“I’m not nostalgic. Not at all “, Claudia Cardinale, the legendary movie star of Federico Fellini’s 8½, started telling me while the sun was setting on the Côte d’Azur. The golden-age movie star, who has been featured in movie classics from Visconti’s The Leopard to Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, still looks effortlessly glamorous and stunning.
“I like everything the way it is because I have arrived at the cinema in the 60s and I’ve been working since then. I’ve been traveling all around the world, Australia, America… everywhere.”
Born and raised in La Goulette in Tunisia, Claudia was skyrocketed to stardom through the Venice film festival to which she came as a beauty pageant winner who quickly caught the attention of film producers. Since French is her native language, she considers French to be her culture, despite being celebrated widely in Italian cinema. When she started in Italy, she admits that did not speak a word of Italian. “In all my first movies I was dubbed by another because I could not speak a word of Italian”. In recent years, Cardinale traveled frequently to work in Spanish, French, Italian, American and Turkish movies. These days, she especially enjoys working with young filmmakers. “It’s not easy for young directors today. And in fact, I work specifically with young directors on their first movies. I’ve been doing a movie in New York, in Istanbul, one in Tunisia, and I have another two… I like to work with young directors to help them,” she reveals tenderly. A good friend of many legendary men, Claudia Cardinale has always considered herself to be “just one of the guys”. Rock Hudson has been one of her best friends and Paul Newman once gave her his house in L.A. to stay at while she was there. She fondly remembers many anecdotes from the iconic movie sets. “For example, in Sergio Leone’s epic western Once Upon a Time in the West, I was the only woman surrounded by men. I was the only woman. In my movies, I did all of the special effects. I love danger. When it’s difficult, I love it,” she proudly reveals.
As a strong feminist with rich life experience, Cardinale has been a UNESCO goodwill ambassador for the Defense of Women’s Rights since March 2000. I asked her if she thinks that it pays off in life, to be, and to remain, a strong woman. “You have to fight. When I was younger, I always had to fight with men, with boys. The woman is the stronger one, and I was fighting all the time with men.” —“Was it difficult for you?”, I ask. —“No. I love it. I love to fight,” she responds confidently.
Claudia Cardinale: “I was sitting next to Belmondo, he was crying”
In 2011, at the Cannes Film Festival when I met Claudia Cardinale, she was at the premiere of Belmondo’s documentary. Then, she told me: “I was sitting next to Belmondo watching the movie premiere. He was crying. He was so moved. It was fantastic. To see all the friends around him, it was really fantastic for him. And he got a standing ovation. I mean it was incredible. And we did three movies together.” Taking a walk down the memory line, Cardinale described her friendship with Jean-Paul Belmondo as one that she holds dear to her heart. “There are many people and friends I cherish in my heart. One of them is Jean-Paul Belmondo. We were always doing some “terrible things” on the movie set together. We were “terrible”. I remember one day we were in the hotel, and he said: you should smile to the director. So I did. While I was smiling to the director, Belmondo was changing all the things in his room and putting them in the safe. We’ve been doing terrible things together all the time, we were having so much fun.” In the media, Cardinale was often romantically linked to her co-stars, including legendary Steve McQueen, and Mastroianni. “Well, I never had a love affair with the actors,” she reveals. —“So you were like a girl who was always with her friend,” I say. —“Yes exactly, exactly,” she jumps at my comment energetically. In February 2011 the L.A. Times named Cardinale among the 50 most beautiful women in film history.
Her advice for young women on how to seduce and keep a man goes as follows: “For example, if a man is looking at you, and if you say yes immediately then he will go away. If you resist along then he will be always following you,” she says joyfully. Ageism in Hollywood is a significant problem, among many, that actresses who are over forty face. Many of them are forced to maintain their expected standards of beauty by subjecting themselves to plastic surgery. On that note, Cardinale takes a firm stand.
“Listen, I don’t like face lifting, I don’t like to stop the time, it’s impossible. My mother used to say: as you’re always smiling, they don’t see your wrinkles,” she laughs.