French-born to Maltese and Italian parents, Edwige Fenech got her start in beauty contests before being cast in a number of Italian and German films at the tail end of the 1960s. She began her acting career as mere decoration in broad West German sex farces like Josef Zacher’s Alle Katzchen Naschen Gern/The Blonde and the Black Pussycat (1969). She gravitated more towards Italian productions after working on Guido Malatesta’s Il Figlio Di Aquila Nera/Son of the Black Eagle and Ottavio Alessi’s Sensation/Top Sensation (both 1968). Ironically, as the Seventies progressed, she almost abandoned ideas of stardom to devote time to raising her son, Edwin. Thankfully her supportive parents persuaded her otherwise and she resumed her cinematic activities. Her encounter with Luciano Martino proved a turning point in her career, resulting in a multi-film contract and later a long-lasting romantic relationship. The gialli she made for Luciano Martino (as producer) and Sergio Martino (as director) – Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh/ The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, 1970; Tutti i colori del buio/ All the Colours of the Dark, 1972; and Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave/ Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I have the Key, 1972 – revealed her considerable acting talents and later assured her cult status internationally. But it was with the sex comedies Ubalda, All Naked and Warm (1972) and Giovannona Long-thigh (1974) that she really became a star in Italy and Europe.
Not only did these films reveal her extraordinary comic gifts – confirmed in numerous films over the following decade – but they also made her the erotic icon of the decade. Fenech’s finest hour was in Martino’s Alla Crema/Cream Horn (1981) starring Lino Barfi, Gianni Cavina and Milena Vukotic, a brilliantly funny crazy-comedy outclassing anything Hollywood has produced in the past decade. In the late-1980s, after additional success on television, she more-or-less retired from acting to turn her hand to production founding the company Immagine e Cinema. In this guise she produced some of the most successful Italian TV series of the 1990s, such as Commesse (1999), as well as acting as the Italian co-producer on big international productions like the Al Pacino vehicle The Merchant of Venice (2004, Michael Radford). In 2007 she made a welcome cameo return for cult film fan Eli Roth in Hostel: Part II.
Your birthplace is Algerian …
Edwige Fenech: Let’s say that I was born in Algeria, but that my parents are, the mother of Italian origin, Sicilian to be precise, the Maltese father. Algeria was a French colony and therefore I was born French. After the war of independence in Algeria, my mother and I went to live in Nice where I continued to do ballet, as I already did in Algeria, and I attended high school. There I was noticed while I was walking down the street and I was offered to make a film by Norbert Carbonnaux , Toutes folles de lui . I was fourteen.
Where is your family from?
Edwige Fenech: I come from Nice, just like my parents. I often go there to visit them, but when I can’t get away, my mother comes down to see me. Mama is often here in Rome with me. She helps me, keeps me company and has a good time, because Rome is a wonderful city
Were you already harboring the desire to enter the entertainment world… to become an actress?
Edwige Fenech: No, not at all … I didn’t want to do it. Absolutely. No, no… . But then they told me: Come on… it’s a game, a game!, And so I went. I did this little role, where we had to repeat it thirty-two times to make a take. They made me say, to a girl like me, of fourteen years – and then, consider that the fourteen years of that time was certainly not the fourteen years of today – a joke in Parisian that I absolutely did not know, because, coming from Algeria, I spoke perfect French and not dialect. It was a talent scout who invited me to Rome. I took part in a Miss Universe contest as the representative from France and attracted some attention. I was asked to come to Italy to live and try to get somewhere in movies, and I accepted. At this point I’m very happy I came
But hadn’t you already done some work in the French cinema?
Edwige Fenech: “No. I had just had a few jobs as a photographer’s model and had also done some bits in the theatre. The theatre has always been my passion, and I hoped to be successful at it one day. But the cinema came along instead, and I ended up here… I’m happy about it, however, because a whole new world has opened up to me – much faster than the theatre. After all, that’s what films are all about, isn’t it?
