I am an actress. I was born and raised in Canada, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Theater, I studied in various studios in NYC with accomplished teachers and performers. I have performed as an actress in the legendary La Mama Theater. I have written, directed and performed in my own one woman show at the Creative Stages Co., Theater as part of a festival. I have worked in independant film, commercials and TV. I have worked as a model for print and I have cat walked. I have modeled clothing for designers and I collaborated with photographers and make-up artists and organized photoshoots. I have sustained and lived a beautiful, artistic and independant life in Brooklyn/ NYC. I have spent the last 18 years of my life observing people, learning human behaviour, body language, speech, for stage, for interpretation, for translation, for inspiration. I have painted, I have had my own solo exhibit. I have also taught. I have worked in administration, I have worked in bars and I have done plenty and perhaps this is the problem. I am and I have done too much. As an actress who speaks fluent English and Italian (although with an slight American accent that is mistaken for southern Italian) I never imagined encountering the difficulty in finding work that I have had in these past several months in Milano.
Last September when I moved to Milano, I signed with a theatrical and film agency. Two of them to be precise. I imagined working in Italian film/tv. I had no clue with what I was up against. I imagined that working in film and theater and commercials here would not be impossible. After all I am physically fit, I am quite exotic looking but of course with Mediterranean influence, one that comes from a Southern Italian father and a Roman mother. I speak fluent English, Italian with an accent (that could be corrected with diction exercises) and I have extensive experience behind and in front of the camera and on stage. I speak Spanish and French and I thought these things could only lead to many opportunities for me in Europe. And so I moved here to Milano. I was excited to go ahead and begin my new life. In fact I prided myself in being here but as all that glitters is not gold, I was to quick to realize that I am far from seeing gold or anything that glitters and I am battling Italy and my own culture for a sense of belonging. I am defending my qualifications and what they mean to an employer, I am battling age and appearance and a mentality that far surpasses anything I've ever known. Furthermore I am battling an image of age and beauty that did not exist for me outside of this country. Canada shaped me and New York in all it's glitter and dust, spoiled me. Outside of Italy, age is irrelevant. Opportunities are endless so long as you keep the self going, your mind intellectuality stimulated and you never stop learning to better yourself. Logically this is done through education, classes, workshops, courses, interaction and travel, it is done through creating, learning and living. Anything one can do to get ahead, makes them a better person for themselves and for their society, for their country.
I would beg to differ working in Italy as an actress if perhaps so many Italians hadn't said to me, "if you are at the least bit young and beautiful, and South American or easy, TV and the world of theater is an ever lasting open door for you." Since I am not young nor South American nor easy, you can imagine my shock! Imagine the difficulty being here in Italy trying to battle a nations mentality with age, with living, with beauty, with the desire to pursue a dream, a goal, my ambitions to be more then I am.
I moved to Milano one year ago to pursue my acting career. I was on a mission to accomplish what was asked of me in order to receive a modeling visa into the United States so that I could stay permanently in New York. Upon arrival I was told by my agent and many casting directors that the distinctness of my harsh look will hinder me.
I have a very specific face. I have an Italian face, one that could easily be mistaken for many mediteranean cultures. Naturally I thought this was an advantage, I thought this would help me and instead I was told that I would have to wait until something very specific came along in order to send me out on a casting. Surprised and baffled, I nodded my heads at the agents and said okay. Now I see myself everyday in the mirror and I am aware of my interesting and exotic face but I don't believe to be that outside the norm. Why not throw me a role and give me the opportunity to prove myself right? Mother? I can play mother. Sexy mother? I can play sexy mother? Young college girl eating yogurt? I can play young college girl eating yogurt? You want me to pick fruit from a tree? I can pick imaginary fruit from a tree? You want me to speak English fluently? I speak fluent English! And yet the responses were all the same, "It will be very difficult to send you out on auditions. You have a very strong nose!" You can imagine my surprise!! What??? was all that I could scream inside my silent head.
I'm sorry but auditions are auditions for a reason, aren't they? Do they not allow the casting director to view a plethora of people that COULD BE appropriate for the role? Auditions yes can also be served to narrow down the rollster so not every bird is flocking at the door but auditions can also be a great way to surprise a client or casting director and convince him/her of an idea that is different then the one they already perceived. An audition is a mini-performance and it is a great way to prove to the client and casting director that you, perhaps ARE what they are looking for. Italians don't think this way! Italians don't like surprises and Italians as it seems have very little imagination. If the description says "a dark haired, dark eyed, tough edgy sassy woman" in NYC, that same description in Italy would say big breasted young woman, 25 and under with small nose, long curls and big sensuos mouth eating grapes provocatively while speaking english to an older man. Of course I am exaggerating but it is not far from the truth.
