What led you to take an interest in Anna Magnani?
In 2011, I made a documentary on the history of unified Italy. To tell the story of 150 years in two hours, I had to be selective. From the very start, the death scene of the character played by Anna Magnani in Roma, Citta Aperta (Rome, Open City) struck me as an inescapable tipping point. I wanted to know more about her and try to understand what made her such a genius.
What was it about her that struck you?
The balance between her almost feral instinct and her technique, which was the fruit of a very long apprenticeship in the theatre. Neorealism used non-professional actors and she was like them, except that she also knew the craft. On stage, she had learned to take control of the scene, the other actors and the audience, making them laugh or cry whenever she wanted.
Where did her strength of character come from?
From her childhood. She never knew her father and she spent very little time with her mother. Her whole life and her career could be interpreted as a quest for love. This pain forces a child to find her place in the world. She had to learn to mistrust people, to develop a defensive instinct that served her well, but that also made her life more difficult.