“My heart is in Africa and my head is in Europe. In Paris the Tunisian taxi drivers do not want to charge me for my fare because I am one of them, but I am also Italian and French.”
On a tour of Italian theatres in December 2002, the actress Claudia Cardinale discusses her roots and her work.
Claudia Cardinale, can one talk about you returning to Italy?
“I live in Paris, but I often come back to my country. This is where I have my family, but my house is in the capital of France.”
So now you are on stage in Italian theatres?
“It’s the first time that I am performing in theatres in Italy. I am appearing in “As You Desire Me” by Pirandello, directed by my companion Pasquale Squitieri. Pirandello is groundbreaking.”
How long will the tour last?
“After the holidays we will be in Sicily and on February 25 we go to Milan. It’s unquestionably a long tour.”
“It’s completely chaotic: constant change and one works late and eats at night. However, thanks to this experience, I have also had the opportunity to get to know some fantastic theatres. For example, the theatre in Salerno is completely beautiful. And on the plus side, I am surrounded by amazing actors: Memè Perlini, Franco Molè, Federica Fazioli, Fiorella Rubino.”
The President of the Republic has just awarded you the highest honour. Are you happy?
“Yes, because all of Italian cinema is there on the occasion of the Premio Vittorio De Sica awards. And Carlo Azeglio Ciampi is a great President. He and his wife are a beautiful couple: aged 82, it’s a pleasure to see them together.”
Nevertheless, you live mostly in France?
“Pasquale and I decided to go to Paris so that my daughter Claudia could study there. She finished university aged 21 and now she works at the Beaubourg museum: she is an intellectual. She has come to all the cities to see me on stage. I think she’s very happy to see her parents working together once again.”
Are you very closely tied to your family?
“Yes, but I have also been an independent woman since I left Africa aged eighteen. I have lived with my partner for nearly thirty years, but I have never been married. For us it is our relationship that is important, because there are no contracts, it is a choice. And it happened that Pasquale pushed me into the theatre. At the beginning I was terrified, also because my voice became hoarse. But I like challenges, and the more difficult they are, the more excited I become. At this point I think I will end up carrying on with theatre. I enjoy the contact with people, and seeing so many students coming to my shows.”
“I’ve had some really wonderful offers that I have had to refuse. I’m committed to playing “As You Desire Me” in several more Italian cities. And I also need to go back to Paris.”
Travelling through Italy from North to South, what impressions have you had?
“There have been some really beautiful incidents. In Verona, some African booksellers approached me, saying: “Paleface, you have to buy these books.” “Look, I am from Africa too,” I replied. So the one who had been hassling me about this said: “Excuse me, I will tell my colleagues not to bother you.” What I have generally taken on board is the warmth, the affection that people have for me. Not only in Italy, but also in the capital of France. Even there, with all the North Africans that are in Paris, there was a triumph! The taxi drivers in Paris are often North African: every time I get in a taxi they do not want to charge me. They say I am “a daughter of their country”, one of them. When I went to Marseille they showed me photos of the school in Tunis, of my former schoolmates. And I wondered: “How many are we? Two hundred thousand?”
Do you often think about belonging to Africa?
“I am the daughter of immigrants. Many Italians are spread around in all sorts of countries. North Africa is my root and those of us who are foreign born are even more Italian. I feel my African roots, I am 100% Italian and I am culturally French because I studied in that language.”
What are your thoughts on Islam?
“When I lived in Africa it was not like it is today. Even though we had different religions, we respected and participated together in all the different festivities, Catholics, Jews, Muslims. But we need to differentiate between terrorism and religions. In Tunisia there were Italians, Russians, Jews… ”
Do you still go back to your country of origin?
“Yes, and when I go there I do not know how to say no. Everywhere I am continually being offered mint tea. I have to say the same thing happens in Morocco, where I often go, and even in Egypt, where even there they see me as “The Daughter”.”
“French cinema very much defends its own cultural identity. Unfortunately, recently the Italian film industry has not comported itself so well.”
Is it because of this that Squitieri has moved into theatre?
“No, because he has just finished a film called “The Advocate De Gregorio” that among other things is very beautiful and interesting, with Giorgio Albertazzi. It’s a film about dignity. The move into theatre came about, I think, as a gift that he wanted to give me, and I decided to launch myself into this new experience because I feel safe with Pasquale.”
Are you great friends with Giorgio Armani?
“I’ll see him in Milan. I hear from him regularly. We’ve been friends for years. And it is he who has created the costumes for this stage play. They are really very beautiful.”
What will you do for the holidays?
“I’ll be in Paris where we will celebrate my being honoured as Grande Ufficiale at the Italian Embassy. Aillagon, the French Minister of Culture, will be there, as will the actor Alain Delon. Then I will spend the holidays at my cottage in Normandy, in the middle of the countryside, with the horses and the cows. I’m attracted to Normandy, where oddly enough I find the same silence as in the desert. All you can hear is bird song.”
“I’m a very fortunate actress: I have worked with the greatest masters who have taught me everything I know. I have shot more than 150 films all over the world, but such applause is deeply moving. It’s so very nice, people come up close to the stage and want to embrace me. People give me flowers and delicacies. It’s unbelievable.”
Aside from your work, how do you occupy yourself?
“I have a lot of energy, I hate to sit around. I am also a Goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO for women; and then I love walking, going out for a stroll.”
“No, but I have many friends that I care about. I am a loner, above all I need to keep moving. Last year I was given a career award of the Golden Bear in Berlin. The Germans are always writing to me. And then there are those who have been writing to me since way back when. Maybe it’s because I have allowed people to dare to dream and I did not realise quite how much that meant. I understand it better now from treading the theatrical boards.”
What is the secret of success?
“I remain an ordinary woman. I do not have bodyguards. I have kept in touch with everybody. Especially with the young.”
December 15th, 2002