I have been on several auditions here and although I've been unfortunate enough not to be cast in any of the roles I auditioned for, I have to say it left me wondering.
For starters my strong nose, as though it were a muscle I were flexing. I have a very specific nose and I was often told here in Italy that I should consider "fixing" it. The first time I was told this I was mortified. I then tried to see the marketing strategy in it, I thought okay perhaps cosmetic surgery could help but it isn't something I ever thought of. Apart from the fact that I didn't even have far enough money to fix my nose and then what else, where would it stop, at the breast, knees, ankles, lips, thighs and hair? I thought of Demi Moore and her $140,000/ year on cosmetic surgery. This is ridiculous since I am in the country where prominant noses have dominated the screens and streets for decades and Romans if not all Romans, are known for their noses. But not now and not here and not in this Italy. I must say that as an actress I am quite used to rejection, all of us actors, actresses and performers are. Handling rejection is an impeccable skill and I've perfected learning not to take the rejection personally. However this far surpassed rejection. As an actress I am also used to waiting for castings however I am NOT used to waiting for an exact casting that matches my exact facial and body description even to be submitted to a project. This to me was absurd as regardless of the role, I was always submitted if I was the least bit appropriate. More times then not I was called in for at least an audition. If I wasn't called this meant I didn't remotely fit the part asked for. In Italy I was not even remotely being submitted for anything!
The beauty of film, TV and theater is that it is a world of illusion. It is a world making the impossible possible. It is a world filled with magic. It is smoke and mirrors. It uses wardrobe, hair and make-up artists. It uses lighting and stages and set designs and locations to create and add atmosphere. So to ask me, a foreigner with mediterranean features who speaks fluent Italian and English to wait for an exact casting was not only tempting my newly re-acquired Italian temper, it was testing my patience and I was not far from becoming one of those maniacs waving my hands frantically shouting curses on the street.
Of course when in Rome do as the Romans do and so this is what I did. I didn't do what you think I did, I did not get a nose job, instead my humble and stubborn self waited. I waited for a very long time until in 3 months I only went on 6 auditions and barely that. Most of the auditions I went on were for commercials, no film, no print work, no web work, just commercials and specs. Furthermore most of the auditions I went on were for extremely Italian products; tomato sauce and olive oil. PERFECT!!!!! I fit the bill!!! But not really! Not if you are a child with Italian blood with Italian features, Canadian born, with a strong nose and living in Italy. Sounds crazy but it isn't. I didn't fit the parts. In the meantime I took to watching alot of TV and regularly even though the programs made me ill and sad and angry. This is because all the adds and shows I'd seen on TV were filled with roles I could have been submitted for, played or performed but I was never called. Six weeks after living in Milano I eventually auditioned for two commercials consecutively that required a native english speaker, I was elated! One audition was actually Canadian produced out of Toronto, 1 and 1/2 hours from my home town of good ol' Niagara Falls. I did not get the job. Go figure!!!!!! The commercial called for an improvised scene of two couples arguing over tomato sauce with the idea that each couple had no idea what the other was saying and then we reversed roles. One couple was for the tomato sauce and one couple was for against. I slated my name, spoke in English, said I was Canadian Italian and I left myself to my own devices. Most of the other actors and actresses in the room felt a little threatened and I even had one prominent TV actor say to me that I had "one-up on the rest of them because I was Canadian," or at least this is what he thought! This is how Italy thinks but alas he was wrong. It didn't work for me! I did not get a call back and even those rarely exist here but I did not get the job!! I was disappointed in myself. I was disappointed in Toronto and in Canada for not supporting one of their own in a foreign country!!!! I could only think to myself what the F#@%$K is going on? What am I doing wrong? What is it they are looking for? Where the hell am I if I am not in hell itself? If I as a native English speaker do not get a call back or a job for a role in Italy that requires native English speakers what could it possibly be? Could it be my audition? But the feedback was excellent. Could it be my look? My age? My experience? My harsh features? Aha, could it be my nose? I know-- it was all of it. However I have a look that film and video can capture quite harshly or quite fabulously. I have a face that sculptors and photographers loved to comment on and photograph. Depending on the make-up