Where did all the years go? Back in the 1960s when I was a young man and the film critic for Cue Magazine, a press rep called and asked whether I would like to have lunch with Claudia Cardinale, who was visiting New York. “Would I?” I replied. “Absolutely!” I was fascinated by her performance in the Italian “Girl With a Suitcase,” “8 ½” “Big Deal on Madonna Street” “Rocco and His Brothers” and “The Leopard,” for example, and getting to meet and interview this extraordinarily beautiful star was an inviting treat.
We had lunch at a little Italian restaurant (long gone) in the west fifties, and my impression at the time was that she was a bit unsure of herself, but charmingly eager to enjoy New York and still amazed at the fame that her film career had brought, which had never been her goal as a youngster in her native Tunisia, where she was born of Sicilian parentage.
Through the years she earned her niche as an internationally celebrated actress. Now I had just seen her in “Effie Gray,” an Adopt Films release, playing the Viscountess in a beautifully filmed sequence in Venice. She still looks great—striking and vivacious at the age of nearly 77.
Cut to last Tuesday, March 31, when I renewed contact with her at the Carlyle Hotel, where we chatted for a while, then, with an entourage from “Effie Gray,” we all went to lunch at the Italian Ristorante Rosi Parmacotto on Madison Avenue. I was given the honor of sitting next to Claudia so we could continue to talk. Others in the group included “Effie Gray” co-producers Donald Rosenfeld and Andreas Roald, film editor Kate Williams, composer Paul Cantelon, publicist Julia Pacetti and Cardinale’s assistant, artist Samon Takahashi.
Of course, she didn’t recognize me, or even remember the lunch we had New York all those years ago, a meeting that was just part of a string of interviews set up at the time. But she was amused at the very idea of another meeting now. This wasn’t an interview session, just an informal get--together. Cardinale seemed relaxed as she recounted for me a story that she had told many times in the past. She recalled merely watching a contest for The Most Beautiful Italian Girl in Tunisia, when someone suddenly took her on stage. “They put a ribbon on me,” she remembered. The prize was a trip to the Venice Film Festival. “The other girls were jealous.” That led to her being noticed and an entry into films as a profession. She was reluctant, she insisted, with no desire to be an actress. But look what happened.
“I have made 155 films,” she said with pride and a mixture of amazement at that quantity. They have taken her all over the map, resulted in huge publicity, assorted awards and recognition as one of the most beautiful actresses in the world. She has also been known for having a social conscience, as with her becoming a UNESCO ambassador for The Defense of Women’s Rights.
Cardinale said that before coming to New York on that trip when we lunched she was visiting California. “Paul Newman gave me his house to stay in,” she said, just one bit of her name-dropping reflecting all of those she had known in her career, and noted that when Newman would later visit in Europe he would always arrive with presents.
“I have lived in Paris for the last 30 years,” Cardinale said. “Once I went to Paris I didn’t want to leave.” She no longer has a home in Tunisia, explaining that all went in the wake of political upheavals. (Cardinale has a son, Patrizio, living in New York, and a daughter, also named Claudia, in Paris. She and Claudia’s assistant are a couple.)
Cardinale gives evidence of being a fun gal who enjoys a good time. While walking in a light rain from the hotel to the restaurant, she mentioned that it was a long way here from Paris, and promptly launched into singing, of all songs, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”
At the restaurant she consulted on choosing a bottle of wine, discussed it with the manager, who was showering her with attention, and did the tasting. She caught a familiar Italian song coming over the speaker system, and sang softly along with it.
Cardinale smokes quite a bit. While we waited in the hotel lobby after the interviews she had been doing, she went out for a smoke, and it was the same in the restaurant, when she would excuse herself to go outside for yet another cigarette.
I asked her what the difference was between working with Federico Fellini (“8 ½”) and Luchino Visconti (“The Leopard”). Her unexpected reply was, “Fellini wanted me blonde, Visconti dark hair.” This obviously wasn’t the atmosphere for deep discussion of the filmmaking process.
I asked Claudia what films that meant most to her looking back over her career, She didn’t hesitate, naming “The Leopard,” “8 1/2 ,””Fitzcaraldo” (Werner Herzog), “The Professonals” (Richard Brooks) and “Once Upon a Time in the West”(Sergio Leone). In addition to working with a string of great directors, she has acted in films with a wide array of noted actors, including Burt Lancaster, Henry Fonda, Marcello Mastroianni, Omar Shariff, Charles Bronson, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Lee Marvin—the list goes on.
What was the next film she planned to do? “I’m reading two screenplays now to decide,” she replied, without further information as to what they were. But it is clear that she still enjoys working, and the opportunities are there. And why not? She remains attractive, expressive and flashes joie de vivre.
“I’ve been working hard here,” she said, with reference to the assorted interviews that had been lined up. “But tomorrow I plan to see some of New York. I hope it stops raining.”
When we said goodbye, she took my hand and kissed my cheek to express her pleasure at our congenial meeting and conversation. It made my day. Posted April 5, 2015.