Immediately after you arrive in Italy with Samoa, Queen of the Jungle (1968) , where you were already a protagonist
Edwige Fenech: Sure, I was Samoa! I was the protagonist … I must say that I immediately started as a protagonist. One can judge how the film wants, but I was the protagonist! It was an adventure film for children, as well as the second one I made with Guido Malatesta , The Son of Black Eagle … Adventure film… yes, yes… more or less. I was contacted because, in the meantime, I had taken part in some beauty contests and after winning Lady France I was participating in Lady Europe in Cortina, where a talent scout noticed me and after a week and a half called me to my house, in France. He asked me to come to Italy because there was a starring role for me in a film. At first I refused, but then I talked about it with my parents and my father said: “If you want, go there, but with mom!” So I went with mum, we arrived at the station with the wagonlit at seven in the morning and they came to pick us up. Mom immediately took her to the hotel with the bags and to me directly on the set. It was the first time I had made a film outside of that little one-line episode in Toutes folles de lui , and I was pretty excited. After the makeup, they smeared a brown substance all over my body because I was playing the role of a Maltese girl. I’m not telling you to take it off in the evening. Also because, throughout the day, there were tweaks and adjustments, so the color stuck to the skin and never came off. In the hotel, then, we changed the water seven or eight times, with my mother doing the laundry with me. With the brush he removed all that stuff I was wearing and said to me: “Here they will make you die of asphyxiation!” In short, this was my cinematic beginning.
What do your parents think of the career you have chosen to follow? You have made ‘For Adults Only’ type pictures for the most part. Wearing just the bare essentials
Edwige Fenech: They are happy at the present time and satisfied with what I have been able to do. They know it has been a hard, uphill road for me, and what success I have had has been gotten the hard way. You know, acting with almost all your clothes off doesn’t shorten the road to the top. All actresses take their clothes off nowadays, but only a few get there and stay there. I feel I have arrived, and my mother is very happy about it
But don’t you feel embarrassed about getting undressed on the set?
Edwige Fenech: Oh, it’s terrible. Especially the first times on the early films… I didn’t know how to behave and I was frightfully ashamed. Then I resigned myself to it, rather I got used to it… after all these are things you have to do in the movies whether you like it or not. The public demands it. Certainly it’s never pleasant to disrobe in front of so many technicians and fellow actors. I always have the feeling, when I get dressed again, that they are still looking at me as if I had nothing on. And I don’t even want to talk about what happens in the theatres where they show my pictures… I went to see MADAME BOVARY again in a first run film theatre, and I turned as red as a beet when I saw myself naked on the screen. Meanwhile the audience began to get noisy and exchange unprintable remarks
However, this always happens, in all movies, whenever an actress undresses. Italians as an audience are warm and expressive
Edwige Fenech: Yes, but it’s not always like that. That picture (MADAME BOVARY) really upset me, but when I saw the scene with the nude buttocks in Soldier Blue (1970), I noticed that the public remained perfectly calm, wasn’t noisy and made no remarks.
Will you continue to accept these sex-kitten roles?
Edwige Fenech: If possible, no. At least, if the sex sequences are motivated and justified by the demands of the plot and aesthetic considerations, then I would say yes. But I shall say no absolutely to a picture which presents sex for sex’s sake with no other justifications
After the two Malatesta films you escaped for a time to Germany, where you shot a series of films that were belatedly brought to Italy with colorful titles like The Ladies of the Castle really like doing that , My niece the virgin and the diptych of La chaste Susanna …
Edwige Fenech: I did not “run away”, I went where they called me. I didn’t care. For me that was going to “make the cinema”, wherever the cinema was made. I was very young. You do not have to calculate the eighteen years of today with those of the past. That is, my eighteen years were less “cultured”. For me, it was all cinema. The films of Bergman and Samoa queen of the jungle they were the same thing… it was all cinema… Which then, perhaps, is also the right way to see films, putting them all on the same level and then dividing them into good films and bad films. And I’ve made a lot of bad movies. But at the time I lived things with little awareness. So I went to Germany, made some movies there and then I got bored. I preferred Italy. But in Germany I had, as they say in the jargon, “broken through” and so the Italians offered me films because, through me, it was possible to set up co-productions.
