Sophia Loren Makes Her Return to Film: ‘I’m a Perfectionist’
The star, now 86, was looking for a personal connection to a script. Then along came her director son and the Netflix drama “The Life Ahead.”
By Simon Abrams
Whatever happened to Sophia Loren?
The question is prompted by “The Life Ahead,” the Netflix drama premiering Friday and starring the Italian great who once practically defined international glamour. As it happens, her first feature since a TV movie 10 years ago combines her passion for film with the other great passion of her life, her family. Loren, now 86, has long prioritized them over her acting career, but with the new drama, she combines both loves: The movie’s co-writer and director is Edoardo Ponti, the younger of her two sons.
In “The Life Ahead,” Loren’s third collaboration with Ponti, she plays an Italian Holocaust survivor known as Madame Rosa who takes in and eventually bonds with a Senegalese orphan, Momo (Ibrahima Gueye).https://www.youtube.com/embed/a0ejncDxgCc
The film’s message of tolerance drew her back to acting, but that need for a personal connection to her work has also made her choosy about projects, she said, speaking in rusty English. And while Loren, an Academy Award winner, has continued to influence contemporary pop culture (“Zoo Be Zoo Be Zoo,” her take on the pop song “Zou Bisou”, was covered in “Mad Men,” a show she hadn’t seen), she said she didn’t feel pressured to chase every trend.
In a phone interview from her home in Geneva, Loren spoke about aging gracefully, taking direction from her son and some of her favorite roles. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
You started making fewer movies by 1980, seven years after the birth of Edoardo and 12 years after the birth of Carlo Jr., his brother. Why did you slow down?
At the time, I asked myself, “What do you want from life, Sophia?” I said, “I want a nice family,” which I had. “I want two children,” which I had. “But I never see them.” So I said to myself, “From now on, maybe I will slow down a little bit.” But I didn’t slow down just a little bit: I was simply not working anymore. Not because I didn’t love working; I wanted to know more about my family, because I was often living at the studio. I really surprised myself by saying, “Sophia, it’s better that you stop acting for now, and catch up later.” I stopped making films for a long time but was very happy because I saw my children grow up, get married and have their own children. [Carlo Ponti, her husband of 50 years, died in 2007.]
What kind of scripts are you sent now?
I still get sent many scripts, but none spoke to me like “The Life Ahead” did. That’s why I didn’t work for almost 10 years. I wanted to find a role that really inspired and challenged me. Madame Rosa was that character, not only for her different and sometimes opposing emotions, but also for the message of tolerance, love and inclusion that the film expresses.
You sometimes describe yourself as a “perfectionist,” and since “The Life Ahead”is your third collaboration with Edoardo: Has it gotten easier to take direction from your son?
I’m a perfectionist, but so is he. Edoardo gives me security. He also never gives up until I give him my very best. He doesn’t settle for anything less than that, and he knows exactly what buttons to push to get something out of me. When Edoardo says “This is it” after we film a scene, I know that my performance is exactly what he was waiting for. That’s a wonderful feeling for an actress, because you are sure of what you’re doing.
What have directors like Vittorio De Sica taught you?
De Sica taught me to be true to myself and follow my instincts, not a trend. Easier said than done, but that’s imp