Whether she was detailing a childhood hiding away from bombers each night during World War II or she was assessing which leading man was the best kisser, screen legend Sophia Loren captivated a crowd if listeners in Sarasota Thursday night. And even as she suggested a wariness about talking about her own experiences instead of embodying a fictional character—“in front of the camera I am reciting lines written by someone else, not going out there to tell the story of my life”—the 81-year-old radiated with same magnetic persona that turned her into a star and Academy Award-winning actress while still in her 20s.
Loren sat down for a Q&A with Bill Harris, a former reporter for Entertainment Tonight and The Hollywood Reporter. At the event, Sarasota Film Festival President Mark Famiglio presented Loren with the annual Legend award for her career onscreen (pictured above).
The Italian actress of humble beginnings shared stories of when she was living in Italy during the war, back when her family slept each night in a local train tunnel for safety, then returned home at 4am each morning anxious to see if bombs in fact destroyed their house. “We didn’t know what we were going to find, but the house is still there,” she said. At age 15, Loren landed her first screen role, a cameo in Mario Matolli’s Tototarzan, but being devastated when she saw the film and could hardly recognize herself in out-of-focus background shots.
But in short time, especially after falling under the tutelage of producer and future husband Carlo Ponti, she became an international star, doing work opposite such legends as Clarke Gable and Cary Grant. It was work in 1960 in Two Women, playing a young mother raising a 12-year-old daughter in war-savaged Italy, that would earn her an Oscar. “I had the most beautiful role that I could ever think of,” she said, retelling the tale of how she originally was to play the 20-something daughter of a 50-year-old mother until the script was retooled to put Loren in the matriarchal role.
The audience hooted at the mere mention of Grant, who famously tried to get a young Loren to marry him and who would become a lifelong friend. She spoke highly of director Vittorio de Sica, who helmed Two Women and numerous other Loren pictures, and Marcello Mastroianni, her most frequent leading man (and incidentally the aforementioned best kisser). She also revealed a desire to work alongside Meryl Streep and an admiration of Leonardo DiCaprio among today’s leading men. As audience questions turned to comedies like Grumpier Old Men and Houseboat, she noted that those films may not feel as high-stakes at the time, they can still turn into successful and beautiful pictures.