This is how Madame Bovary was born, a film that we can define as a turning point, because in addition to confirming your Italian career, it allowed you to meet Sergio Martino and become part of the Dania stable, of which you became the star star …
Edwige Fenech: Yes it’s true. Sergio Martino intervened because when they edited Madame Bovary they realized that it was too short and needed to add a couple of scenes. I remember a terrible one that made me say to Sergio that he was a sadist (laughs), which I found in other films as well. In this scene, he made me run half naked, in Manziana, in the middle of winter, with an artificial rain that came over me all frozen, barefoot in the woods … with everything that can be on the ground in a wood; and Sergio was shooting me as I went towards the room for I don’t know how many meters, I passed it and kept running, framed from the back, for I don’t know how many other meters. We did it for a whole day and I came back that “I no longer had my feet”, because they were completely cut from stones, wood and all the other crap that was on the ground. But I was, as usual, very workaholic: I never complained and I did what I had to do. In the detective stories I shot later with Sergio, he always made me do these extreme scenes, in the rain, in the woods, in the cold, where I was raped, attacked, chased by murderers, killed. Always half naked and always in the cold. As when in Mrs. Wardh’s strange vice made me attack with a broken bottle which, even if it was fake, hurt a lot and Sergio, to get more realism, insisted that the killer hit me hard. It wasn’t that it was too subtle then … Maybe we were very young and unconscious. We worked sixteen, eighteen hours a day, until we finished everything on the schedule, not like today.
Have you ever used stunts?
Edwige Fenech: Not that I remember, but I once knew they double-crossed me in a movie I made. In an oriental country they have inserted more thrilling scenes with other actors… Also because I have never done porn! And I got so pissed off when they told me I was doing “soft porn” … I always behaved like a good girl, even if some showers or some naked runs always escaped us.
So you really suffered from the nude problem?
Edwige Fenech: Yes, at the time it was something that did not please me very much. I did not live it very lightly. And then, even on set, there was always a lot of embarrassment. So you’re not like those actresses who claim that when they were actually shooting naked they didn’t pay any attention to it because “it was a job like any other”? But when ever? Absolutely. We asked that no one be on the set. People who were only there to snoop around didn’t seem right for them to stay even while they undressed. Then, everyone lived it in their own way. For me it was not a pleasure walk. Then you know, in my time it started with topless but stripping completely naked was not a normal thing. Today, perhaps, things are different, perhaps even being completely naked on the beach is normal. The costumes are so small that even if you don’t have anything, it’s the same. The nude in the cinema then began to break the mold, but as I said before, we were not alone. It was a phenomenon that affected the whole world.
You were the leading star of Dania’s films throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. How did you first meet Luciano Martino and become involved with Dania?
Edwige Fenech: It was a brief meeting when I was shooting a film at the very start of my career – I was 18 or 19 – and the German producer introduced me to Luciano, who was the Italian co-producer. We said hello and that was that. A month later Luciano called me to the office and proposed a giallo, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh. The first time we went to dinner together was in Sitges during the shooting of this film and I discovered a really special person – intelligent, passionate about his job. He had this ‘sacred focus’ that young people have when they want to achieve something extraordinary in their life. I must admit I was fascinated by this man who was 17 years older than me. I saw him as the classic producer, a man who was already established and who had already made films; but actually he was still young for a producer. The film was a great success for all of us – me, Sergio, Luciano, George Hilton. I was supposed to be in his next film, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, but I became pregnant.
How did this affect your career? And what was it like being a single mother in Italy in the early Seventies?
Edwige Fenech: That’s not something that a young girl did back then; it wasn’t seen positively. Thank God these are taboos that have now been overcome. The fact that I had this child meant a lot to me, although it did involve sacrifices. There was even a lawsuit from someone who was supposed to make a film with me – I think it’s the first time someone lost a lawsuit because they became pregnant, but it happened to me. I went back to France because I wasn’t well and had a difficult pregnancy. Luciano came to France and saved me from a mild depression, because I had the whole world against me because I chose to have this child. And he very kindly and generously offered me a contract for three films in a year, and he was ready to write me a cheque if I accepted. For me it was a salvation.
You subsequently became romantically involved with Luciano Martino. What was it like living and working alongside the same man?
Edwige Fenech: After the birth we made All the Colours of the Dark in London and that’s when my love affair with Luciano began. It lasted for a decade and was a wonderful adventure, because we weren’t only united by a passionate love but also by a passion for our work. I remember evenings when we waited anxiously outside important cinemas that were showing our films to see how they had fared. We made good films and mediocre films – but we also experimented. This is something very courageous on the part of both the producer and the director. We passed from the giallo to the comedy, beginning with Giovannona Long-thigh and then then the Poliziotta and the Insegnante series.
