Italian actress Claudia Gerini is best known to UK audiences for appearances in The Passion of the Christ, Penelope Cruz’s Don’t Move and as a memorable villain in the TV adaptation of Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth.
Audiences will soon be able to see her in the mad Italian sex-thriller Tulpa, directed by her husband Federico Zampaglione, whose previous film was the neat little horror, Shadow.
A throwback to the classic Italian giallo horror-thrillers of the 1960s and 70s, Tulpa concerns a beautiful banker, Lisa (Gerini) whose life becomes a nightmare when members of the sex club she frequents begin turning up dead.
Fearing she’s next on the killers’ list, Lisa must solve the mystery before the black-gloved psycho moves her to the top of the list.
I caught up with Gerini to discuss the unforgettable psycho-sexual Tulpa, shooting sex scenes with her husband, and her surprise at The Passion of the Christ.
Rob Daniel: How did Federico pitch the Tulpa script to you?
Claudia Gerini: The original idea was that he and co-writer Dardano Sacchetti wanted to make a giallo type movie with a woman as the main character. Federico liked the financial area of Rome, where the movie was shot. It’s alive in the day, but very dark at night. Then Dardano came up with the idea of tulpa as a projection of the dark side there is everyone.
These elements came together over time so he didn’t pitch me the story, just these ideas. I liked this and I thought I was ready for a horror. I started acting at 14 and did so many different movies, a lot of comedies, and a little bit of TV and theatre. So, I thought I was at the right age and moment to try something different.
RD: So was your character shaped as much by you as by Federico and Dardano?
CG: Yes, Federico was directing me but he also relied on me a lot. We’ve been friends for nine years so I knew what he wanted. Lisa is a very corporate woman, but with this duality; at night she lets herself go and has these different experiences. Not just sex with strangers, but mystical experiences in this strange world she enters. She’s strong, but also very weak with all this murder around her, which I found interesting to play.
RD: There’s a lot of sex in the film, but it’s presented in an unusual, ethereal way. How did you and Federico approach that?
CG: Well, it was a crazy… we did all those scenes in one day.
RD: A day to remember!
CG: (laughs) Believe me, yes! We talked about it and I trusted Federico completely which is why I agreed to do the film. It’s strange to say but because he’s my husband I felt free and safe, but it was always an actor and director relationship.
At the end of the day we did the naked scenes. I had to because the other girls were nervous and Federico was like, “Please Claudia, save me!” But, I felt protected as I knew he’d never exploit us. The sex in Tulpa is erotic and intense, but I don’t think it’s vulgar.
CG: True. I was a little girl when Dario Argento movies came out. My dad had me watching them as he’s a real film buff, but all I knew was Argento’s movies like everyone in Italy does. But, since I met Federico that’s all he does is watch these movies, it’s his big passion and he introduced me to this world.
But, I’m a fan of good cinema in general so when a story takes me away I love it, no matter what the genre.
RD: Were there any previous films or performances that influenced you in this movie?
CG: I was inspired by the actresses from the 1950s; that 50s style with the woman being very vulnerable yet stylish. I love Monica Vitti and consider her my maestro as she’s one of the best actresses we have in Italy. She can be funny, sensual and dramatic
RD: On the subject of horror movies, one of your films I found most difficult to watch was The Passion of the Christ.
CG: I know – that’s a splatter horror movie. I had no idea it would become that kind of movie at the beginning. I met Mel Gibson and he had me read lines in Latin and Aramaic, telling me he’d been trying to figure out this movie for 11 years.
He really believed in the project and I understood it was like a mission for him. When he cast me I was very happy because I think Mel is one of the best directors, and when I was on set you could tell something very personal and spiritual was happening.
But Federico is one the movies biggest fans, he loves it
RD: Federico said his previous film Shadow was difficult to finance. Was Tulpa an easier film to get made?
CG: It was easier to finance almost by accident because I had dinner with producer Maria Grazia Cucinotta, told her about the movie and she was interested. And the legendary actor Michele Placido’s involvement was another happy accident; we met him at brunch in a hotel and he was interested in playing a character because of how Federico described the story.
Also, it’s not a very expensive movie, but we were lucky with our locations and it looks bigger budget. But, in Italy because of the economy there is only money for comedies. Drama or horror is very difficult, so it’s still an achievement to get Tulpa done.
RD: Do you think Italian horror will have a major revival?
CG: I think now it’s coming back to life. There is talk about it and there is an audience that longs for it. But, I think giallo is changing – Tulpa revisits giallo but it’s different from in the 70s. From the music to the digital look to it, it’s new.
RD: Why does the giallo endure?
CG: Giallo creates grand emotion – it’s a boom in your heart. It’s a frightening fantasy and everyone loves to be scared in a safe way. Fear is something that always fascinates us and giallo is something that contains a lot fear.
RD: Giallo movies were frequently accused of being misogynistic. Do you think the same will happen with Tulpa?
CG: Well, there is an equal opportunities element to the violence in Tulpa. Both men and women get tortured and murdered, but there is also something very theatrical to the killing. Yes, it’s crazy violence but that’s what giallo needs to be.
RD: When Dario Argento directed his movies he would put the gloves on himself and do the onscreen killings. Did Federico do the same?
CG: Yes he did! Not in every scene, but a few times because he wanted it a certain way and it’s easier sometimes to just do it yourself.
RD: Can we expect another collaboration from you and Federico in the future?
CG: He now has to focus on his music as he’s a musician as well, so I don’t know what’s next for him. But, yes, he really liked me as an actress and I hold him in great esteem as a director so if he finds me free I think something will happen.