Franco Nero has been around. Since his star turn in the iconic Spaghetti Western Django, the Parma born movie star has appeared in more than 150 films, spanning all four corners of the globe. Hes been in musicals like Camelot (with his future wife Vanessa Redgrave), pumped up 80s action films like Die Hard 2, cop thrillers (The Marseille Connection), comedies (Cippola Colt) and even Bruce Lee inspired martial arts movies like Enter the Ninja.
I did everything, he explains, I think Im the only actor whos worked with the cinematography of all nations. Ive done movies with a Brazilian director, an Australian director, films in Russia, Spain, Germany, Sweden, from all over the world. So Ive had a lot of fun. Why not?Nero is in town to attend this years Cine Excess Film Festival, a three day conference on global cult cinema where the actors dedication to alternative films will see him pick up a Lifetime Achievement Award. The ceremony takes place immediately prior to a screening of Django and when OWF catches up with him in the screening room before hand, its startling to see how little the actor has changed since playing the laconic coffin dragging antihero (though Compañeros co-star Thomas Milian claims that Nero would deliberately age up in his films, using make up to achieve an ageless effect later on in life). Never-the-less, dressed in black, lean, olive skin, gregarious, those iconic blue eyes still glimmering with life, Nero is not your typical 69 year old. And Django, the film that made him an international star, is clearly still fresh in his mind.
Django was a tough movie to make because it was shot in the winter time, he says while settling into his cinema seat. When we started, the key set, the village with the mud, wasnt even finished. We didnt have a script so when we interrupted the movie for the Christmas holidays, director Sergio Corbuccis brother Bruno put together an outline scene by scene of what would happen right until the end.Despite the difficulties Nero and Corbucci became close, their relationship developing over three westerns (including The Mercenary and Compañeros). While that other Spaghetti heavyweight Sergio Leone had Clint Eastwood, Corbucci had Nero (arguably the more versatile actor).
You know Corbucci and Sergio Leone came from the same school. They were two assistant directors on many of the same movies (including 1959s The Last Days of Pompeii) so they were enemies and friends at the same time. I think Corbucci was a little more ambitious. He tried to be very original. I remember he offered me a western I couldnt do because I was in America. It was called The Great Silence . The lead had no words, a mute, and Corbucci said, for the first time the lead actor dies and the bad guys survive! Corbucci was a man full of humour. On Django he kept saying to the lighting man, hey you better put the proper light on those blue eyes of Francos because theyre going to make me a lot of money.And those blue eyes havent done badly for Nero either. Born Francesco Sparanero in 1941 in provincial Italy, it was his striking look that first attracted John Huston who, as legend has it, spotted Nero taking photographs on the set of his epic The Bible and exclaimed, Thats the face I want, before casting him in the role of Abel. But Nero is more than a pretty face. He has an easygoing charm that is as evident in person as it is onscreen. He loves to tell stories (referring to horror director Lucio Fulci as, a big liar. He claimed he had dinner with Kennedy and Krushchev! All Bullshit!) but all told with an easy smile and a fond remembrance. Even the fact that he has been unable to shake off the Django persona despite an eclectic career (that will include this years Cars 2) doesnt faze him.
I am very happy that Ive done Django, he says. I just came from making a film in Brazil and in Rio everyone knows this name, hey Django. Django! They know the name Django but always together with Franco Nero. Because they made other Django movies you know.Thats an understatement. The films success saw a plethora of unofficial sequels like Django Kill and Django the Bastard - while some countries went even further than that.
In Germany they have a complex with Django, laughs Nero. All the movies that I did they called them Django, you know? Like my film How to Kill a Judge, a political thriller, became Django with the Mafia. The Shark Hunter became Django versus the Shark! But you know its not my problem. And now Tarantino wants to do a Django movieso ok.Ah yes that would be Django Unchained, the uber-geek filmmakers take on both the Spaghetti Western and Americas dubious history in the slave trade. Tarantino is notorious for peppering his films with cult character actors (Pam Grier in Jackie Brown, David Carradine in Kill Bill) leading to speculation that Nero is a shoe-in for a role in Django Unchained. The man himself isnt so sure.
Ive never had an offer. I know only that Tarantino likes me a lot. In many interviews Tarantino kept talking about me and then one day in Rome at the opening of Kill Bill, Harvey Weinstein was on the stage and said that Quentin Tarantino couldnt come because he was sick, but he begged me to say hello to Franco Nero! So finally one and a half years ago Tarantino came to Rome and I had lunch with him. And he said, I was 14 when I started to watch your movies, and he started to recite lines from my movieshe even remembered the music! But I havent heard anything after that. I was at the Festival of Berlin this year with Vanessa and Harvey Weinstein saw me at a party and said, oh Franco youre gonna be in Tarantinos next movie, but thats all I know. Im happy that he will do a Django movie even if I dont do it.And even if Nero doesnt appear in Django Unchained, one gets the impression that he still isnt done with the western.or with Tarantino. Along with his Keoma director and frequent collaborator Enzo G. Castellari (director of the original Inglorious Bastards) Nero is once again planning to head out west.
Were making a movie called The Angel, the Bad and the Wise and I asked Quentin, would you be so kind as to do a cameo? He asked me, what have I got to do? so I said, you will play a bandit and I will kill you. I will kill you with a shotgun and instead of having bullets I will shoot you will golden coins. He was so excited, screaming, I love it! I love it! He wants his friends Robert Rodriguez and Eli Roth to be the other bandits.The idea clearly excites him more than Django Unchained and while the film is still looking for funding, Nero is keen to get back in the saddle as soon as possible.
I said to Enzo we better do it soon because if we wait one or two more years Im going to have to play the toothless old man in the saloon. Im getting too old; I have to do it now! He says this with a laugh but he neednt worry; Nero still seems more like a youthful leading man than an aged movie veteran. Not bad, for someone whos been around.Thanks to Franco Nero, Paul Smith and everyone at Cine Excess.
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