You mentioned the way in which being a single mother was frowned upon at the time. I wonder if you could say more about your experience of gender roles in these turbulent years, both as a woman and an actress.
Edwige Fenech: My experience of this period was a funny one. When you have chosen to have a baby on your own in the seventies, I think you are automatically the most feminist of the feminists. Nevertheless people reproached me for making films in which I took showers or appeared nude and accused me of being anti-feminist. I just laughed; it didn’t bother me at all. I detest clichés and so, feminist or anti-feminist, I am what I am. I made a particular life choice, taking on the sole responsibility of having a family, and it wasn’t an easy one. And if I chose to undress in the service of the film or the story – as did most of the actresses of the time, I should add – I don’t think there was anything extraordinary in that. There are people who tell me I’m a real feminist, and those who tell me I am not because I appeared in nude scenes. I am what I am and that’s that.
Let’s go back to the yellow period. What do you remember of those films directed by Sergio Martino: The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh , All the colors of the dark and Your vice is a locked room and only I have the key ?
Edwige Fenech: We enjoyed ourselves so much. Then I have always loved the genre, I was one of the few girls, then, who watched all the terror movies alone at home. I’ve always loved horror very much. So much so that I started to do the yellows with Five dolls for August moon of Mario Bava who was a genius. Too bad you don’t remind me much of the movie, apart from dancing at the beginning and getting killed early. But I remember Mario very well. He was a man who seemed enormous to me at the time: thin, thin but very tall. Consider that I was a little girl and this mature man was adorable. The memory I have of him is linked to his dog. He loved this dachshund and it was funny because Mario was very tall and contrasted with this short low dog. They both looked good, with these sweet and soothing eyes. Quite the opposite of the films he made. Of Martino’s thrillers , on the other hand, I remember with great affection the partners I had on the set. Ivan Rassimov he had beautiful eyes and this wonderful face. He was always running after me to kill me. I remember a scene we shot in Mrs. Wardh’s Strange Vice , where he attacked me in a forest in the rain, for a change. Ivan was a good person as hell but he had a crazy face that always led him to be bad. George Hilton, on the other hand, was a fun companion. With his very Argentine attitude and the desire to laugh and joke all the time. We were a big family, also because we shot these films all one after the other, and therefore we spent a lot of time together. We were all very young and we had formed our own goliardic group, we also went to the disco together on weekends. We had fun.
You jokingly called Sergio Martino “a sadist”, while Giuliano Carnimeo with whom you did Why those strange drops of blood on Jennifer’s body ? what was he like?
Edwige Fenech: Very different from Sergio. More professor style. Sergio was a calm cynic, Carnimeo was more serious but in reality, if you knew him well, you also discovered his sympathetic soul.
In Your vice is closed room … you change your look, with that short hair and that angelic look, but it is the first time that from a victim you become an executioner …
Edwige Fenech: It’s the same thing Quentin Tarantino told me too. When we were at dinner he said to me: It was the first time you were a Bad Girl!. I must say that it took me a while to understand what movie he was referring to, because I didn’t remember anymore. Your vice is a closed room I associate it with the big omelettes we used to make at ten in the morning. We were shooting in this wonderful farmhouse lost in the Venetian countryside, where there were chickens and the farmer woman every day in the late morning made us these sandwiches with onion omelettes which were wonderful.
The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) , was a great success at the box office and started the great season of the erotic thriller…
Edwige Fenech: Yes, that’s right, it was a big success. But poor Mrs. Wardh, she didn’t have any “vices”. God, she had a husband and a lover, but other than that she was a very good girl. (laughs)
A director celebrated for horror cinema with whom you have instead made a comedy is Lucio Fulci and the film, one of the most appreciated by your fans, is La pretora . Lucio had a reputation for being very hard on the actors he worked with and especially on women …
Edwige Fenech: Everyone told me this before making the film with him: «You’ll see that when you work with Lucio Fulci it will be hell». With me it was a love, he really adored me because he sent me letters, love cards, etc., after the film. He really loved me. For me it was important to make a film with Lucio Fulci , because, despite everything, he was a highly rated director, especially in horror and I had never worked there … so I was very happy when he proposed La pretora to me, even if it was a film by a different genre from the one that made him famous. It was a relationship of infinite sweetness and everyone was amazed because it was the first time they saw him like this. In my opinion, it also depended on the physique. Because he had this face a little pouting but in reality he was a kid, that is, he laughed like a kid, because in my opinion he was a person who needed affection and to be recognized. He was like those great painters who suffered a little because they were not understood and did not get in life what they deserved.
