Paolo Stella appeared for the first time on the silver screen as a young man of sixteen. Back in 1995, the attractive Italian acted in a Spanish comedy. The role was small so his youthful talents remained below the radar of movie makers. But Paolo’s desire to make it into the fascinating world of show business by any means was a consuming ambition. He proceeded by studying the basics of acting. And this gained him attention. He then appeared in several Italian television series.
And, in 2007, thanks to his role, playing the handsome Salvatore Rizzo in the thriller TV series, Donna Detective (Female Detective), Paolo gained immense popularity in his homeland. After this success, the young actor began receiving invitations to do serious roles in feature films, among them, La Terza Madre (The Third Mother). This film, the final part of the famous witch trilogy from director Dario Argento, was named by many critics as nothing less than the top film in the history of the horror genre. It is therefore not surprising that La Terza Madre was remade in the United States. That’s when Paolo got his lucky ticket to Hollywood, or at least, what you could call a carte blanche. The American producers decided to rewrite the script focusing on Stella’s character, Julian. This is how the American film, Indiscretion, was born. In the following interview, Paolo Stella talks with our Youth Time correspondent about the film, about his life and the peculiarities of the characters he plays on-screen, as well as touching on cinema’s general impact on people’s mindset.
Dario Argento is a well-known name in world of cinema so the fact that his films attracted interest from Hollywood is not surprising. But tell me about yourself, how did it happen that while playing only a supporting role, you were discovered by an American film studio and given the opportunity to star in an American picture?
The opportunity came out of the blue! No screen tests, nothing. I still find it hard to believe. During the premiere of La Terza Madre, several overseas producers and directors were present in the theater. They liked my acting and they offered to make an American version of the film. The script was written especially for me.
I’ve heard that, in order to write the dialogues for Indiscretion, a screenwriter came to Rome who and spent a few months in your company. He worked on the character of Julian by studying the dark side of your psyche.
Yes, it’s true. The American screenwriter came to Rome to get to know me more profoundly and thus to explore the hidden side of my unconscious. I played the role of a bloody serial killer, a role ultimately based on the most concealed sides of my personality. I had to wade through the darkness of my psyche quite beyond my own personal values and boundaries. In reality, of course, I can’t kill people. But, to some extent, we all have a dark side, of which we aren’t even aware.
Which film most helped you prepare for the filming of Indiscretion? Do you have any favorite books?
Primarily the film Mr. Brooks starring Kevin Costner. This is the story of a man leading parallel lives: in one he is a good father and a businessman—in the other, a ruthless killer. I was helped out by a film called Funny Games, directed by Haneke, in which teenagers kill people in a matter-of-fact way without any reason. Concerning books, I like Kabbala of Power by Israel Shamir. It taught me not to judge others and it was recommended to me by a rabbi, whom I met one summer on the island of Formentera. From this book, I came to the realization that everything we do, good or bad, always comes back to us in the end.
What was the biggest difficulty in assuming the role of a killer?
I had to accept my character without judgment, an ordinary man who kills two innocent guys for no apparent reason. Today, television is so rampant with scenes of war and killing, which weaken our sense of human relationships and the value of life. We risk losing our compassion when confronting the pain of others.
What can movies do in order to make people recognize the value of human life?
I do not think that movies can exert such a strong influence. Any film that forces us to think and to go on an inward journey possesses a certain significance. In this sense, I think that Indiscretion really fulfilled its function.
Should films teach their viewers about human relationships by way of illustration? Is that possible in your opinion?
Each film speaks about human relations, which—after all—is the essence of our lives. Last year I played in the film, Penso che un sogno cosi (I Think It’s a Dream), directed by Marco De Luca. The main idea of the movie is that without deep personal relationships life has no meaning. Today, relationships are more and more complicated and people are less and less willing to make sacrifices for them. Relationships and friendships involve serious responsibilities and great devotion. We live in the context of our social relations. When I have to decide what film project to accept, I do not proceed based on careerist motives but rather on what kind of people I will be working with. As one of the characters in Penso che un sogno cosi puts it: “Happiness makes sense only if you share it with someone.” I feel this is a great truth.
In your opinion, what values exist for young people today beyond their love of family?
I think young people today ought to have faith and desire. But that’s very difficult because we live in a society of distrust, depression, and crisis. You need to build up on your courage to discover what you want out of life.
You gained wide popularity in Italy. After the release of Indiscretion you will be known outside of your home country. Does fame bother you? How do you maintain your happiness and live in harmony with yourself when your life is the focus of such attention?
The actor is always in sight and the subject of talk. I hate gossip. It irritates me. And the desire to show off can lead you to do some really stupid things. To be happy requires you to take some responsibility. I think we should all strive to live in harmony with ourselves and not to cause others pain.
What does it take to become a good actor? What do you advise people who dream about the world of cinema?
I think it is necessary to possess curiosity and a desire to understand human nature.
Photo: From the archive of Paolo Stella