and wardrobe, I can look extremely elegant in some moments and extremely sultry in others, I can look quite soft and childish and extremely feminine and mature in others. I am petite and athletic, delicate and graceful. I can portray a mother, or a fun loving girlfriend and I can certainly play the tough bitch or as Italians like to call them the "stronza." I can be her. I can be comical, serious, sad and tragic. I am particular and interesting. That is what I have always been told and that is what I have marketed myself as. I am made up of all the things that have made me proud to be me and I have a depth to my performances that makes me unique from others. I am proud of all that makes me different and yet my pride was starting to wane, my confidence dissipating in the foggy streets by the Naviglio Grande and I was starting to feel like an exotic cross bred zoo animal on the verge of extinction. I then realized of course in Italy appearances say everything. If I want to play a mamma, I have to be a mamma or at least look like a real Italian mamma. Even though real Italian mamma's hardly exist anymore, they are now referred to as nonna's. If I wanted to be the fun loving girlfriend well I had to be BUT her in my "overdone" self, knee-high stilettos and extra short mini with the inches of make-up and dark red lipstick. If I wanted to be sexy, I was told that I was too sexy. My agent told me my photos were too sexy and that I should perhaps taking newer photos less sexy. But wait a minute have you ever watched Italian TV? Ah yes, the difference between sexy with elegance and sexy with trashiness!!!! I was sexy, elegant, intelligent, sultry and they wanted sexy, trashy. Missed the boat on that one. I even normally dress the part of the audition I am going on but in Italy it isn't always welcomed. Don't show up to an audition for a hooker, looking like a hooker. It just isn't acceptable. Instead always look your best and dress as though you were going on a night out on the town and dating a high roller. Remember appearances are everything and at the least DO NOT forget an expensive pair of sunglasses and wear them at all times, in the sun, shade, day, indoor, outdoor. Italians love their sunglasses and it has become a social status.
Against my will and against my better judgement, and after re-thinking my own self, I realized in order to pursue my passion here in Italy I would have to surrender to the Italian mentality. I would have to become sexy trashy, in essence a "mignotta" which in English translates to tramp or whore....beware the term and should you hear it feel free to slap the idiot saying it to you in the face...and you will hear it often. No offense to the actual "putanas" because it is not the same as a mignotta. I am told they are varying degrees of the same thing only which one is said depends on the context and condition it is used. Regardless all the words mean more or less a prostitute= and that's being polite, something Italians are not. Most prostitutes in Milano are transexuals and I love them. In fact I have three that work close by where I live and they are lovely with their fabulous wigs and knee high boots, and oversized fur jackets with a life both glamorous and tragic. Regardless if I wanted to surrender to Italy, I certainly would have to become a mignotta and again if I wanted to get ahead in Milano I would have to do as the Romans do. I would have to invest thousands of dollars in a new pair of breasts, a set of new lips, a little bit of anti-aging around my eyes, and neck, dye my hair platinum blonde, with ass implants and I would have to walk around in knee-high boots with see through tights, almost semi-nude shirts. Then I was told to frequent soccer parties and cling on to older men with money perhaps offering my body and sexual services in exchange for work. Mignotta? Maybe!!!! Prostitution? Worse! They at least have dignity, but no, this is simply the Italian way of life which for years has been influenced and governed by Italian television. As you can only imagine I was not in any way prepared to do this!
I walked along the Naviglio Grande heading towards the subway. My head was in a fog, dizzy with thoughts of tainted TV. My dreams thrown into the canal which was not far from my left and my sense of self somewhere lost on the Atlantic from New York to Italy.
I walked and I walked and I cowered at the thought of so many opinions, words, images but perhaps there was some truth to it. Perhaps if I changed myself all up what was on the outside, would count more for the talent I had on the inside and I would begin to work as an actress....and so dragging my tiny little legs around in I actually contemplated their logic. What seemed to be a beautiful city filled with despair, was indeed a hell. Not being able to bear the hostility underground I walked the past the subway station, and I walked the streets of the beautiful city of Milano, the word repeatedly beauty playing tricks in my head. And just as though Mr. Henry Livingston, Jr. would have said it himself if he saw it " I looked around me and what did I see but hundreds of beautiful young ladies having undergone cosmetic surgery."