Like, after all, also Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975) of Andrea Bianchi where there is that famous final scene in which Nino Castelnuvo pretends to have safe sex …
Edwige Fenech: Yes, but they were situations left only to intuition, they were certainly not shown. I would never have done them. I remember Andrea Bianchi , the director, but I can’t tell you any anecdotes, it’s one of those films that are very far away in my memory. I had short hair. It was a time when I was bored of long hair and wanted to transform. I also had short David Bowie short hair and shot in the air. I also have some beautiful photographs that Vittorio Amati took of me , where I am emblazoned with a flash of blue light on my face. Nude for the Killer was one of those films I made outside of Dania productions, like The Virgin Wife I shot for Edmondo Amati .
What was it like acting in sex comedies like Giovannona Long-thigh?
Edwige Fenech: I remember that one day the production told me I had to go to be measured. I didn’t know what for, but I said, ‘ok’. It turns out that they wanted to fit me with a fake plastic behind because Giovannona couldn’t be a woman of normal measurements – she had to be very prosperous both in the front and behind! And so I performed every day with this specially constructed plastic behind – it was terrible. It was winter, but at least my nether-regions were never cold! I also remember wearing a red dress with this feather boa, which was so incredibly kitsch, but it perfectly captured the character of Giovannona.
Where there was Carrol Baker and Ray Lovelock with whom I know you remained very close, so much so that you called him to work with you also in the films you have recently produced …
Edwige Fenech: Ray is a lovely person, really. He was born one day apart from my son. Edwin was born on June 19th and Ray, if I’m not mistaken, on 18th. When we were shooting the nude scenes for The Virgin Wife we always had to laugh.
What do you remember of the period of the so-called “decamerotics”, of films such as Quel grande parte dell’Ubalda , La bella Antonia first monica and then dimonia and When women were called Madonnas ?
Edwige Fenech: Little, very little. Because these are films I’ve never seen. The headlines made me angry. I was always conflicted about titles and didn’t go to movies in protest. Then I saw that great piece of the Ubalda on television, they showed it on Italia 7, after so many years. My friends faxed me the article by Walter Veltroni saying it was a movie not to be missed and so I went home, made a sandwich, sat in front of the television and saw it all by myself and… I really appreciated it. It had become a cult movie already for the title, but I must say that the story was also very nice.
Curious this story of the titles and the conflict that you obviously had to have at home, since in the meantime you had become the partner of Luciano Martino, the producer who decided the titles of the films …
Edwige Fenech: Sure, and they were always big fights. He said to me: «Let me do my job, I know how to do it». The beautiful Antonia , however, was not his and not even the Madonnas. For Giovannona Coscialunga I won’t tell you what happened, we hardly ever spoke to each other anymore.
Speaking of misleading titles: in Anna: the Pleasure, the Torment (1973), explain to me what was the “particular pleasure”?
Edwige Fenech: Do you understand what I mean? That was a very dramatic film with Corrado Pani , Richard Conte and John Richardson , where I was a girl who works in a bar in Bergamo, falls in love with a thug, gets pregnant and tries to escape from him. A story that I still find modern today, which anticipated American films like In bed with the enemy . It was a film that I really cared about and I must say that Luciano was very nice to have this story written that could also highlight my skills as an actress. But then they put that title on it… And there they made a mistake, because by naming it that way they tried to disguise it as an erotic comedy, ruining it. They really put their feet in the mud!
And what relationship did you have with Karin Schubert, who acted as a counterbalance to you in That big piece of Ubalda ?
Edwige Fenech: Karin was beautiful. I learned that she had a lot of trouble after that, but she was gorgeous and nice at the time. I was very sorry for what happened to her, that she ended up in the hard …
A friend of yours was also Cristina Airoldi …
Edwige Fenech: Sure and we still are. She is a producer today, just like me. At the time of Mrs. Wardh’s Strange Vice we were two little girls and I remember that she was very emotional, so much so that after finishing work, the day they shot her killing in the park, I stayed there with her to comfort her. . We called her Conchita …
And Barbara Bouchet?
