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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Conversation with Horror Film Actress and all-around Renaissance Woman, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni

She's been called the "Queen of Scream" and it's a nickname well-deserved.

Coralina Cataldi -Tassoni was born in New York City in 1971. She comes from a creative background, to say the least. Her father was a stage director in the opera world and her mother, an opera singer. Cataldi -Tassoni has followed in those footsteps as a true renaissance woman. She's an accomplished visual artist and singer. But she is best known for her haunting roles in the films of Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento, two of Italy's most notorious horror film directors.

Cataldi -Tassoni is a self taught actress who gained much of her experience as a child performing on stage, at times alongside her father. She spent her childhood traveling with her family between Italy and New York City. Her father had an opera company in New York, so whenever a role came up for someone fitting her age bracket, he would call on her to participate. She was just a child when she landed her first singing role in "La Boheme." Then a few years later, the family took off to Italy and before long, Coralina found herself working as an assistant to her father at the famed Teatro dell'Opera di Roma.

Her first movie role was in Lamberto Bava's horror flick, "Dèmoni 2." She jokingly describes her role in that film as "a not-so-sweet 16 birthday girl who turns into a demon." Just one year later, she teamed up with Dario Argento for the role of a seamstress named, Giulia in his version of "Il fantasma dell'opera" (The Phantom of the Opera), which starred Argento's daughter, Asia Argento.

With such a unique background rooted in the arts, Coralina has pursued other artistic endeavors in addition to acting, and says her true love lies within her music. I had the opportunity to sit down with Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni in New York City. She told me what it was like growing up surrounded by opera. She also talked about her experience with Dario Argento and her thoughts on the new generation of Italian cinema.

What was is like growing up in such a creative family? 
I like to say my childhood was fortifying, in many ways. I grew up with a father who was an opera stage director and my mother was an opera singer. So when they brought me home, I would play under the piano, do my homework under the piano until late at night. My father also had an opera company in New York. So every little role that called for a girl or a guy, he would make me participate. My first singing role was at three-years-old in "La Boheme." Then when I was five, we went to Italy. He took a few of his opera students to pursue their careers there. He started doing the Rome opera house and traveling. I started working by his side as well and at 13, 14 years old, I was the assistant director to him at Rome's opera house (Teatro dell'Opera di Roma). I think growing up in a house of opera singers is quite a unique household to be in because there's a lot of extreme drama even in a normal dinner, a normal situation, and my father's students were coming in and out all day. So, every hour on the hour, there were students and there were stories and intrigue. That’s how I grew up and I thought that's just what everybody did. I thought everybody performed. I remember a lawyer came to our house one day when we were ready to leave for Italy and I remember that it was a big event. It was somebody coming from the outer world that was not in the entertainment world. I was four and I remember that very well.

Painting by Cataldi-Tassoni
Have you always wanted to be a performer?
I was going to be a ballet dancer. I used to draw as well when I was a little girl and I used to sit in front of my father's studio selling my drawings. I would sit and wait for the students. I think what my childhood did for me is it made me very resourceful. As an only child you get very resourceful and very mature for certain things and very melancholy and nostalgic. A lot of people look at my paintings and they say theyr'e sad. They have baggage and I think in the moment when I'm creating them, I'm resolving that baggage, especially in my music and art. It's a moment of a lot of movement. When I paint, I can't paint without music, I can't. I choose a particular music for how I’m feeling and I’ll paint. I’m a little obsessive. So, I’ll repeat the song over and over until the painting is done. Usually, they’re sentimental, sad, melancholy or nostalgic. I feel that when I’m done with the song or the painting, the battle is over.  The battle is won. People who have looked at my work say it’s dark, and it’s true. But in that moment, I’m dealing with myself. I paint what I’m feeling.

