interview by JANA LETONJA

Renowned actor, director and playwright Maurizio Lombardi’s breakthrough into international acclaim came with his portrayal of Cardinal Mario Assente in acclaimed series ‘The Young Pope’ and its sequel ‘The New Pope’, alongside John Malkovich and Jude Law. His recent projects include ‘Ripley’ for Showtime and ‘Citadel’ for Amazon Prime. Next up, we’ll be seeing him in the series ‘M – Son of the Century’ and can currently watch him in new seasons of ‘Monterossi’.

Maurizio, you made your breakthrough as Cardinal Mario Assente in the series ‘The Young Pope’ and its sequeal ‘The New Pope’. How did this role change your career?
This role has certainly contributed to accelerate the internationalisation of my career. I was surrounded by actors of the caliber of Jude Law, John Malkovic, Cecile De France and Javier Camara, which required the highest standards in terms of preparation, notably when it comes to use of English language. Moreover, this has been one of the first series with an international cast directed by an Italian director and Academy Award winner Paolo Sorrentino, a unique experience in itself.

full look BRIONI

How did you prepare for the role of Cardinal Mario Assente?
Everything started with a pair of glasses that I found in a flea-market in Piazza Santo Spirito in Florence, Italy. Paolo Sorrentino immediately consented to their sue during the last casting session. This pair of glasses have been the mask behind which the true identity of Cardinale Assente was hidden, until it got uncovered during the last scene in front of the Pope. An additional defining element was represented by the 33-button talar suit worn by Cardinale Assente, 33 buttons reminding of the 33 years of Jesus’ life in this world. The tailoring of that suit shaped the posture of Cardinale Assente with precision and elegance. Last but not least, adherence to a script written by Paolo Sorrentino so rich in details has proven to be the key.

Most recently, we’ve been able to watch you in Showtime’s ‘Ripley’ and Amazon Prime’s ‘Citadel’. How was it working on these two international projects?
‘Ripley’ is a quintessential noir series and the real challenge for me together with Steve Zaillian was to give life to Italy of the 50s, starting from a photographic investigation of the typical northern Italy gentleman that you would find in a typical Milan bar at that time. Think about Martini or Campari banners behind a smoke curtain in one of those bars. Overall, it has proven to be a wonderful challenge for me, in a constant tension to try and meet or even exceed Steve Zaillian’s expectations even on the smallest details, such as smoking a cigarette or moving an ashtray.

‘Citadel’ is a new challenge on the grounds of spy action movies, where I had the primary role as the villain of the story. I must confess this was the first time I was confronted with a role from a production that somehow may remind people of the Marvel universe, but I truly enjoyed what the limitless opportunities my character was endowed with could offer to my acting.

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How did you get into acting in the first place?
I started in high school, mocking and imitating my professors, which soon turned into a show at the end of the year held in the basketball court, which was acclaimed by students and professors alike. And from there, I never stopped.

You cultivated a distinctive artistic style through dedicated work on your physicality and voice. Tell us more about this process and the challenges you encountered.
I do not come from a family of artists. In fact, my parents and grandparents crafted and sold fine wooden furniture most of their lives. While this gave me a light-hearted childhood, when I discovered my natural attitude as a performer, I had to start from zero and worked hard on dancing and voice training, trying hard to follow the lead and example of artists such as Dario Fo, Gigi Proietti or Gaber.

You’ve worked in Italian productions for many years before starting to work on international productions. How big of a change was this for you and how quickly did you adapt to it?
The turning point and defining moment of this evolution is certainly when I was selected for the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh in 2013, the year when ‘Fleabag’ won that very same festival. I came to Edinburg with my show ‘Pugni di Zolfo’, knowing barely any word in English, so I had to learn the entire script by heart. That in my mind is the moment I was truly forced to become international. Jokes aside, in light of the digitalization of our industry as any other, productions are increasingly international in nature and somehow an actor has to naturally evolve both in terms of working with foreign colleagues and adapting to different languages and cultures.


You’ve also perfomerd on stage a lot, even garnering a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the prestigious Le Maschere del Teatro Italiano awards. How much do you still perform on stage and how much do you miss it?
I have invested much of my time to movie and series productions during the last 5 years and I felt a real need to go back to the stage, in front of a live audience, which is where I am truly coming from as an actor. Away from the stage, I feel like a plant craving water, drying up my emotions. For this reason, I have started my own production company, Velvet 9 Productions, and authored and premiered just a few weeks back a brand new show ‘Ho Visto Cose’, about artificial intelligence and the new condition of human beings. We managed to have it sold out every single night, which was refreshing.

In 2020, you also made your directorial debut. What excites you the most about directing and what kind of projects do you aspire to work on as a director?
I am an established author and actor, and I feel the necessity to embrace the third way of narration, to close the circle, ideally to direct my own works, but also contributing to others’ with my own personal perspective. For this reason, with my production company we are currently working on ‘Marcello’, a movie about a teenager trying to find his way escaping after a robbery, who gets literally overwhelmed by a movie crew in Cinecitta.

full look BOSS
watch OMEGA

One of your upcoming projects is the series ‘M – Son of the Century’. What can you share with us about it at this point?
The only thing I can share is that I was truly privileged with the opportunity to work with Joe Wright and thus discover that this English gentleman has understood the Italian fascist period in its entirety. My character is Emilio De Bono, one of the four fascist ‘gerarchi’, who led the Marcia su Roma.

The project we’re currently able to see you in is the new season of ‘Monterossi’. How would you sum up the second season that was just released?
‘Monterossi’ season 2 has been warmly welcomed by the audience. My character, a very atypical killer, along with his partner in crime somehow carved out a movie within the movie, and their presence was extended to this second season as the audience loved them.

photography ATTILIO CUSANI
hair and make up ANNAMARIA NEGRI