|In a scene from Cesare Deve Morire|
Striano describes his family as “gente semplice” – simple people. His father left for work at 5:30 in the morning and worked well into the evenings. His mother sold clothes at sidewalk stands. At the age of 9, his toddler sister came down with a serious illness and was hospitalized for several months. Striano’s mother did not leave her side. With a father that worked all day and a mother at the bedside of her daughter, there was little to no supervision during that period for Salvatore and his siblings. That’s when things started to go wrong and his so-called street life began. Striano started hanging out with a group of kids. They sold cigarettes and would get into mischief like any other pre-teen boys. However, things got more serious within just two years when he robbed a store with a group of adults who used him for his small frame to fit through a tiny window. Not long after, he ended up in the local jail. He said that his mother slapped him and his father refused to visit him. They were sick over the direction in which their son was heading- right for a life as a career-criminal or camorrista, like so many other kids in that neighborhood. After he was released from jail, he went right back to his old ways. From robberies, to possession of an unlicensed firearm to cocaine dealing, he was in and out of jail in Naples and was even sent away to a high-security prison in Spain. Eventually, he ended up at Rome's maximum-security Rebibbia Prison. It was there that his life profoundly changed for two reasons: his mother passed away during his incarceration and he discovered acting.
|In a scene from Milionari|
Striano's first movie role was the camorrista, Scissionista in Matteo Garrone's critically acclaimed Gomorrah. Striano exploded onto the acting scene with Scissionista. He took complete control of every scene. You would never know it was his first role. Once the film was released in Italy, Striano became an overnight sensation, a Neapolitan success story. He was invited to just about every Italian talk show to share his incredible journey. He was then invited to schools in the south to talk about his life in crime and the pivotal role education and literature played in turning his life around. Watch Striano's amazing performance in this clip from Gomorroah..
Over the years, I've enjoyed Striano's work as an actor. However, I had no idea of his background until I met Giovanna Taviani during a retrospective of her work in Rochester, New York. During her presentation of the Taviani brothers' Caesar Must Die (Cesare Deve Morire), she talked about Striano's background and all that he has done to give back to the community in terms of talking to kids about the importance of education and culture. After learning about his story, I can’t watch him without thinking of Anna Magnani and another beloved Neapolitan actor, Antonio De Curtis (Totò). I’ve written often about the tortured souls of these two actors and how more often than not, those real-life experiences were most likely called upon while their characters suffered on screen.
|Striano center stage in Cesare Deve Morire|
|With Salvatore Striano in Rome|
Milionari will be released in Italy on Thursday, 11 February. Watch the trailer..