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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Conversation with Actor Mirko Frezza of David di Donatello Winner "Il più grande sogno"

The 2017 David di Donatello award show, which took place on Monday, was an exciting event that celebrated many great contemporary talents of Italian cinema. I was fortunate to have seen most of the nominees. Among my personal favorites is Michele Vannucci's Il più grande sogno simply because it is based on one of the most inspiring, beautiful stories I've ever heard, and the person behind that story is as authentic and down-to-earth as they come. The film won the 3 Future Award, which is determined by the public.

With Director Michele Vannucci and Actor Mirko Frezza
I first saw Il più grande sogno last September when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival. I didn't make it to Venice, but thanks to a great online platform called Festival Scope, which offers a handful of premieres to be screened on the web, I felt like I was there. The film itself blew me away, and then when I realized it was based on a true story, I knew that I would have to find out more about this fascinating character, Mirko Frezza.

I spent some time in Rome last year and luck was on my side when my trip coincided with the Italian release of Il più grande sogno. I attended two of the Rome premieres and chatted with several cast and crew members. Since Mirko Frezza is such an easy-going guy, we exchanged numbers and planned to meet in his neighborhood at the main location of the film to talk about his story and the great work he has done to help the poor in this eastern suburb of Rome.

Frezza had a rough start in life. He originally wanted to become a police officer, but his family history of run-ins with the law kept that from happening. He got by with a number of jobs, some shady, some not. He spent time in Spain following entrepreneur opportunities there. A few years ago, his life took a turn when he decided to pursue acting. But it should be made clear that Frezza is not interested in just being an actor who works non-stop. He is more interested in portraying characters with stories he believes in; stories of humanity, honor, family and truth.

Mirko Frezza giving me the grand tour of his center
Aside from acting, one of his life's passions is to help the less fortunate. In his community of La Rustica, there is no shortage of people that benefit from that help. There, Frezza started somewhat of a soup kitchen, as we refer to it in America, to feed the poor people of his community. It's also serves as a recreation area where people congregate with friends and family.

We met Frezza at this recreation center, which was also the main location of the film. It was just after Christmas and Frezza gave us a tour and showed us where the holiday dinners took place and where people get together. He explained to us how great it feels to be able to help these people and how much still needs to be done. 

Our interview was done in Italian, but since we did get it on video, I thought, why not share it? In the clip below, Frezza talks about Europe's ongoing issue of refugees pouring into its countries and specifically the problems with the assimilation of immigrants into Roman society. He feels that in general terms, the integration of immigrants goes smoothly. "It's fine to be multi-racial. That's what you want. We want to become like London.. yellow, red, green, black.. people of all races together. We are fine with it and we have tolerated a lot. 70% - 80% of Italians have no interest in skin color, but unfortunately there are some that use skin color as an excuse to complain and scream." He feels that even though the majority of Italians are okay with immigration in Italy, there is still a lot of ignorance. People need to stop and think about the plight of these people.

After about an hour at the center, we took our interview to a nearby restaurant, popular among locals. There, we talked about the evolution of Italian cinema from De Sica to Verdone to Michele Vannucci. We also talked about his hopes and dreams as an actor. In this clip, he talks about how he got into acting, a career which he began in his 40's. His costar in Il più grande sogno, Alessandro Borghi, had a big part in pushing him to audition. He had first auditioned for a short film that director Michele Vannucci was making at Rome's famed film school Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. That role didn't work out but Vannucci never forgot Frezza's unique face or his compelling story. So when Vannucci was ready to make his first feature-length film, he went straight to Frezza and the two collaborated on Il più grande sogno.

A beautiful moment in our conversation was when Frezza opened up about his family and how his beginnings made him want many children. He had made a reference to the cinepanettone genre of Italian cinema and I asked him if he enjoys the films of this genre. 

"I like them because they make the whole family stay together. There is Christian De Sica. Massimo Boldi, all the kings of cinepanettone. It's a moment in which you can gather all your children and watch these films, explaining all the crazy situations in which the characters find themselves."
(Question) So family is important to you. You are a person that centers yourself around the family. 
"Yes, because I don't want to miss out on it. For eight years now, I've been putting up a tree for Christmas. Before I had a family of my own, it was just my mother and me or I was alone.  But I like having a Christmas tree and celebrating the holidays.. decorating the tree with the family. Today, I have three kids for this reason. And also because I passionately love my wife to the point that when she looks at me, I can't say no! I like a big family. I have to be careful. Otherwise, I'd have 10 kids. That way, there'd always be family around. It's important."

He absolutely beamed with love when he talked about his wife and their children. He asked us if we wanted to head over to his house for coffee and to meet them. Of course, we said yes. When we arrived, we understood why he glows when he talks about them. He and his wife have two daughters and son. Their youngest daughter played his daughter in the film, so it was very sweet to see their love and closeness in real-life. It was great to see the family's close bond and it made us understand why Frezza is so focused on doing good in the community. When you have such a strong, loving foundation at home, there's nothing but love to spread throughout the world.

Frezza has one film slated for a 2017 release and another one in production. He also had a part in the recent Rai series, Rocco Schiavone, starring Marco Giallini. I have a feeling that Il più grande sogno will soon be making the film festival rounds in North America. We'll keep you posted. 

- All photos and videos by Mauro Ianari

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