Edwige Fenech: See you sometime.
Let’s go back to the past. Let’s talk about The Virgo, the Taurus and the Capricorn (1977) , where your partner Luciano Martino was directing behind the camera …
Edwige Fenech: A wonderful memory. We shot in Sabaudia. Luciano made his directorial debut with great ease, because let’s not forget that Luciano comes from the screenplay and worked with Emmer , Pasolini , Bolognini … he knew the set well and when he got behind the camera he had neither fears nor doubts. Straight as a train. Then there was a great Alberto Lionello who was a very good actor and also Mario Carotenuto who was delightful and with whom I made many films.
They were wonderful people who are never remembered but who gave so much to cinema, like Gigi Ballista …
Edwige Fenech: In Virgo, the Taurus and the Capricorn there is that beautiful scene with a Sapphic flavor with Lia Tanzi where you are naked on the balcony and are spied on by Carotenuto.
How did you position yourself towards these so to speak lesbian sequences?
Edwige Fenech: We laughed a lot. There was absolutely nothing morbid about it. Then, I was lucky enough to have done very few of these scenes. I remember in Bad thoughts the sapphic kiss with that beautiful Finnish girl , Yanti Somer , and then another one in the film I made in Livorno, whose title I no longer remember …
The family vice …
Edwige Fenech: Ah, right The family vice with Juliette Mayniel . But I really don’t remember this Sapphic scene with Lia Tanzi .
But yes, you were on the terrace and Mario Carotenuto spied on you with binoculars …
Edwige Fenech: Oh yes! But we pretended them because he was spying on us. It was a joke. Anyway, those sapphic kisses bothered me a bit, but we took it on a laugh between us …
Let’s take another time jump and go back to the past. A strange, “experimental” film, which then had little circulation that saw you starring with other beauties of the time such as Rosalba Neri and Eva Thulin, is Top Sensation . What memory do you have?
Edwige Fenech: Of Top Sensation really I do not remember anything. These were the beginnings of his career. I know that we were on a yacht and that there was this guy, what was his name ?, Maurizio Bonuglia . The director was someone who had pretensions and wanted to make a somewhat intellectual film, I don’t know if he succeeded …
Of Giusva Fioravanti, who from being a weaned boy in Grazie Nonna became a terrorist of the black brigades and sentenced to twelve life sentences, what can you tell me?
Edwige Fenech: I have a wonderful memory of him, of a very cute boy. He was there with his dad and his brother and every now and then his little sister came to visit him. I remember that he fought quite a lot with his brother, but he was a lovely boy, he was fifteen or something like that … Oh my!
In The Teacher you wean instead Alfredo Pea and become again box office box office champion …
Edwige Fenech: The teacher was a huge success all over the world, not just in Italy, and it was a film that gave me a lot of satisfaction. I was Alfredo Pea’s teacher who was about the same age as me (laughs). Alfredo has become a great friend of mine, he is a person I love very much. He is extremely talented, he is the Italian Dustin Hoffman. One of those actors who if they were born in America would have become a great one. Dustin Hoffman wasn’t a handsome man like Alfredo wasn’t, but they both had a talent that made them beautiful. Luciano on that occasion saw it right and I was happy that for once he hadn’t chosen the usual handsome man to play the student. He had taken a boy who physically attracted an ordinary boy, but with an amazing talent.
In L’insegnante you work for the first time with Nando Cicero a director stylistically different from Mariano Laurenti, with whom you used to interpret comedies. What are, in your opinion, the differences between the two?
Edwige Fenech: Let’s say that Nando Cicero was more “soldierly”, he was more about comedy, I don’t mean from the barracks, but he was more inclined to the morbid, while Mariano Laurenti was much lighter. The real comedy. Everyone has their own personality and Nando, with whom I got along very well, had on his side that he was very good at filming. A great professional.
