Luca Zingaretti, who is best known as the beloved Inspector Montalbano of the television series by the same name, flew into Sydney this week to promote his latest film, Perez, at the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.
In the film Zingaretti plays a disillusioned public defender, Demitrio Perez, whose daughter is engaged to marry the son of a Neapolitan mafia boss.
Adoring Australian fans have flocked to cinemas to see Zingaretti at the film festival. After 17 years in the role of Salvo Montalbano, the no-nonsense, sometimes grumpy but always unassuming police inspector, Zingaretti has become a superstar.
But his role in Montalbano takes up only a small portion of his time. The rest is spent in theatre and cinema. “When I go to the Montalbano set in Sicily it is like going to visit a friend in a small village,” he says.
His success in Montalbano has provided a springboard to other areas of cinema. Zingaretti is developing a reputation as director and producer, and co-produced Perez with new wave Neapolitan-born filmmaker Eduardo de Angelis.
The film has received critical acclaim with Zingaretti winning best actor in the Globo di Oro Awards of 2015 for his role as Demitrio Perez.
Perez is a delicious mix of crime thriller and comedy, in which the lawyer and his daughter are caught up in a story about a mafia feud, a mute Indian and a fortune in diamonds hidden in the belly of a bull.
In a riotous scene Perez and his best mate, also a public defender, administer an anaesthetic to the bull and then cut the poor animal open to extract the diamonds.
“That scene took a long time to shoot. We were laughing so much that we had to do reshoot it several times and in the end it had to be severely edited,” Zingaretti explains.
Like Montalbano, il signor Perez loves food. When the lawyer comes home and finds the young mafioso hiding in the attic with his daughter, he goes to the market, buys 50 euros worth of fish, goes home and prepares a gourmet meal.
The story unfolds in modern Naples complete with glass, steel and concrete skyscrapers and not a piece of crumbling baroque architecture in sight.
“We wanted to get away from the stereotypical images of Italy such as spaghetti, the mandolin and the piano accordion,” Zingaretti says.
“Perez is a story of a man who has decided that there is no hope. He just watches life and does not participate in it. It is also the story of a man who puts his life together and who has to defend his family.”
The film also stars Simona Tabasco as Perez’s daughter, Marco D’Amore as the son of the mafia boss and Massimiliano Gallo as his best friend.
“It was a low budget film, but we have managed to win some awards and we have covered the costs of production.”
During the interview the fit and nuggetty 53-year-old star keeps eyeing the hotel pool sparkling in the midday sun. When Inspector Montalbano is in a tight spot he strips off and dives into the Mediterranean off the coast of south eastern Sicily where the television series is shot.
“If I hadn’t become an actor, I think I would have wanted to be a marine biologist. I love the sea,” he says.
Five minutes into the interview Zingaretti gets a phone call from his wife Luisa Ranieri, telling him that his 45-day-old daughter has colic. “I promised to come [to Sydney] some time ago, but this is a difficult time to be so far away from the family.”
Ranieri is an actress and television presenter. She has acted in a number of miniseries and has appeared in several films such as Letters to Juliet, starring Vanessa Redgrave.
Zingaretti seems genuinely passionate about returning to Australia under different circumstances. “I want to see the wonderful places you have here, but next time I want to share it with my wife.
“If I had more time I would explore the possibility of making a movie here in Australia. A few years ago I was offered a role in an Australian movie but was unable to accept because of other commitments.”
Zingaretti is a close friend of Andrea Camilleri, author of the books on which the television series is based. Camilleri’s crime thrillers have been translated into more than 50 languages. Thousands of Camilleri fans are campaigning on Facebook for his nomination to the Nobel Prize for Literature.
“I don’t know if it is possible for an Italian crime writer to be nominated,” Zingaretti says with an expressive shrug of the shoulders, “but, why not?”
This year SBS has screened a new younger version of Montalbano in a flash back story of the inspector in his twenties. For Montalbano fans out there, two fresh episodes based on Camilleri’s latest Montalbano novels were shot with Zingaretti early this year and they will be shown on SBS on two consecutive Wednesdays, December 23 and 30, 2015 at 10pm.
A graduate of the prestigious National Academy of Dramatic Art Silvio D’Amico, Zingaretti began his career in the theatre, acting in such diverse plays as Chekhov’s Three Sisters and Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.
He made his film debut in 1987 and in the same year made his first appearance on television in The Investigating Magistrate. But it wasn’t until he played Commissario Salvo Montalbano that he achieved stardom in 1999.