Is acting more of a day job for you? 
Definitely. My passion is in my art and my music. I thought that I would act because I was in school. Then I started working in film almost immediately, but my thing is that I was going to be a musician…and then my painting. Those are the two things. I met Dario Argento and got cast in a couple of things on TV and it just started rolling. I love it, but I’m in love with my art and my painting.

What is your relationship like with Dario Argento?
It’s a very unique relationship. It’s a bond, a very unusual one where we can go periods of time when we don’t talk and then we’ll see each other again. He changed my life.  He’s definitely a person in my life who’s had such an incredible impact. I don’t even think he realizes how much of an impact he’s had on me. It was interesting. I met him when I was really young and he kind of interviewed me. He spent hours asking me questions about myself, about my childhood. It was his way of really getting to know me. I think there’s a bond that other people see. He and I know that we have something very special. I think that he is a true artist in the sense that as an artist, courage is his key ingredient. I know there’s some things people hate. They said, ‘I can’t believe he did "The Phantom of the Opera."' You know what? Good for him. He wanted to do it.  You’re not supposed to do everything so everybody likes it, right?

Was it natural for you to play the roles in both of his Opera-themed films?
He knows that that is a world I am so familiar with. People were going to the set and I was going home. To be on stage, the smell of the wood, even the stink and the stench of the sweaty costumes. It was just so familiar to me.

I especially enjoyed your role in, "La madre terza" (The Mother of Tears), which of course was the third film of Argento's supernatural trilogy. Tell me about that character.
Giselle is an assistant curator in a museum, and she convinces Asia’s character to open this urn, and with the opening of this urn, she basically allows these fantastic, magical and tragic events to take off. (Beware of a plot spoiler here) I get brutally killed and I must tell you that everyone is saying it's the top death scene in the movie, so I'm happy!

That was one intense scene! What was it like filming that scene? What goes into a scene like that?
On the set of "La madre terza" with Dario Argento
Well, unfortunately a lot of it got cut because Dario didn't like the demons killing me. He just didn't like how they looked, which saddens me a little bit. When I shot it, it took about a take and a half. We had to stop because the blood was too much! The music was so powerful.  We had a recording of an amazing chant along with dim lights in a real museum in Torino. I had these three demonic monsters coming at me, but they were not actually actors, so I was a little concerned. They couldn’t see very well because of the dim lights. They were dealing with knives and tools; all the mechanisms to kill me. So I thought this is truly my end! But they were great and it worked out fine. I know that people walked off the set, though, because they thought it was too much. My death was tragic, and there's something so sad and tragic I find about death. When I'm dying on set like I did in "Demons 2" or "Opera," I feel how sad it must be to go. Maybe we don't know when we're dying that it's sad but these characters for me were so human. It's the same with monsters like Frankenstein, Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera; those tragic, romantic characters. I really try to give some humanity to the characters.

What was it like working with Asia on that film?  
Well, I've worked with her three times. She's like a sister. She says the same about me and I'm very honored. We don't see each other that much, but we have something very akin. We have similar backgrounds, we grew up in the arts, we have a very strong relationship with our fathers; very unique and unusual. She's always been so respectful to me and I have a lot of respect for her. I always say this over and over again; she's such a hard worker. She keeps up her name. She doesn't take it for granted, and that's what I admire about her.

What do you think of the films being made in Italy now?
I think they’re improving. I think finally the filmmakers are talking about themselves…as Italians about Italy. There were all those years when they were trying to make movies like Americans. I think the younger generation is a little more confident, maybe a little more aware and more concerned about what’s going on with Italy. They feel like they need to talk about it. With Alessandro D’Alatri’s two-hour movie, just the title "La Febbre" is so true because that’s what you have as an Italian, the fever- the fever to stay, the fever to leave, the fever that you want more and you’re not getting it.

For more information on Cataldi -Tassoni and to see her paintings, visit her online at There, you will also find her biography. Written by Filippo Brunamonti, the book offers a beautiful portrait of the artist, showing her visual works and examining her prolific and unusual career as a renowned horror film actress.

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