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Friday 24 May 2019

The making of an icon: Sophia Loren says she was 'never beautiful'

Sophia Loren says she nearly gave up acting after Hollywood producers said her mouth was too big, her nose was too long and her teeth were not straight

Sophia Loren attends a photocall to present Cannes Classics at the 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival
Sophia Loren attends a photocall to present Cannes Classics at the 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival

By Hannah Furness,

She is one of the most beautiful actresses in the history of cinema, but it appears Sophia Loren's looks were not always appreciated by hard-nosed film executives.

The award-winning actress, who has worked with Hollywood's greatest male leads, said she nearly gave up her career after being told she must change her face.

Claiming she was "never beautiful", Loren disclosed she is "still shy" about appearing in public, as she launches her new film at the Cannes Film Festival.

The actress, who is approaching her 80th birthday, said she had been told to alter her unusual looks at the beginning of her career.

She told an audience her nose had been considered too long, her mouth too big and her teeth not straight enough and her face totally unphotogenic.

She disclosed she resolved to give up acting in the early Fifties, after being told she must change her appearance.

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Italian actress Sophia Loren as Epifania Parerga in 'The Millionairess' directed by Anthony Asquith, 1960. Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sophia Loren as Epifania Parerga in 'The Millionairess' directed by Anthony Asquith, 1960. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Shortly afterwards, she confided her difficulties in the director Vittorio De Sica, who resolved to cast her without an audition.

Loren was speaking in Cannes, where she has appeared in a short film directed by her son; her first project in five years, entitled La voce umana.

The actress has a long-standing relationship with the festival after serving as president of the jury in 1966, and gave a "masterclass" to fans and industry figures on Wednesday.

"Beauty is not important," she said. "You have to be interesting, someone who is different to other people.

"Otherwise you just turn up and look beautiful, and there's nothing more to you.

"I have never been beautiful. I've never been a beautiful doll. In fact when I started, people didn't want to hire me because I wasn't photogenic.

"People thought my mouth was too big, they wanted me to make my nose shorter, to have straighter teeth.

Italian actress Sophia Loren, circa 1955. (Photo by Diltz/RDA/Getty Images)

"It would have been too hard. I said, well I'll go back home to Pozzuoli then, I don't want to change my face.

"Then I suffered a lot because people said that I wasn't photogenic at all.

"In the film industry, if you're not photogenic it means you can't became an actress or actor.

"But things have got better and better thanks to photographers and others, who know how to portray my face better on the screen.

"I didn't change my face at all, they just got better at it."

Loren, who had no formal acting training, disclosed her fortunes had changed when she met director Di Sica, and told him she had never been offered a job after going for auditions.

"I said to him, every time I am auditioning, people never hire me because I'm shy. They think my mouth is too wide, nose too long, there's something wrong with my face.

"He told me he didn't want me to audition, this conversation was just fine. I didn't know what to say to this wonderful man. I nearly fainted on the spot."


That year, 1954, she went on to make The Gold of Naples with Di Sica; widely considered to be her big breakthrough.

She has since gone to to work on some of Hollywood's most iconic films, starring alongside Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Clark Gable, and Paul Newman.

In 1991, she received an honorary Oscar for her contribution to world cinema, and has starred in nearly 100 films including Arabesque, Prêt-a-Porter, and The Pride and the Passion.

In 1960, she won the best actress Oscar for La ciociara, staying at home during the ceremony because she was too nervous and being told the result over the phone by Cary Grant.

Her latest role, in La voce umana, tells the story of an older woman who has a final telephone conversation with the man she loves.

She received a standing ovation in Cannes for her masterclass, after being interviewed on stage.

"My life has not been easy," she said. "But I'm surrounded by people who like me, who love me, and I have to be very proud of my 80 years.

"I'm starting to count the hours, count the seconds; everything is important when you reach my age. Every so often you have to explode back into life."

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