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Interview: A Conversation with Silvio Orlando at Lincoln Center's Annual Film Festival, "Open Roads: New Italian Cinema"

With dozens of films to his credit, Silvio Orlando is an accomplished character actor whose face you won't easily forget. Born in Naples in 1957, Orlando began his career on stage, and although he has made a successful career on the big screen, he often returns to the stage as a form of artistic expression that he feels film does not offer. From "Luce dei miei occhi" to "La stanza del figlio," Orlando is known for his supporting, best friend appeal but also shines in leading roles.

Orlando was born in Naples but instead of calling on his Neapolitan roots like so many other artists from that area, he actually distanced himself from those southern Italian stereotypes and left the city. That risky move proved to be beneficial to his career because he is one of the most diverse actors working in Italy today. 

Undoubtedly, part of his diversity and success can be attributed to that fantastic, expressive face of his. There is something about the way Orlando looks that is unforgettable, and in his roles, he utilizes the expressiveness of his eyes and his guy next door looks that make you feel like he's an old friend.

I caught up with Silvio Orlando at Lincoln Center in New York City where he attended The Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual series, Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, to promote his film, "Il papà di Giovanna" (Giovanna's Father). The film is a touching story about a father's love and dreams for his daughter (Alba Rohrwacher) and how he stands by her side in the worst of times. I talked with Orlando about the film and his distinguished career as one of Italy's most beloved artists.

Let's talk first about your latest movie, "Il papà di Giovanna." Describe the period in which the film takes place.
Well, it was an historical time, a time of mass craziness when Italy was a fragile nation, a weak nation and a young nation, probably too young to be able to rise to the challenges it was being faced with. So in turn, fascism was born as a binding element that would hold people together and it was a channel for a collective aggressiveness which lead to a form of imperialism That binding force ultimately turned into a disaster and that was reflective not only in the tragic political destiny of a nation, but also in families and smaller entities. So the movie shows what happened within people's homes, within their personal lives. It's as if the film was a window that opened onto families to show the struggles and pain they endured during that very difficult time in Italy's history.

Your character in the movie supported his daughter through very trying circumstances. Do you support the choices your character made?
My character can be split into two stages. In the first stage, he actually tries to build a lot of expectations of a marvelous, wonderful high-flying life for his daughter, but he is diluted, so he creates these incredible dreams and really believes that all of his dreams will come true.  In the second part, he realizes the consequences of his actions and expectations, and is moved by a very strong guilt. He then puts aside his own needs and tries to remedy the problems that he feels he has created. I don't know if I justify his actions, but I definitely feel compassion towards him. I honestly don't know what I would have done in his situation because I believe that the job of being a father is the hardest job that someone could have.

Now let's talk about your career. You've performed in many mediums of entertainment- theater, cinema and television. Do you have a preference?
First of all, I believe that television is a place of corruption. It corrupts ambitions and is a place where passion is not important at all. All that matters is money. So of the three forms of expression that you mentioned, I would have to say theater and cinema, which in my opinion, are very complimentary to each other. I find that theater is the place where true growth happens, and I cannot imagine cinema without being able to take those long theatrical pauses. In theater, you are so close to the audience, and that allows for a great deal of intimacy with them, and expression as an artist.

When you choose a role, are there any special attributes in a character that you look for?
On one hand, I look for whatever I can recognize of myself in the character. I look for experiences that I've had myself but at the same time, I look for things that are completely foreign to me, that I have not experienced before. So it's just the combination of these two elements which allow me find the right balance to take on a certain role.

How have your Neapolitan origins influenced your work?
Anything that anyone does in the first phase of their life, the first 20 years, inevitably has a deep influence on what you do for the rest of your life. So, being from Naples and all of the strong acting tradition there and the great theater has had a profound influence on my work.  However, having said that, it is a reference point from which I took my distance, a place that I almost ran away from because I felt that I was being too codified, too stereotyped. But now that I am established as an actor, I am more willing to take on roles that have Neapolitan references.


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