Let’s talk a little about the comic shoulders you’ve had in the movies …
Edwige Fenech: Well, in The Teacher there was Gianfranco D’Angelo who was my boyfriend, while in The Doctor of the Military District he was a doctor. My Madonna, how many laughs have we had! Gianfranco is really funny on the set, he jokes all the time. Unlike, for example, Renzo Montagnani , who was a very sweet person, very kind but who was very serious on the set. He also had the big problem with his son which made him very introspective. He was an educated person, you could talk to for hours. We spent some beautiful evenings. Very different from the ones I spent with the other wildest actors. He was a very cerebral man. Lino Banfiit was sympathy made man, even if he too had his comedian melancholies. That is, the real comic actors always hide this sad soul that sometimes comes out. I knew him well and I knew when he had these moments …
The episode of Saturday, Sunday and Friday in which you play the Japanese engineer who happens between head and neck at home in Banfi, is a must of the Italian comedy of misunderstandings …
Edwige Fenech: I love that episode. How much fun we had. I remember we were shooting in Milan and I needed something that they hadn’t been able to get. So I went out in via Manzoni, already all made up as a Japanese girl, with flowers, wig, kimono and Asian eyes, and I went to this stationery. As soon as I entered the shop assistants started talking to me in Japanese.
Adriano Celentano at the beginning of Asso offers you a nice homage, also symptomatic of the Fenech effect in the Italian erotic imagination. The film opens with him kissing you, then turns to the viewer and, looking straight into the camera, says: “Would you like to be in my place, huh?”
Edwige Fenech: True, I had completely forgotten about it. So cute. I was very good friends with Adriano Celentano and his wife, Claudia Mori. Adriano is a person I love very much because he is a nice but very reserved person, like a good Capricorn … He looks a lot like me and we worked peacefully.
You became one of the defining sex symbols in Italy in the Seventies; an entire generation of Italians grew up dreaming about you. How do you feel about that now?
Edwige Fenech: It’s flattering, but it’s also funny, because when I meet people they aren’t even ashamed to tell me! They say, ‘I’m a bit embarrassed but…’
How do you feel about the way these films were marketed to the public?
Edwige Fenech: This was one thing that I was angry with Luciano about at the time. We made very nice films but I was very angry about the titles that he gave them, like Giovannona Coscialunga, disonorata nell’onore [Giovannona Longthigh] and Quel gran pezzo dell’Ubalda tutta nuda tutta calda [Ubalda, All Naked and Warm]. I felt offended in my femininity to have these heavy titles on my shoulders. But now they have become mythic titles, so he was undoubtedly right.
We have thus arrived at the turning point. Gradually abandon the popular cinema of Dania to get to work with authors of the caliber of Ugo Tognazzi, Dino Risi, Pasquale Festa Campanile and Steno …
Edwige Fenech: One thing that I will never forget in my life is the emotion I felt the first time in my life that I saw live and I had to act with Monica Vitti in My Love . The first day of production I was like that, in front of Monica, and we had to tell each other what was happening between us and between our husbands. I had short hair in the film but they couldn’t shape it because I was so excited that my hair was falling down over my face and kept bringing me back to my makeup. That is, I had gone electric with emotion. In fact, on my close-ups, in that scene, my hat is pulled down on my face. It was an indescribable emotion to have my myth in front of me. She was beautiful, beautiful, transparent skin and amazing talent. In the scene there was mainly me speaking and she listening to me. I said to myself: «Either it goes or breaks it, because if I make a mistake at the first one, I won’t be able to do it anymore…». Steno , then, wanted to shoot everything in sequence without disconnecting and so he couldn’t go wrong. I made it good at the first one and it was a relief for me because I was afraid of making a bad impression in front of my idol. Then this professional relationship of love was born with Steno that led us to make many films together from Dr. Jekyll and kind lady to that masterpiece that is The Hot Potato , where I worked withRenato Pozzetto who I also met on the set of Risi, I’m photogenic . A film that I love, full of important actors, like Vittorio Gassman and the great Michele Galabru . A French actor who has become very popular after Il vizietto, but who has always suffered from being relegated to Serie B. For me, meeting him was a very important experience. For I’m photogenic, in Cannes, we had twenty minutes of continuous applause. What an emotion…
But you weren’t satisfied …
Edwige Fenech: No, because my commitment as an actress was becoming less: in those films there were men who played the part of lions, apart from Amori mie of course, where Vitti was the real protagonist. It wasn’t enough for me, I wanted to have something to say too. Maybe I was asking for more than what I was offered …
It can be said that genre cinema offered more space to women of the so-called Serie A …
Edwige Fenech: In a certain way, yes.
Yet in Bad Thoughts , you and Tognazzi shared the lion’s share fifty percent
Edwige Fenech: There yes, you are right. Indeed, maybe I was more of a protagonist because he thought and things happened to me.
