One, no one and one hundred thousand
Versatile and energetic. The life and many faces of the great Florentine actor Maurizio Lombardi
Bursting with energy and a face you can’t forget. Although, as he tells us and shows during the exclusive photo shoot for our magazine, one of his passions is working on that face, “give me a mask and I can do anything”. With Matteo Garrone, in Pinocchio, he pushed it to extremes to become a fish- the one that saves Pinocchio and Geppetto inside the dogfish- but the Florentine Maurizio Lombardi, one of the most internationally famous and popular Italian actors, has gone through many transformations over his career. He went from playing clerical roles – “ I climbed the hierarchical ladder step by step: from the medieval monk in The Name of the Rose, to the priest in Chi m’ha visto and the cardinal in The Young Pope and The New Pope, the only role left to play is the Pope!” – to the manager in the Sky Atlantic series by and starring Stefano Accorsi, 1994, and even a wicked witch in drag queen heels in his cycle of plays devoted to Fiabe (Fairy Tales).
How did your acting career begin?
It began with Ugo Chiti, a Tuscan director who sponsored Nuti, Benvenuti, Athina Cenci and many other local actors and actresses. I joined his company, Arca Azzurra, at the age of 17, and worked with him for 10 years. My best role to this day, at the age of 47, is still one of those I played for him: Giovannino, a boy suffering from mental disorders, in I ragazzi di via della Scala. After some time, I started my own company of young performers, with whom I staged Fiabe.
Please tell us something about the show.
Fiabe is a show I’m very fond of. The style is somewhat like Mel Brooks’ in Young Frankenstein and the Monty Python’s. Children are thrown off guard by characters such as a wicked witch played by a two-meter-tall man. They have a lot of fun. And me too. Because performing for a children’s audience is one of the most powerful things ever.
Let’s talk about cinema.
My first film was Up at the Villa, starring Sean Penn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne Bancroft, James Fox, Jeremy Davies and Derek Jacob. Then I appeared as an extra in Hannibal by Ridley Scott, for whom later on I played a bigger role in All the Money in the World. But even when I had started doing films, I kept working on stage and writing my shows, such as Pugni di zolfo which, in 2013, I brought to Edinburgh and performed in English.
From then on, you have often performed in English, both on stage and on screen…
I’m an autodidact, I learned English on my own by performing in Pugni di zolfo. The show met with great success, the Scottish identified with the story, which was about Sicilian sulfur mines. Performing in English is fascinating, it’s a fast-spoken language, you have no time to think about what you’re saying, you just hear yourself saying it.
And when did you meet Sorrentino?
Paolo is an amazing film director. We first met at a screen test for The Great Beauty. But there was no role I was fit for, or perhaps it was just not the right time. A few years later, I did the screen test for The Young Pope and Sorrentino was very impressed. I gained the chance to perform in The New Pope and dance Cardinal Assente’s famous dance, by playing the scene with Jude Law where I take my glasses off. The day we shot that scene I was terrified, but after the fourth take Paolo had what he wanted.
A few months ago, you staged Tutto&Nulla in Fiesole, that you wrote together with the director Edoardo Zucchetti and with the collaboration of Giuseppe Scarpato, Bennato’s guitarist and producer. What kind of show is it?
It’s a one-man show, inspired by the great performers of the ‘70s-‘80s, Gigi Proietti, Dario Fo and Giorgio Gaber, the three people I think of as my mentors. It’s the show I had planned to stage as soon as the lockdown was over, driven by the need to perform live again. I’m still an analog person in a world of digital cell phones.
A Florentine dandy, you’ve recently been the star of a video that Stefano Ricci dedicated to Florence in such a difficult period…
Style is crucial to an actor. But you have to identify your style, know exactly what it is, because that’s what will make you recognizable. And when it comes to an actor’s fashion style, clothes make the man, trust me. These days, it’s more transgressive to wear a double-breasted suit than a silver-colored Mohawk haircut. We should go back to the actors’ elegance of the fifties and sixties. An elegance of which Stefano Ricci is a master and on which we need to focus to get going again. It felt like being a 007 agent when I was shooting his video: amazing cars, fabulous outfits and the city’s most stunning settings.
Speaking of Florence, what is your favorite spot?
I live in the Oltrarno neighborhood and I’m proud of living there. But having to choose one place in particular, I say Ponte Santa Trinita, the most beautiful bridge in the world, first and foremost because it’s a female bridge, both in name and shape. This bridge is so important to me that in one of my shows, L’uomo rondine, I tell about when the withdrawing German troops had to use five blocks of TNT to knock it down and only at the fifth attempt did they succeed, with the bridge collapsing into the Arno river. It was rebuilt exactly as it was originally. That is my place, which even helped me through the lockdown when, on my way back from the grocery store, I used to stop there to bask in the sun for a few moments.
In 2019, you created a space in town devoted to acting.
The Acting Class, on Via dei villani, in the Tasso area. A training ground for actors and actresses. I don’t teach acting, because I believe that acting is not something you teach, but rather extract. What I really wanted to create was a place where kids could train and where I could pass on my experience to them. That is what really counts: handing over to the younger generation. This is also the place where the first short film I directed was born, Madonne, which was secretly filmed on Florence’s tramway, two beautiful girls kissing. I’m now working on my second short film.
Where will we be seeing you next?
I’m currently busy with Non mi lasciare, starring Vittoria Puccini, by Ciro Visco. Then I’ll be starring in the new film by Spanish director Paola Ortiz, alongside Liev Schreiber, Matilda De Angelis and Sabrina Impacciatore, Across The River And Into The Trees. I also have a Netflix movie coming up, Robbing Mussolini, by Renato De Maria. In addition, of course, to my Tutto&Nulla and Fiabe shows, which I plan to resume as soon as possible. I’m also busy writing some new theater works. I fell in love again with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and its main character, Long John Silver. I would enjoy playing a pirate and, after all, the word “crew” can refer to either a stage crew or ship’s crew, and the theater stage, with its ropes and wooden flooring, looks very much like a ship, while the sea represents the endless emotions we strive to convey on stage.