazza di Spagna."

'Spectre' is released tomorrow.

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