Michael Cross interviews Hollywood star Valerio Esposito, Italian producer, director, and writer whose new film Gold Diggers stars Oscar winners Danny Glover and Murray Abraham.
As a director, writer, and producer, you have worked with some of the greatest actors and producers of modern cinema including Danny Glover, Tom Sizemore, Murray Abraham, among many others. Share some of your favorite moments with these screen legends.
I always establish a very strong, deep, relationship with my actors. To the point where sometimes I think that I do this job for the actors as much as I do it for the audience. I am very demanding on set but at the end of the first day, and especially when they watch the footage, they always get enthusiastic and want to work with me again. That’s the best thing that can happen to a director. After my first American film “Calico Skies” Tom Sizemore said, “Valerio is the most talented young writer and director I’ve ever worked with”. Now, coming from someone who worked with greats like Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Oliver Stone, Michael Mann, and Kathrine Bigelow, that’s a pretty big honor.
Italian cinema has a long and rich history. What are some unique strengths that contemporary Italian directors like yourself can bring to Hollywood and to the contemporary world of film.
There are a couple of Italian directors currently working that I believe are among the best in the world. Directors like Paolo Sorrentino, Matteo Garrone and Luca Guadagnino are revolutionizing the film industry. In Italy, just like in many other countries like France or Mexico, we have an artisanal vision of filmmaking. Very often when this vision meets the perfect industry machine that Hollywood offers, some true masterpieces happen. It’s the case of Alejandro Inarritu, Aronofsky, Kim-Jong Wook, and one of my favorites, Paolo Sorrentino.
What is your favorite part of directing a film?
I love every aspect of it. I love directing actors, to choose the right lens and angle, the writing process. But most of all I love the collective effort behind it. Ideas can come from anywhere and anyone at every time, you always have to keep your mind and heart open to anything. This is the most charming part of it.
Tell us a little about where you were born and raised in Italy and what sparked your passion for film.
When you were born a few hundred feet away from The Sistine Chapel, Fontana di Trevi, and Fori Romani, it’s not really hard to find inspiration. I was raised as the youngest kid in a big family, so I was the one who had the least chances to talk and was forced to listen most of the time. I’ve always been a curious person and I believe these two things helped me enormously with writing and building characters. When I was little, I used to spend my summers in a little town in the countryside, for most of the year with my grandmother. There the municipal library had free VHS and DVD, and they were, of course, all very old. I still remember those summers spent watching up to 4-5 films a day, la Dolce Vita, The Godfather, Il Sorpasso, Pulp Fiction, l’Odio, Mediterraneo, Charlie Chaplin, Coppola, Dino Risi, Fellini, Godard, Truffaut, Ford. These were the best summers of my life.
What most influenced you during your time at USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles?
I had a great time in Los Angeles and felt very welcome in the industry. The best part of my time in Los Angeles was how much I was able to work. I worked as a second unit director, cameramen, photographer, sometimes even on two films at the same time. It was a blast and great training. I had the chance to direct some of my favorite actors and it all happened very fast. Because of my work in LA I was granted my double citizenship for artistic merit.
Gold Diggers is the title of your next movie, a thriller which is expected to be released next year. Can you tell us something about it? Where are you in the process of making the film? At which locations have you filmed? Who are some of the leading roles?
This film takes place between Rome, Dubai, and Tunisia. It has an amazing and international cast including two Oscar winners Murray Abraham and Danny Glover, Julian Sands, Paz Vega, and some top-notch Italian actors too like Marianna and Angela Fontana (who recently won the David di Donatello aka the Italian Oscar). The film is currently in post-production and we will have the premiere in a big international festival before hitting the theaters. The movie is about revenge, missed chances, and destiny. It tells the story of two twin sisters, one raised in the financial world (in Dubai), and the other in the world of arts (in Rome). Their worlds collide when someone from the past comes back to remind them that they have a long overdue debt to pay.
You've lived in Rome, Hollywood, Paris, Beijing, and New York. Now you've landed in St Louis. What brings you to the Gateway City?
My work as an internal producer at Netflix brought me all over the world. To the ones you mentioned, I could actually easily add another 15-20 cities and 10-12 countries to my list. It’s definitely love that brought me to St. Louis. My fiancée was raised here where most of her beautiful family still lives. I fell so in love with the town’s moods and people that I decided to set one of my next projects in St. Louis and we are currently working to put together financing. It’d be very nice to bring a star here. The cute little picturesque streets of Kirkwood, the Grove and Cherokee Street, the beautiful mansions in Ladue, and the guts of downtown, would make any filmmaker happy.
Italians are well known for winning or being nominated for The Oscars each year. What are the chances we see you at the Academy Awards one day?
Yes, but as Italians we are also very superstitious. Fellini used to say “scaramanzia (superstition) is not important in films it only counts 80%”. This makes me want to move to the next question but I’m trying to be less diplomatic here and so I say that even though that’s not the reason why we do this job, some recognition is never unwelcome: I’m ready and fingers crossed, soon.