FRANCO, UN­CHAINED

On the re­lease of his lat­est film, vet­eran Ital­ian ac­tor Franco Nero talks Philippa Hawker through a se­lec­tion of his back pages

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

Says Franco Nero: “I’m very busy. I’m very much in de­mand.” He’s lucky, he adds quickly, to have so many op­por­tu­ni­ties, so much va­ri­ety. “I am the only ac­tor to play more than 30 na­tion­al­i­ties,” he says proudly. At 76, he is look­ing for­wards as much as back­wards, quick to rem­i­nisce but also to talk about fu­ture roles and plans to di­rect again.

In his new film, The Time of Their Lives, the tale of two women look­ing for a se­cond chance late in life, Nero is a fig­ure of ro­mance. It’s a road movie of sorts. Joan Collins plays He­len, a for­mer Hol­ly­wood star still ready for her closeup, even though she’s on her up­pers and has been out of cir­cu­la­tion for years. Pauline Collins is Priscilla, a down­trod­den fan con­strained by loss, and by a peev­ish hus­band who blames her for ev­ery­thing.

He­len is on her way to a fu­neral that might also be a net­work­ing op­por­tu­nity. Ever the hus­tler, she in­vei­gles Priscilla into join­ing her. Along the way they meet Al­berto (Nero), a mil­lion­aire liv­ing qui­etly in the French coun­try­side. It’s an en­counter with un­ex­pected con­se­quences for all.

Nero says he took the role be­cause he liked the script, writ­ten by the film’s di­rec­tor, Roger Goldby. “I thought, why not? I had a great time with the di­rec­tor, very funny, and the two lovely young ac­tors.”

Nero brought more than his pres­ence to the movie: he also con­trib­uted many of the pho­to­graphs of “Al­berto” and his fa­mous friends that adorn the char­ac­ter’s coun­try house.

“I have thou­sands and thou­sands,” Nero says, “taken with princes, pres­i­dents, artists.” So many, he says, that it wasn’t easy to find the ones he was look­ing for. He wanted to in­clude a shot with Pi­casso, but couldn’t track it down. An­other that eluded him, he says, was “a photo that I had with Andy Warhol, he was on the set ev­ery day when I was do­ing Querelle with [Rainer Werner] Fass­binder, but I couldn’t find any.”

Pho­tog­ra­phy was a start­ing point for Nero’s movie ca­reer: he was a set pho­tog­ra­pher be­fore be­com­ing an ac­tor. One of his friends from the early days was the fa­mous cin­e­matog­ra­pher Vit­to­rio Storaro. Storaro has shot many films with him; he’s also helped Nero make videos to raise money for a char­ity he sup­ports.

Nero was on set as a pho­tog­ra­pher when he was spot­ted by John Hus­ton and cast as Abel in Hus­ton’s 1966 epic The Bi­ble ... In the Be­gin­ning. A year later he starred as Lancelot in the mu­si­cal Camelot, op­po­site Vanessa Red­grave. They be­gan a re­la­tion­ship and had a son, Carlo Gabriel Nero, now a film pro­ducer and di­rec­tor who works with both his par­ents.

Red­grave and Nero split up, but years later, in the 1990s, got back to­gether. They mar­ried in 2006, half a cen­tury af­ter they had first met.

Be­fore Hol­ly­wood, Nero had played mi­nor film roles in Italy; his break­through came with Ser­gio Cor­bucci’s Django, a west­ern in which he plays a gun­fighter who drags a cof­fin with him ev­ery­where he goes. It was a cult film whose leg­end lingers — Quentin Tarantino named Django Un­chained in its mem­ory, and cast Nero in a cameo in the film.

Nero says he had a choice when Hol­ly­wood took an in­ter­est in him, but it was ca­reer ad­vice from Lau­rence Olivier that helped him de­cide which path to take. “He told me, ‘You know, you re­mind me of me when I was young.’ My face, he meant. ‘ You have the physique to be a hero in movies,’ he said, ‘ good-look­ing, a good body. You could be a star in the Amer­i­can way.

“‘You could be the hero all the time. You know, like Amer­i­can ac­tors who play the same role all the time. You have to do a movie a year, and be sure that it will be a hit. But what a bore, what a mo­not­o­nous ca­reer.’

“Or, he said, ‘be an ac­tor and take risks. Change your roles all the time. And in your ca­reer you will go up and you will go down. But in the long run, you will get the fruits.’ I fol­lowed his ad­vice.”

Nero re­mem­bers one of their last en­coun­ters, when he and Olivier worked on a minis­eries called The Last Days of Pom­peii (1984).

“We were shoot­ing in Pinewood, in Lon­don, and Lau­rence Olivier was al­ready sick at the time, he was not in great shape. When he fin­ished the scene, there was a break for lunch, and he sat there, he didn’t move from his chair.

“He said to me, ‘Franco, can you do me a favour? I would like to go to an­other sound stage, to say hello to a friend who is work­ing there. Can you help me walk?’ And do you know what I did? I took him on my shoul­ders.

“And for the first time, I said to my­self: why is there not a pho­tog­ra­pher around? I have the great­est ac­tor of all time on my shoul­ders, and there was no one there.”

Fol­low­ing Olivier’s ad­vice, he says, “I worked in dif­fer­ent coun­tries” — in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, where he starred in the minis­eries The Mag­is­trate. “I did mu­si­cals, po­lit­i­cal movies, movies for chil­dren, thrillers, west­erns, ac­tion movies.”

There are times when be­ing in de­mand can be frus­trat­ing, how­ever. In the re­cent John Wick: Chap­ter 2, for ex­am­ple, he was cast as the pro­pri­etor of a Rome ho­tel for hired as­sas­sins. Hav­ing the ac­tor who played the leg­endary

Franco Nero

Joan Collins, Pauline Collins and Nero in The Time of Their Lives,

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