Italian actresses are a beautiful, talented and sophisticated. This is what make them the icons that every actor out there aspire to. Gifted with the talent of versatility these 5 Italian actresses have made it in Hollywood playing a wide range of different roles: from queens to humble women, from the hero’s girlfriends to merciless villains.
Sophia Loren: the queen of queens
Sophia Loren was born in Rome on the 20th of September 1934 and moved to Pozzuoli, in the province of Napoli, at a young age with her single mother her sister Maria who will later marry Romano Mussolini, the son of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
She started her career in show business thanks to her participation to the contest of Miss Italy. She did not win but the title of Miss Eleganza was created especially for her. She then posed for photo novels and took part in various films as an extra or in marginal roles which little by little brought her visibility, being centered on her aesthetic qualities. In just one year she was cast in something like 15 different movies.
In 1951 she met her husband-to-be the producer Carlo Ponti. That was the beginning of a professional and sentimental partnership that made the young Sophia Loren one of the most popular actresses in Italy, in Hollywood and throughout the world.
During her career Sophia Loren has worked with the most famous directors in the history of cinema. Sindey Lumet, Charlie Chaplin, Dino Risi and Vittorio de Sica are just some of the senators of the silver screen who have valorized the talent of the queen of Italian cinema.
Sophia Loren’s undisputed abilities are also underlined throughout her career by various awards and recognitions, many of which are due to her masterful performance in the film “La Ciociara” (Two Women) which earned her the Oscar for Best Actress, the BAFTA Award and the award as best actress at the Cannes Film Festival.
Anna Magnani: an Italian icon
Anna Magnani was born in Rome in 1908, the daughter of Marina Magnani. She never met her biological father who was a nobleman from Calabria. She grew up with her maternal grandmother and her aunts Dora, Maria, Rina, Olga and Italia.
She started to study acting in 1927 and her debut on the silver screen happened just a few years later in the movie titled “La cieca di Sorrento (The blind woman of Sorrento)” (1934). Between 1934 and 1945 she had supporting roles as the waitress or the singer in a large number of movies. The very first director to believe in Anna Magnani as a reliable and talented actress was Vittorio De Sica who strongly wanted her to play the role of Maddalena in the movie “Teresa Venerdì” released in 1941.
She then became a worldwide sensation in 1945 when director Roberto Rossellini wanted Anna Magnani as the leading actress in the neorealism masterpiece “Rome Open City” (1945)
Between the mid 40s and the mid 50s she worked in a wide range of movies from the masterpiece “Bellissima” by Luchino Visconti to the very first European movie shot in technicolor “La carrosse d’or” (The golden chariot)” by Jean Renoir.
On 21st of March 1956, she was the first Italian performer in the history of the Academy Awards to win the Oscar for best leading actress, and the first ever non-English native speaker, awarded to her for her performance as Serafina Delle Rose in the film The Rose Tattoo (1955), with Burt Lancaster, directed by Daniel Mann. For the same role she also won a BAFTA for International Actress of the Year and the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama.
During her career Anna Magnani has worked with some of the most distinguished directors and actors like Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mario Monicelli, Federico Fellini, Vittorio de Sica, Giancarlo Giannini and Aldo Fabrizi among others.
His last film appearance dates back to 1972, in a cameo strongly desired by Federico Fellini for the film Roma. At night, a sorrowful Anna Magnani crosses the alleys of a silent and deserted Rome to return home. She responds to Fellini with a tone of surprise, she quickly dismisses him and, smiling at her, closes the door in front of the camera: thus the actress concludes her long film career.
She died in the Mater Dei clinic in Rome on the 26th of September 1973, at the age of 65, struck by pancreatic cancer.
Gina Lollobrigida: the eccentric rebel
Just like Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida owes the beginning of her film career to the Miss Italia competition. Born in Subiaco in the province of Rome on the 4th of July 1927, “Lollo” as the Italians affectionately call her, ranked third behind other future stars of Italian cinema, Lucia Bosè the winner of the competition in 1947 and Gianna Maria Canale.
The actress began her film career first as an extra and stunt double, and subsequently had small supporting roles in the popular opera films of the immediate post-war period.
In 1950, after her first successes, Gina Lollobrigida flew alone to Hollywood, accepting the invitation of billionaire Howard Hughes, producer and “discoverer of divas“. When she sensed that she was about to be locked in a gilded cage she hastily returned to Rome. The exclusive contract that she had already signed prevented her from working in the United States until 1959, but not in American productions shot in Europe, as actually happened.
Among her first cinematographic successes we must certainly remember “Campane a martello” by Luigi Zampa and “Fanfan La Tulipe” (1952) by Christian Jaque which made her famous in France. The following year she performed alongside Vittorio de Sica in the comedy “Pane, Amore e Fantasia” directed by Luigi Comencini
The great popularity acquired both in Italy and France then allowed her to obtain increasingly important roles in American film productions, despite the ban imposed by the contract that she decided not to respect with Howard Hughes.
