From Italian director Matteo Garrone, the latest retelling of the fairy tale Pinocchio returns to the roots of the original story, creating a fantasy world in the Italian countryside. When an old woodcarver named Geppetto (Roberto Benigni) creates a puppet out of wood, something magical allows Pinocchio (Federico Ielapi) to talk and walk, leading him to one misadventure after another on his way to becoming a real boy.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Academy Award-winning actor Roberto Benigni talked about his love for the story of Pinocchio, what led him return to the fairy tale for director Matteo Garrone, why he’s only acted in two movies since 2005, how much all of the acclaim and attention for Life is Beautiful changed his life, and whether he’s finally done with Pinocchio, after having made two films.
Collider: You’ve played both Pinocchio and Geppetto now. What do you most love about the story of Pinocchio?
ROBERTO BENIGNI: I think I am the only one actor in the whole world that played Pinocchio, and then his father Geppetto. Walking on the streets in Rome, somebody told me, “Hey, Roberto, now you only have the Blue Fairy left to play.” I love Pinocchio so much that I could play everybody, including Jiminy Cricket. I love this fairy tale so much and I’m really lucky that I’ve also gotten to play the father of Pinocchio.
What was it like to do another version of the Pinocchio story? Did it feel any different this time?
BENIGNI: I did this Pinocchio because I admire Matteo Garrone. He’s my favorite director. He’s one of the greatest directors in the world. He’s a wonderful director. So, I decided to say yes when he asked me to play the father. The story is so wonderful and so popular. In Italy, the film was a big success because it’s the most popular story in Italy. I’m just in love with the story and I’m so happy that I did this movie. It’s a good story for everybody, children and parents. Everybody can be moved by it.
Are there any other fairy tales that you were a fan of, or is it just Pinocchio that you’ve always been a big fan of?
BENIGNI: I like fairy tales. I like Cinderella. But my favorite is Pinocchio because it’s not only a fairy tale, but it’s also a novel. It is a masterpiece, really. This version of Pinocchio is very true to the book. If you want to know what Pinocchio really is, it’s a very Italian story, so you have to see this movie. This movie is true to the book, more than Disney and more than my Pinocchio, that I did almost 20 years ago. For children, it’s a wonderful tale. It’s the most famous book in Italy, and it’s just a wonderful movie.
For someone who’s never been to Italy, what would you recommend they do, if they ever get to visit the country?
BENIGNI: First, they should read Pinocchio to understand what Italy is. I’m from Tuscany, so they should go to Tuscany and see the masterpieces of the Renaissance. If someone goes to Italy, they should spend time in Tuscany, for sure.
>You’ve only acted in two movies since 2005. Why did you cut back on acting? What was behind your decision to do that?
BENIGNI: You’re right. I did the Woody Allen movie, To Rome With Love, and then this Pinocchio with Matteo Garrone. These two projects and characters, and the directors, I loved and admired very much. But I did many, many things on stage. On stage, I did a very long tour with Divine Comedy, around the world. I went around the United States, in New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, and everywhere. And then, I did a lot of TV in Italy, but not movies. Although I still have many friends in the United States, I prefer to do stage and TV. In Italy, I did Pinocchio because I loved it. I have many friends in the United States, like Jim Jarmusch, Steven Spielberg and Terrence Malick, and I’ve gotten offers for projects. I’ve done many things, just not movies.
Would you like to direct a movie again, anytime soon?
BENIGNI: I like to direct movies, but I am an actor, first of all. There is only one condition, I have to like the script to say yes. I’m an actor, so I have to feel like there’s something for me.
After winning so many awards for Life is Beautiful, did you feel a lot of pressure about what to do next?
BENIGNI: Life is Beautiful really changed my life a lot and I had many, many offers. It changed my life around the world, and not only in Italy. In Italy, I was already very popular. Everybody knows me there and I am so happy about that. But I had a lot of pressure, of course, after Life is Beautiful.
How did you deal with that pressure?
BENIGNI: I dealt very good with it. It was a wonderful thing. It changed my life, in a wonderful way. What I really loved was that I could decide what I wanted to do, and then do it.
You’ve done a couple of versions of Pinocchio now. Do you see yourself ever doing another version of Pinocchio?
BENIGNI: No, now I’ve done two versions of Pinocchio and I’m done. Now it’s enough. I did Pinocchio, and now that I’ve played Geppetto, the father, it’s enough. The movie is really moving, so sweet, so wonderful, and really incredible, but it’s enough.
Pinocchio is now playing in theaters.
The universe is expanding.
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