The fairest of them all casts her spell on Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm
Monica Bellucci walks into the room at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons wearing a long, black cocktail dress, looking, at 12:30 in the afternoon, every bit the reincarnation of every legendary Italian diva, from Anna Magnani to Sophia Loren to Gina Lollobrigida. Her hair is cut into a flapper-like bob. She looks slightly amused by it all, but not in a stuck-up way – more like she’s playing her latest role, that of the Italian movie star jetting into L.A. to do a little press. "Hello, everybody," she says, before pulling up a chair to chat about her role as the Mirror Queen – one part Snow White’s evil stepmother, one part Cruella De Vil – in Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm.
Gilliam’s warped portrayal of the famous German brothers responsible for some of the world’s most famous fairytales stars Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, who travel through the backwoods of rural Germany during the reign of Napoleon fraudulently vanquishing make-believe monsters and demons in exchange for cash. It all goes perfectly until the French royalty find out about their schemes and the brothers face a real magical curse in an enchanted forest where young maidens keep disappearing. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel all appear in the film as the Brothers Grimm try to conquer the consequences of their rich imaginary lives. Gilliam’s vision is dark, twisted, fantastical and ultimately upbeat, and his most evil character of all is no exception. The Mirror Queen is an over-the-top role even for Gilliam, who loves over-the-top performances. But Bellucci doesn’t worry about being bad.
The world’s most beautiful woman may live in Paris and star in films in three different languages – French, Italian and English – but she actually started out on the far, far outskirts of show business. Bellucci grew up in the small town of Città di Castello, where her dad owned a trucking business. At 18 she left home to attend the University of Perugia, where she hoped to study law. To pay tuition she started modelling. Two years later she quit school and moved to Milan to model full-time, including a memorable black-and-white ad campaign for Dolce and Gabbana.
Bellucci did a number of small Italian and French films, then did Malena in 2000, for which she earned worldwide attention. Since then, she’s bounced between the European film industry and Hollywood. She played Gene Hackman’s wife in Under Suspicion, Bruce Willis’s sidekick and a Doctor Without Borders in Tears of the Sun, a character in two Matrix sequels, and Mary Magdalene in The Passion of the Christ – oh yeah, add Aramaic to the first three languages. She also starred in Spike Lee’s latest, She Hate Me, and recently completed her first movie since the birth of her daughter, a Bertrand Blier-directed film titled How Much Do You Love Me?
Her most memorable role, though, may be in 2004′s Irréversible, where she played a victim of a graphic rape who, along with her husband (played in the film by her real-life husband Vincent Cassel), seeks vengeance from the rapist. Bellucci is not afraid to tackle parts that go to the dark places in the heart. "I’m not a good girl," Bellucci laughs, "but I am a good mother."
"I didn’t want to play her as simply mean," she says of the Mirror Queen, "but as someone whose fate has become quite sad. She’s going to live forever, but little by little she’s becoming old and decrepit – so there’s something tragic about her, which is part of what interested me."
Gilliam was impressed by her acting from the start. "She really surprised me," he says. "I remember the first day of shooting – she came in, and all the gear was on her. It was almost impossible to move in that costume – you wouldn’t know that the way she does move. It’s the scene where Will’s dying, and she comes in, and speaks in that little baby doll voice…"
(Here Gilliam does his own version of Bellucci doing that baby doll voice, which makes him sound like a cross between Tiny Tim and Pee Wee Herman.)
"It took me a moment to hear it. I had all these ideas how it would come out in my head, and it was so far from what I expected – and it was spot on. Brilliant. From the beginning, she got me."
"Terry Gilliam is considered in Europe as a genius," Bellucci retorts. "He has this freedom as a director – this fantasy. And he discovers what he wants from actors as he directs them, so you have to be on your toes."
Matt Damon, sporting mutton chops, plays the Grimm brother most likely to win Bellucci’s affection in the film. Showing up at the Four Seasons with co-star Heath Ledger, he recounts how tantalizingly close he got to kissing La Bellucci.
"There’s that scene where I say, ‘You’re the fairest of them all,’ but then [at the moment I'm about to kiss her] Jacob – Heath Ledger – breaks all the mirrors, and she turns and screams. So we do the scene like nine times, and finally, on the 10th take, I get really close to her lips, and say, ‘You’re the fairest of them all,’ and then, before he has a chance to do it, I turn [to Ledger] and say, ‘Don’t break that fucking mirror!’"
Bellucci is the best sort of beautiful woman: someone who makes the distinction between her beauty and herself. "They might be fairy tales," she says of the stories in The Brothers Grimm, "but behind every one there is a meaning. I think The Mirror Queen is very appropriate for actors. We [actors] are victims of our own vanity."
The moral of this story? "Don’t," says the most beautiful woman in the room, "take your image too seriously."
The Brothers Grimm