In Hollywood she played numerous roles in many films with directors of the caliber of John Huston, Carol Reed, John Sturges, Robert Mulligan and Melvin Frank.
As per the television industry she starred as the Godmather in the Italian production of Pinocchio in 1972 while in 1984 she appeared in the famous American serial Falcon Crest: at almost 60 years old, still in excellent shape. She danced the tarantella, earning a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actress in a series. In 1985, again for American TV, she starred in the television miniseries Deceptions and in 1986 she was the guest star of two episodes of Love Boat.
With the slowdown of her film career she began a second one as a photojournalist, which led her to interview Fidel Castro in the seventies, and a third as a sculptor. During her career she has obtained numerous awards, including a Golden Globe for the film Back to September, seven David di Donatello, three Nastri d’argento, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as a BAFTA nomination for Pane, Amore and Fantasia.
Virna Lisi: the Italian Marilyn
Virna Lisi was borne in Ancona as Virna Pieralisi in 1936.
She has obtained four David di Donatello, six Nastri d’argento, a Globo d’oro and three Grolle d’oro, as well as two honorary awards: a Grolla d’oro and a Ciak d’oro for her lifetime achievements.
In the international context she obtained a Prix d’interprétation féminine at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival for the role of Catherine de’ Medici in Queen Margot, which also earned her, the first non-French interpreter in history, a César Award for best actress non-protagonist.
She also acted in Hollywood, making her debut opposite Jack Lemmon in How to Kill Your Wife in 1965. She then appeared with Tony Curtis and George C. Scott in Aces in the Hole and with Frank Sinatra and Anthony Franciosa in U-112 The Queen Mary , as well as in two films with Anthony Quinn, The Secret of Santa Vittoria (a film awarded the Golden Globe as best comedy or musical film) directed by Stanley Kramer, and The 25th Hour.
She landed the roles in Hollywood following a “hunt for the new Marilyn” by some American producers and became widely popular for a photo of her ‘shaving’ her face that appeared on the March 1965 cover of Esquire magazine.
She then decided to breach her contract with the movie production company to go back to Italy. This will cost her a lot of money but she never regreted the choice. The roles offered to her were often that of the sexy woman. She turned down the role of Barbarella, later assigned to Jane Fonda)
In 1987 he took part in her last American film, I Love N.Y., directed by Alan Smithee, with Christopher Plummer and Scott Baio.
Her television roles include the participation to many Italian TV shows and sitcoms which were also distributed in the rest of Europe. She continued to work until a few months before her death which happened in 2014 because of lung cancer.
Claudia Cardinale: the girl with a suitcase
Claudia Cardinale was born in Tunis in 1938 from Italian-Sicilian emigrant parents. At 16 she won the beauty pageant “The most beautiful Italian girl in Tunisia” which brought her to the red carpet of the Venice Film Festival. She was there noticed by some Italian producers and directors and decided to attend the school of cinema in Rome. She later moved back home but cinema was already chasing her.
Her first Italian film was I soliti ignoti (1958) by Mario Monicelli, in which she played the small role of Carmelina, a girl segregated at home by her brother: the first of many roles as a Sicilian woman, for which her Mediterranean appearance (suitable to be both aristocratic and peasant) seemed to have destined her. The film was successful and Cardinale became immediately recognisable, even already presented by some newspapers as “Italy’s girlfriend”.
Her look, her gaze, her typical “Italianness” led her to act both in the United States and in France, where she had no shortage of opportunities given the actress’s perfect bilingualism.
She worked with some of the most iconic actors and directors in movies like The Pink Panther opposite David Niven. She went on to appear in the Hollywood films Blindfold (1965), Lost Command (1966), The Professionals (1966), Don’t Make Waves (1967) with Tony Curtis, The Hell with Heroes (1968), and the Sergio Leone Western Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), a joint US-Italian production, in which she was praised for her role as a former prostitute opposite Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, and Henry Fonda.
Her awards have included an honorary Golden Lion at the 1993 Venice Film Festival, and an Honorary Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival. The Los Angeles Times Magazine, in a February 2011 online feature, named Cardinale among the 50 most beautiful women in film history.
Italian actressess: the first generation
These are for sure the 5 most famous Italian actresses but the history of cinema is full of names that “ends with a vowel” as Frank Sinatra used to answer when asked if he was Italian. Sophia, Gina, Claudia, Virna and Anna became extremly popular in the fifties and sixties but there are more Italian actressess whose stories we must tell.
Performers like Ornella Muti, Isabella Rossellini, Valeria Golino, Monica Bellucci have contributed to the fame of Italian talent and charisma in the movie industry.