Can this fame of seducer that Tognazzi brought with him confirm it?
Edwige Fenech: But you know, he behaved like a great gentleman to me. I was very lucky because I was always respected on sets. I believe that many times a person puts himself in a position to create the approach and to show himself available. I was linked to Luciano Martino, I was not available and with all the men I worked with I never had problems.
Speaking of actors: about your relationship with Tomas Milian in the episode of Forty degrees in the shadow of the sheet , what do you tell us?
Edwige Fenech: But with Tomas we were friends in life. We hung out with Ray, I was very good friends with his wife too and we dated a lot, so when we shot I saw him as a friend. He is an extraordinary actor. In that episode I remember that he suffered a lot, because they had those terrible glasses on him and it was very painful for him. Then he was a beautiful man and making him ugly was a feat.
You declared that one of your favorite films is The Thief …
Edwige Fenech: I loved it. It was a beautiful process even though some very strange accidents happened. Every time we had Christ on the set, who was played by Claudio Classinelli , something strange happened. In the scene, for example, in which he had to cross the waters, suddenly, out of the blue, a hailstorm arrived with grains so big, like an egg, which destroyed all the cars that were parked there. Whenever he was there, the elements went wild. You may believe it or not, but I who was there saw it and I can testify. Claudio was a special person and he died in that stupid way while making a movie with Sergio Martino.
He crashed with the helicopter …
Edwige Fenech: Yes, but the dramatic thing is that they had already finished shooting and if instead of continuing to fly they landed immediately, Claudio would still be alive. My God, incredible …
In the mid-1980s you more or less abandoned acting and became a very successful TV and television producer. Was it easy for an actress to make this transition?
Edwige Fenech: My love for production developed quickly because while I was an actress I was also defending the production’s interests, because they were those of my partner. I felt engaged in my role and I would have liked to try my hand at producing too, which is not something that men at the time would let an actress do. So I thought, ok, one day I’ll do it myself – and so I did. In 1988 I created a production company and started making little documentaries – it wasn’t easy. The TV always said ‘no’ to me, but then a couple of years later I’d see programmes that were very similar to the ideas I’d brought them. Then one I day I took Mediaset a treatment and to my surprise they said yes. It was a series called Alta società, written by Laura Toscano and Franco Numerotta, who were very successful screenwriters. That was the start of my career as a producer. Then I made Delitti privati with Sergio Martino – again written by Toscano and Marotta – and Commesse, which was very successful and was even remade in other countries. But I never had much help; despite these successes people didn’t say ‘Ah, Fenech, let’s make another film together’; there was always someone in front of me and I always had to struggle to find a space.
The television experience immediately paid off and granted you that change of role you were hoping for. I think of the role of mother desperate for the murder of her daughter in Sergio Martino’s beautiful mystery, Private crimes …
Edwige Fenech: Private Crimes was a TV movie that gave us a lot of satisfaction. I don’t remember if Twin Peaks had done it before or after, but I do remember that some criticisms had compared them. But we weren’t inspired by the Lynch series , we didn’t copy. Even Dare to Anna , who was the first television film I produced, gave me lots of satisfaction. It was the first time that many Italian critics agreed that I was a great actress, it had never happened before. Never in my life. See, how did it go? I had to produce a film myself to prove that I was capable of doing other roles besides the cute girl in the shower. In Private crimes I really chose the role I wanted to play, that of a mother who loses a daughter and does not rest until she discovers her killer. It was a challenge, a deliberately difficult role. I had finally become a mother and not the silly girl they always wanted me to do in the cinema.
The list of your works as a television producer is very long: Commesse 1 and 2 , The younger brother , Attentatuni … But don’t you think that fiction is now flat on a type of language that is completely antithetical to that of cinema? I mean: this good-natured fiction at all costs, often made by unable actors, does not risk deteriorating the public’s taste, getting them used to ever lower standards …
Edwige Fenech: The matter is complex: I believe that today fiction has completely replaced the role that once belonged to popular, genre, mass cinema, call it whatever you want. I also believe, however, that film for the cinema and film for the small screen have – and must have – a different language, because their audience is different anyway, starting with age. The elderly go to the cinema less than the young, it is a fact.
Cinema X (Vol.3 number 3)