Imagine, imagine, Hell no!!
Take me as I am or leave me!
Italy, a country rich with history, a country rich in culture, rich with it's sculpted faces, and it had lowered it's standard of society to this. Or perhaps as Fellini had suggested it was always like this only I was too young to notice. It's like Italy wanted to be American but lacked the understanding in how to do it correctly or perhaps their arrogant selves wanted to do it better. Italy has taken all things American if not superficially American and it has exaggerated them to a infinite degree. Take a look at reality TV, America's Next Top Model, American Idol and take American Sketch Comedy Shows, perhaps of which are my favourite even in italy but even they have their downs, and then add the extreme famous Italian twist to it.The Naked or semi-naked woman on stage at all times.
Italians steal American ideas, reality shows, programs, movies and they make them tasteless, tacky and unwatchable, unliveable. They take the idea of a Pamela Anderson and bless their hearts, find hundreds of her kind but through extensive cosmetic surgery, she looks far worse. Her breasts are far bigger, her lips far more plumped and glossed, her hair far more fake and her face far more done up. Italians then put her on stage.
Suddenly there she is the hostess with the most-ess in a short see through mini with a thong on perhaps wearing a bra, but probably not. Then as though they were essential to the program itself, behind the most-ess hostess on prime time television with children watching, families watching, elderly watching, the world watching, there is the group of semi-nude "ballerina's" who do no more then sway their hips in bikini's and spin a turn or two. The dancers of course having absolutely no impact on the program. These are the talent and they are applauded at ever so generously. Seven to ten woman dressed in nothing, if you can call them that the attire that is, not the women although that too is up for debate, and there they are dancing around behind a television host with absolutely no other purpose then to show their nude bodies and over sized breasts.
Well once you have seen one pair, you've seen them all or so the saying goes but it doesn't extend to Italians and certainly not to their TV programs and so everyone is nude, all the time. There was nothing more upsetting to me about not even being offered the role of the English speaking tomato sauce representative but the idea that these girls get work, that this is considered talent, that these dancers are paid more then what most people make working in a day, destroyed me. How did they get there? And so I asked. I asked many many many Italians and the responses were always the same, "they got there by knowing someone, by doing something, by pleasing someone." Are you kidding me? This is a well known and accepted fact! Italians themselves cannot even speak highly of their talent or TV programs. What does this say to you about a society?
I was once told a short story representing the mind of an Italian member of society. It was a story of pretenses and appearances and it involved the legendary Michelangelo. Michelangelo, being Italian himself, knew the depth of the Italian mind. One day after finishing his sculpture of David, the brilliant sculptor pretended to scrape away pieces of David's nose for the sake of image and appearances to please the general population! According to a man by the name of Soderini, the Italian statesman for the Republic of Florence, the nose of David was too thick and so Michelangelo, after 3 years of working on one of his masterpieces was asked to adjust it. Michelangelo smarter then his own kind, climbed up on a scaffold and he pretended to scrape away and alter the nose. He even went so far as to sprinkle some marble dust he had had in his hand, and let it fall beneath him to make the adjustment appear legitimate. After he finished his fixing the nose, Soderini complimented the sculptor, coongratulating the artist on making the piece much better. Michelangelo himself knew very his people very well and he understood the power of pretenses and appearances and game. Had I been told that story upon my arrival here in Milano I probably would have refrained from coming to Italy, or perhaps I would have come all the same to experience the insanity of it, first hand. Or perhaps if I had known the Italian mentality as Michelangelo did, I would have walked into my auditions with a phony nose, marble dust in my hand, socks in my bra, 1 1/2 kilos of make-up, hiding the fake nose and with a come fuck me mouth, I would have given the Italians the woman they wanted.
This is acting in Italy and this is Italian television and this is the truth to Italians and their minds. The greatest insight into their lives, their mentality, their intelligence, their vices, their faults, their attributes, their personalities, and ambitions can be seen by watching their TV. Watch and learn! Make sure to have a box of kleenex but not for crying.....you will more likely need it to plug your ears and cover your eyes!
And so here I am, in Milano and I ask myself? As a trained professional talented actress how do I fight a nations mentality governed by a country's television? I am only one woman and if this to them means a woman, my god I am in trouble and a woman here in Italy, I am no longer.